Scheherezade H. Tarar
A year has gone by since I left the timeless town of Oxford. No words can do justice to the experiences and memories I have attached to Oxford - all I can say is that my time there was the most memorable time of my life, and it was made more precious since I was able to share it with my family: my husband and our three daughters (ages 2, 10 and 14 at the time).
Our story begins when both my husband and I decided to apply for two different Master’s programmes at Oxford. We could not imagine how fortunate we would be: we both got admitted, and with scholarships as well: I was to go to the University as a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholar and my husband as a Chevening scholar. Receiving the Weidenfeld scholarship was a turning point, as the organization was a wonderful support group, that I could always turn to for guidance and answers. My husband and I had many questions and not a small amount of anxiety, especially as we were planning to take our three daughters with us. We both wondered, with a bit of disquiet: How would we manage our programmes with three children? Could we enroll our older daughters in schools they would be happy with? How would we arrange for daycare for our youngest daughter? How would we afford our daughters’ expenses, which are not covered by the scholarships? How difficult would the visa process be? And multiple other questions haunted us.
I am writing this piece to to try to help future families planning to come to Oxford. It is very natural to have many questions, and I will try my best to provide some answers based on my experience.
The first question that needs to be answered is whether you want to take your children with you during the course of the study or not. From personal experience, I can say that time at Oxford will be a valuable experience for your children. Oxford is an international community, and it will expose your children to multiple cultures, customs and traditions that they probably do not get to see back home. However, I have not heard of scholarships covering the expenses of children and families. While public schools are free in Oxford (as they are throughout the UK), there are other added expenses: increased house rent due to extra rooms, kitchen expenses and general expenses related to kids. Additionally, if both parents are studying, then there is an added expense for daycare or a child minder for young children. There is some information on university and college daycares and children services here, where you will note that 4 colleges have their own daycares. Application to the daycares should be done well in advance. Apart from these, there are many other daycares and nurseries otherwise as well, and you can find out more here. It is advisable to start corresponding with the daycares before you get to Oxford, as these things take time.
Towards Hilary term (the second term, which begins in January), studies pick up speed. By now, the thesis will probably be taking up a lot of your time along with your upcoming exams. At that point, I found the presence of my family to be a blessing. My husband and daughters created an air of normalcy among the busy workload and the grey, dull winter (a sharp contrast to the weather in home country).
Assuming you have decided that you would like your family to join you, the next step is to select a college (like a Hogwarts house). Wolfson College is known as a family friendly college, and it has special family accommodation available on its grounds. The college is located in the North of Oxford, and falls in the catchment area for one of the best secondary public schools in the area, the Cherwell School. There are also multiple very good primary schools in the vicinity. One of my daughters attended St. Aloysius Primary school, which was a short ten minutes walk from the college; it is very safe to walk around Oxford, both during the day and at nighttime. If you are coming with your family, I strongly suggest you request Wolfson college, and to specifically request family accommodation within the main building. The family compound is very safe, and it has a pretty courtyard where all the children play together. I found all the other families to be very kind and helpful, and they helped look after the children when my husband and I were busy. Wolfson College also organizes multiple family events, from monthly potlucks to Halloween trick-or-treat and Christmas activities. You can explore life at Wolfson here.
In contrast to Wolfson, most colleges are not very accomodating to families. If you don’t want to attend Wolfson, I would double check with families who lived in the college you are interested in. For instance, while Linacre college states on their website that they are a family friendly college, I have heard of multiple complaints from families that Linacre infrastructure isn’t conducive to families. For instance, Linacre does not offer a nursery nor subsidized cafeteria meals for the rest of the family, so expenses can quickly rack up.
Regardless of the college you end up picking, do apply for your college accommodation, and apply for university accommodation too. There are multiple locations available around the city, and they are reasonably priced. Timely applications will help ease the move and settling in process.
For children that are of school age, apply for schools on the Oxfordshire county council page. As an Oxford University student, you will be registered with the UK’s National Health Service, which will provide you with free medical care, and for your family members who are listed as your dependents. At the beginning of the year, you will be registered with a general physician (GP), who you can go see if the need arises. Just keep in mind that an appointment is only 10 minutes long, so in case you are used to discussing all your past, present and future possible ailments with the doctor (like I was!), make two consecutive appointments!
Lastly, partners and families will be require visa. Details are available on the university web link. Every country has a slightly different visa process, so check the UK visa application page for your country’s requirements.
I hope some of your questions have been answered. Wishing you all the best, and hopefully a great adventure at Oxford!