This Canadian just spent the past two years in Mississippi attending Ole Miss, and oh boy do I have tips and insight to share! I'm taking my two years of Ole Miss international student knowledge and dropping it all into one post so future Ole Miss attendees can more easily understand and be prepared for their new southern life.
If after these tips and insights you have questions that are unanswered, as always I invite you to leave me a comment below and I'll be sure to get back to you!
1. Fall Over Spring
When it comes to picking the semester you'll be attending Ole Miss, without a doubt, absolutely, no question - go during the fall! Fall semester runs from the last week of August to mid December. This is the semester that football happens, and to be honest I haven't ever in my life cared about the sport, but the excitement and craziness that comes with football games at Ole Miss is amazing. The school and town become a massive, over the top, crazy football celebration. Stores and public transit shuts down, and the town is flooded with people and a massive party.
2. Purchase Football Tickets Yesterday
The football stadium has 64,000 seats, but only 10,000 reserved for students, and the student body is 24,000. Students may purchase a student ticket season pass for about $120 and this is a steal of a deal. Tickets for one game in the season, depending on how well the team is doing, may sell for more than $120. Football student tickets go on sale in spring/summer, and they sell out every single year. If you show up to Oxford in the fall without a ticket, you'll have to buy fro mother students when they don't attend games or purchase full priced regular tickets (pricey). To purchase a ticket you have to go through the most complex, confusing and annoying online system ever, but it's worth it. To get a student ticket you need your student number and Ole Miss WebID login. Don't have this yet? Get in touch with the International Office.
3. What To Wear To The Games
Yes I realize this sounds absolutely and utterly ridiculous to anyone who is not southern, but what you wear to the football game is important. Guys, you'll want some nice khakis and a button down or polo, one in red and one in navy blue. Gals, you'll want a red dress and a navy blue dress, plus wedges or cute sandals. Every game there is a colour chosen, either red or blue, that the spectators wear. Google for the outfit schedule of the season, it looks like this. Southerner girls have a very typical style of dress they wear for game days, so if you want to look like a proper southerner, you can wait until you get to Oxford and shop on the Square for appropriate game day dresses.
3. The Square
The Square is the 'downtown' area of Oxford, really it's a square of buildings that look like they're straight out of a western movie. The Square has lots of restaurants, all the bars in town and rather pricey clothing shops. There are some more reasonably priced clothing shops too, but generally the Square is where the wealthy southern women do their shopping for loads of super-southern home decor and $400 dresses.
4. Ole Miss/Oxford Culture
If you'd like a more in-depth explanation on the culture of Oxford/MS then you're definitely going to want to read this post. I'll give you a super quick overview here though too.
Friendliness: They say southerners are friendly, and this is absolutely true. Southerners love to strike up conversations with strangers, and really enjoy meeting new people. They also tend to be very interested in foreigners. If you have an attractive accent, you just guaranteed yourself a semester/year of people being extremely interested in you and talking to you constantly. The German boyfriend was walking through the Grove (the green space on campus where the pre-game football party happens), a southern lady heard his German accent, invited him inside the tent and loaded him with drinks, homemade snacks and cakes. This is just one example of many that southerners will be extremely welcoming to many internationals.
Wealth: Oxford is one of the more wealthy towns in Mississippi and Ole Miss tends to have a student body comprised of very affluent students. Seeing many Mercedes and Porsches on campus is not unusual.
Famous For: Oxford is home to the famous writer William Faulkner, and his house is now a museum that is free for students to visit.
Greek Life: Competition to get into a Greek Life organization at Ole Miss is sky high, it's one of the hardest Greek Life organizations to get into in the country. I did hear of one English international student joining a fraternity a couple years ago and he was only at Ole Miss for a year. Generally, Greek Life organizations take in members who will go to the school for a full 4 years, not just a semester or year. Greek Life organizations at Ole Miss are almost entirely divided by race still, and having a member of colour in an IFC fraternity or a Panhellenic sorority is the exception, not the rule. There are a number of Greek Life organizations comprised of mostly African-American's on campus, though they do not have the beautiful on-campus homes.
Without a doubt, your biggest challenge in Oxford will be transportation. Basically every southerner has a car, and towns/cities are very spread out, so public transportation is very underdeveloped in Oxford/Mississippi in general compared to many places in the world.
Bus: Oxford has the OUT bus system which students get free access to with their student card. It is however not very punctual and while getting to campus and back is straightforward, getting anywhere else in town with it is a challenge. There used to be a Megabus service connecting Oxford to outside cities, but I believe this service has ended, so getting in and out of Oxford by bus is no longer really possible.
Train: There is none.
Bike: There is a Bike Shop on campus which rents out bikes for $25 for a semester. I'd highly suggest getting one as it will make your ability to get around town a lot easier. You'll want to make going to get a bike one of the first things you do once arriving in Oxford as they do run out of bikes for rent during the semester.
Airport shuttles: The international office does offer a service to drive you to the Memphis airport for $85 one way or $135 round trip. This can also be used I believe if you have a family or friend coming to visit, and comes in handy for any Spring Break trip you might be planning. For coming to and departing school at the beginning and end of the semester, if you arrive/depart Memphis on the set arrival/departure days, transportation to and from the airport is provided for free.
Taxi: Taxis cost $10 per person per ride, anywhere within Oxford city limits, and $15 on game days.
Zip Car: There are two Zip Cars on campus (that's a car sharing type program). You'll need to register with an account before you can use the car which I believe takes a week or two, but after that the Zip Car can be really helpful for getting groceries or doing any shopping/going places the bus can't take you.
Renting A Car: Renting a car is quite pricey, so if you want to rent a car for the day to go tourist somewhere it's best to split the cost with friends. Of course, you have to go pick up the car and the bus doesn't go to where the car rental place is, so you'll need to take a bike to go get the car, or take a taxi.
Make a friend: This is the best way to get around, get groceries and get reasonably priced rides to the airport and back. Make an American friend with a car, and treat them like gold because you're likely going to need them. I'm 100% not joking about this.
6. Pace of life
Southerners are known for living a more relaxed pace of life than in other developed areas. I learned that there is absolutely no speeding things up in the south, so just get used to living on 'Island Time' and tell yourself 'every little thing is gonna be alright'. My boyfriend almost couldn't complete his degree at home because Ole Miss took over 6 months to send his transcript to Germany. The one benefit is that you never have to run for a bus, because they'll always wait for you, and even sometimes will back up and drive to you to pick you up. If you ever meet the bus driver Marcus, consider yourself lucky, he is the kindest human who will put a smile on your face every day you go to school.
7. Help For International Issues
While Marcus's customer service skills are superb, southerners generally don't know how to deal with international people. "How can I transfer money from my international bank account to my American one?" "Oh my lord, I've never had to do such a thing, I do apologize ma'am, we just don't know how to do that." If you need help for anything international related; banking, shipping stuff, phone plans, etc., southerners generally have no clue how to help you. At least they're super polite still though. International issues are something you just have to get creative with and think outside the box to find solutions to on your own.
8. Where to Live
University Trails apartments is where the vast majority of international students live. The apartments are nothing spectacular, but the pool is nice and there's often international parties held at it. Living at 'Trails' is good for you to be able to easily meet other internationals, and socialize with them. For the one year I lived there all our apartment related issues were dealt with quickly and fixed properly, though I've heard other people say very different things.
There's a church that visits University Trails every Tuesday and brings free food for international students, so be sure to take advantage of that. While most southerners are friendly, the church people who bring the food are over-the-top, without a doubt, the most wonderful, kind-hearted humans there are in this world. I'd suggest going to visit their church at least once (they provide free rides to and from) to witness a really super-southern religious experience.
9. Touristing Options Near By
The international office organizes a day trip to Memphis every semester. Other good things to see in the area would be Nashville, New Orleans, Natchez (which has lots of old plantation homes), and the Mississippi coast.
The general consensus I've heard from a number of other internationals who were at Ole Miss was undergraduate classes tend to be extremely easy, and Master's degree classes tend to load on the work and are really rather challenging. It's quite a difference. Depending on the education system you're coming from (eg. Germany) you might have the option to take either undergraduate classes or Master's classes. If you're looking to really take interesting courses and be challenged, go for the Master's ones, if you're looking to more experience the culture, meet people and socialize during your time abroad, go for undergrad classes.
11. Global Ambassador
Global Ambassadors are Ole Miss American students who are paired up with a group of a couple international students to help answer questions and get them orientated to the school and the area. It's also common for internationals to become friends with their Global Ambassadors, be introduced to their friends, be invited to the Global Ambassadors family tent on game days in the Grove, and of course, get rides to places around town. The Global Ambassador program can me monumentally helpful for internationals, so keep your fingers crossed you get matched up with someone great. Note that, only exchange students who go to Ole Miss for a semester or a year get a Global Ambassador, International Students who are full time Ole Miss students from another country do not get a Global Ambassador.
If you're looking for more on life in Mississippi, I'll link some other posts that were written while I was in living in MS and going to school at Ole Miss.
- Welcome To Southern Football
- The True Mississippi Delta
- Southern Winter Attire
- Life Abroad; Sophie In The USA
- The South: Where T-Shirts Are Basically Currency
- Guide To New Orleans, LA
Whew! That was a lot of info there! Of course, if you have any questions, or are headed to Ole Miss, let me know in the comments friend!
Have a fabulous time in Oxford y'all!