HMC students come from all over the world and have a variety of backgrounds, ideas and interests. Find out more about their stories here.
21 years old, from Copenhagen, Denmark. Studies Philosophy, Politics and Economics, 1st year.
Bianca took two gap years before starting her degree at Harris Manchester College. The first gap year was spent on a study abroad experience in southern Germany, where she learned to speak German. The second was spent working and traveling around the world, exploring countries such as Mexico, Cuba and the US.
Although she initially applied to a different college, Bianca has grown to love Harris Manchester. “I thought I knew what I wanted before I came to Oxford. I applied to a much larger college with a lot of people, because I figured it would be nice to blend in with a big group.” Bianca says, “But actually I really enjoy being able to get know everyone in this smaller college.”
“Harris Manchester is like a big family.”
The security it provides to be in a close community is something she greatly appreciates. “My favourite part is how quickly College started to feel like home.” Bianca says, “I was kind of afraid that I would feel young and out of place, but people here are just so kind.”
Another favourite thing is the fact that students are allowed to walk on the grass in College: “It gives me a certain pleasure to just cut across the grass in the quad when I’m in a hurry, because I know other students aren’t permitted to in their colleges.”
After university, Bianca is considering going into journalism or working with global development in some form. For now, however, she still enjoys all the new sides of going to university, especially the feeling of being part of a community. “I love those moments when you’ve been working in the library for a really long time and then you go down to the JCR and it’s full of people. And we all know we should be working, but everybody is just having fun together, playing pool, drinking tea, singing and playing piano.” Bianca says, “It’s like a big family.”
24 years old, from Italy. Studies Law, Senior status course, 3rd year.
London was home for Irene during her undergraduate degree in International Politics at King’s College London, which was where she spent her last few years before coming to Harris Manchester College to study Law. She managed to “slip in some law” in her first undergraduate degree, which helped her build her path to Law at Oxford.
“Everyone here has a story to tell.”
“I didn’t know about Harris Manchester when I applied, in the sense that I didn’t know there was a college for older undergraduates.” Irene says about her initial thoughts about choosing a college. “I was so lucky that I ended up here for multiple reasons, but one of them was that I since then took an interest in commercial law and Harris Manchester has Prof. Louise Gullifer [QC (Hon)], who is a leading academic in the field and also head of the Commercial Law Centre, and Kristin van Zweiten who trained as a solicitor before coming back to Oxford to teach, so it was just great to actually end up here in the end.”.
One of the other reasons, in Irene’s opinion, is that the students at Harris Manchester are slightly older. “I was kind of worried, actually, to start my second undergraduate degree at age 22, because I felt like: “Oh, everyone is going to be 18, I’ll be the only old one.” Says Irene. “Being here made all of the difference, because at Harris Manchester I met a lot of people like myself. Plus, everyone here has a story to tell.”
Irene plans to move back to London, as she has a job lined up in the City as a solicitor in corporate law. She greatly enjoyed living in London during her first undergraduate degree because of the diversity she found there. “I come from a place in Italy where, when I was younger, there was very little immigration; so in London it was all about discovering new cultures.” Irene says, “Here, at Harris Manchester, it’s past the point of discovery and I’m rather appreciating and respecting differences more deeply. I think what inspires me at Harris Manchester are those people who are very aware of our socio-economic reality and make others aware by proxy – generally over casual lunch conversations. I think the people I’ve met here have opened my mind.”
21 years old, from Singapore. Studies Engineering Science, 1st year.
Before coming to Harris Manchester, Lingxi served in the Singapore Police Coast Guard for National Service. Due to his national service, Lingxi knew that he would be a bit older than the average student who applies to Oxford, which affected his choice of college.
“I’m not really much of a party guy, so I thought a mature college would be a nice environment.” Lingxi explains, emphasizing that he was looking for a more “wholesome” college. He figured that the students at a mature college would tend to look out for each other, which is important to him. Furthermore, being an international student himself, the diversity of the student body was an important factor in his decision making: “I heard that Harris Manchester was very international, so I thought that would be cool.”
“I like to just bring my backpack and go hiking in the mountains to chill.”
Despite being a fresher, Lingxi is very prompt in pointing to his favorite thing about college. “The food. And the people. No wait, the people first and then the food!” He says with a grin, “Harris Manchester has the best food compared to other colleges.” To back his claims, Lingxi has already had several friends come by and visit for a Formal Hall at college and can confirm that the outside opinion of college cuisine is also positive: “My friends from other colleges say that our food is the best – so come to HMC!”
Lingxi plans to work with renewable energy in the future but is aware that his interests might still change during his time at Oxford. The structure of his program is quite helpful in this regard, he points out, because the options are still very open to him: “That’s the thing about engineering at Oxford, the first two years offer a general programme, so we have the time to really explore what we want to do.”
Outside of term, Lingxi enjoys winding down by exploring nature outside of Singapore: “I like to just bring my backpack and go hiking in the mountains to chill.” His favorite expedition so far was a nine-day trek in Australia.
22 years old, from London, UK. Studies Graduate entry Medicine, 2nd year.
Before coming to Harris Manchester to study medicine, Thomas completed an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of Leeds. He is currently the co-president of the MCR at Harris Manchester College and runs a medical blog in his spare time.
Thomas specifies age as being the main motivation for applying to Harris Manchester College. “Having already done a degree I thought I would fit in better around other mature students than school leavers.” Thomas says, “I also hoped that I’d find friends with interesting backgrounds, having had a few more years to explore the world.”
“The close-knit community is one of the best parts of college life.”
The friendly atmosphere at college is one of Thomas’ favourite things about Harris Manchester. “Everybody is pretty friendly - it’s quite an inclusive and open college.” Thomas says, “There aren’t huge rifts that divide up students. People don’t tend to form cliques, so that means that everybody is quite well integrated with each other. The close-knit community is one of the best parts of college life.”
In the future, Thomas hopes to be a doctor, and more specifically he has his sights on surgery. As to what makes him the most afraid right now, he mentions the fear of failure. “I don’t like getting things wrong or failing.” Thomas says, “But everything normally works out and I wouldn’t be at Harris Manchester without having made my fair share of mistakes.”
55 years old, from London, UK. Studies English Language and Literature, 1st year.
Before coming to study at Harris Manchester College, Sue ran a small office from home for a recording artist. Furthermore, she also volunteered for Forest School Camps, which is an educational charity that takes children camping in the wilder parts of the UK. Sue has two grown up kids, one of which started college at the same time as she did.
Sue’s favorite part of life at Harris Manchester College is a combination of things. “The structure of college is great. We’re so well looked after that you can just focus on your work and not have to think about anything else.” Sue says, “The other thing and probably the biggest thing is just the atmosphere here. It sounds cheesy but it’s like being part of a big family. I felt at home from about 12 hours in.”
Sue doesn’t have specific plans for her degree in the future, but rather focuses on the enjoyment of learning in her degree. “I’m just doing my course because it’s what I really want to do right now.” Sue says. As a fresher, many parts of college life are still new to Sue, but one thing that has been felt from the very beginning is the workload. When asked about what she fears the most at the moment, Sue laughs and says: “Missing my essay deadline.”
“I like to swim outdoors all year round.”
Although work takes up a lot of her day, Sue mentions that she likes to swim in her spare time: “I like to swim outdoors all year round.” She recently qualified to represent Harris Manchester College at University Challenge. Other extra-curriculars, such as singing in the Harris Manchester College chapel choir and being part of the joint Harris Manchester and Wadham College novice rowing crew, contribute to filling up her week as well. Sue also mentions being part of the Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles as a particular interest of hers: “I love getting to see all the rare books and manuscripts in the Oxford College libraries.”
23 years old, from Wiveliscombe, UK. Arabic and Islamic Studies, 1st year.
After spending four months at Manchester University studying French and Spanish, Rosie Johnson decided to leave for a one year-long foundation degree at Oxford School of Drama in Woodstock. “It was so great and I learned a lot about myself and how to act, obviously, but I decided I didn’t want to be an actress.”, says Rosie. She suddenly found herself without a goal for a while, until a friend asked her to go with her to a refugee camp in Greece. “I went to Greece and I meant to stay for two weeks but I stayed for five months. I worked with Action for Switzerland and with a group of independent boat rescuing volunteers.” Says Rosie, “I helped distribute things and also taught French, English and zumba, and learnt bits of Arabic.”
“You just feel like you’re in this little bubble of hyper-friendliness.”
After the five months in Greece, Rosie and her friend Lily Stephenson started their own project called SolidariTea. “We provided tea and breakfast for lots of people living outside the camp systems in Serbia and in Italy, for whatever reason - they didn’t want to give their fingerprints or there wasn’t enough room in the camps.” Rosie says. Aside from the project, Rosie also managed a safe house for refugee families in Bosnia and helped fill out their asylum paperwork and putting their kids in school.
However, Rosie says that the she didn’t feel like her work was going to change anything in the bigger picture. “I thought, I’m sick of this emergency-stuff, it doesn’t make enough of a difference - what am I going to do about that?” She says and explains that her wish to make a difference was the main reason for applying to Oxford.
She’s particularly happy about being a student at Harris Manchester College because the students don’t match what she calls the “Oxford stereotype” at all. “Everyone has done so many different things with their lives; there are people who have done different BA’s or even worked on a farm herding cattle and now they’re studying English.” Rosie says, “The bursars and all the staff are so friendly all the time. You just feel like you’re in this little bubble of hyper-friendliness; it’s just fantastic.”
In the future, Rosie hopes to do asylum law and work with refugees. “I just want to work with refugees forever and ever.” Rosie says, “Hopefully not forever, actually. We can hope that the refugee crisis will end and there’ll be no refugees anywhere in the world and then I won’t have a job and that would be so magnificent!”
Laughing a lot and going for a swim and steam at the Oxford Spires Hotel are Rosie’s go-to activities when she wants to relax. When asked what makes her the happiest during term, Rosie brings up two favourites among the students at Harris Manchester College: “The cheese boards on Monday formal. And hanging out with really nice people all the time.”
21 years old, from Singapore. Studies Philosophy, Politics and Economics, 1st year.
Naresh came to Harris Manchester College with two years of experience working for the Singaporean military in the Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit. Additionally, he worked in the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a scholarship-holder interning at the ASEAN Directorate, but later switched career paths to finance.
The size of the undergraduate body at Harris Manchester is one of Naresh’s favorite things about college, because of the sense of community it creates. “It’s small enough here that we can have most of our meals together and we can talk to everyone.” Naresh says, “Everyone here has a story.”
“The course isn’t what’s making Oxford great for me - which I never expected - it’s the people.”
When asked about what he’s most afraid of at the moment, Naresh points to his fear of missing out on friendships and admits that he is surprised by the answer himself: “The people are the thing, if I were to be taken away from all of this, that I would miss the most.” Naresh says, “Before coming to Oxford I thought the opportunities I was afraid of not exploiting were academic and career-related. But having come to HMC specifically, I realise it’s about the people. My PPE-cohort is really great. Honestly, I never imagined I’d be having as much fun with people as I would with the course - it’s crazy.” Although he enjoys the tutorials and his course, he has come to value the people here a great deal more than he expected: “The course isn’t what’s making Oxford great for me - which I never expected - it’s the people.”
In the future, Naresh wants to go into either management consultancy or finance but feels a bit lost regarding which specific branch he wants to pursue. However, he brings up college as a reason not to stress about the future: “That’s why I’m grateful to be here, because it seems like the kind of place where, if you’re lost, you’ll find inspiration.”
24 years old, from Melbourne, Australia. Studies Law, 3rd year.
Having already completed a four year degree in Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge, Walter Myer is one of the students at Harris Manchester who, after his first undergraduate degree, decided he wanted a change of academic trajectory. He now studies Law at Harris Manchester college and finds it a very different environment to his previous college. “It was a much larger college - 700 students in total - and I think the way we responded was by forming cliques, so that you ended up getting to know a small circle of friends really well rather than spending time with everyone in the college. That has advantages and disadvantages.” Walter says, “It was great to have a group of close friends you could go out and do things with at the drop of a hat, but sometimes I felt there wasn’t a really strong sense of college community at large, groups could be a bit disparate from one another.”
“I feel most at home in France, which is where I spend a lot of summers with my family.”
Walter explains that the smallness of the community at Harris Manchester college plays a big role in his experience here: “I know everyone here and I can sit anywhere at lunch or dinner and strike up a conversation, which is really nice. I think that’s a function of the smallness of the community; it means that you can actually get to know pretty much anyone.”
The age and variety of backgrounds of the students at Harris Manchester College is significant as well, according to Walter. “This is probably the most international college in Oxford.” Walter adds, “People have really different backgrounds, and really different life experience that they bring with them when they arrive here. And the best part is I feel like I have college friends all across Europe and further afield, so plenty of people to stay with over the holidays!”
Walter has a training contract with a law firm in London and in the future hopes to work on implementing technology in domestic judicial services so that digital courts might one day become more standard.
As to where Walter feels most at home, the answer might seem quite surprising for someone who is from Australia. “When I go back to Melbourne, I’m surrounded by my family there, but the city changes really quickly and unfortunately I haven’t kept up with it. I’ve been living overseas for six and a half years now, so I actually feel most at home in France, which is where I spend a lot of summers with my family.” Walter says, “I spent six months living in Paris as part of my previous degree and have periodically gone back since. But it’s Antibes in the south where I often get a chance to see my family in the summer. I’ve travelled with a few university friends there as well and I associate it with long summer nights and happy memories from the last five or six years.”
22 years old, from Espoo, Finland. Studies Economics and Management, 2nd year.
Following his graduation from high school in 2014, Pekka did his conscription in the Finnish Defense Forces for a year. Before coming to Oxford to study Economics and Management at Harris Manchester College, Pekka studied Engineering in Finland.
Harris Manchester has been a place where Pekka feels like he belongs, because of the similar situation the students are in. “It’s a small college and very friendly with interesting people who are sort of in the same situation as yourself.” Pekka says, “It feels like home.”
“The library is great because it’s the perfect club; it’s open 24/7, the music is always good and no-one judges you if you dance.”
Pekka’s favorite physical feature of the college is the library. “The library is a great place because it’s the perfect club.” Pekka says, “It’s open 24/7, the music is always good and no-one judges you if you dance.” However, the JCR is one of Pekka’s favorites too: “The JCR is quite nice. There’s a pool table and it’s comfortable. You meet people there – you don’t work there.”
In the future, Pekka would like to do a master’s degree in Economics. However, consulting or “anything that uses data and is fun” is also on his list of dreams. For the near future, that is the final two years of his degree at Harris Manchester, Pekka looks forward to the sense of accomplishment that follows after completing each term and hopes to “learn, hang out with friends and enjoy life.”