Visiting from Baltimore: a tale of two systems

David Hills explains his mixed responses to spending a year as a visiting student in Oxford

Imagine: It’s two o’clock in the morning and I’m somewhere up in Summertown (I don’t know how far) and this fox wanders out from between the houses and stops in the middle of the street and just stares at me. And I’m standing in the middle of the street (because the sidewalk is creepy and full of shadows) and I’m staring, too. And I decide,

“Okay. That’s a sign if I’ve ever seen one. Time to head back.” So I turn around and walk back to College.

Coming home from Oxford was difficult for me. During my last week of Trinity, I started trying to condense a year’s worth of experiences into a few, neutral sentences in preparation for the barrage of obnoxiously simplistic “how was your time abroad?” questions. This article is not the 500-word version of those answers. With five months of reflection to work with, I have something real to say.

My first term at Oxford was incredible. Michaelmas was filled with bopping until we couldn’t bop any more, nighttime jaunts in Port Meadow, and the occasional (read: daily?) pub crawls that would inevitably end at Turf Tavern. But my experience abroad wasn’t all punting and daisy chains. There were times that it was very lonely. No one wants to tell you how difficult it is trying to build a home around something so temporary. No one likes to talk about the weeks of no sun or the breakdowns in Tesco when you realize you can’t make your favorite Christmas dish because the ingredients aren’t sold in England.

For me, the loneliest part was not being able to talk about missing home. How do you speak negatively about this incredible opportunity when everyone around you is saying they never want to leave? I’d dreamt about being at Oxford since I was five years old; even my family couldn’t understand why I was sitting in my room and not running around in the rain soaking up every drop of my Oxford experience. Oxford’s disturbing lack of mental health awareness and resources are topics best covered by a different student at a different time. All I’ll say on the matter is that silence can be a lot harder than speaking out.

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It wasn’t as though my entire experience at Oxford was filtered through the lens of this grey cloud of depression. I met some of the greatest people while I was abroad. I made incredible friends. I was fortunate enough to be at St. Anne’s, the absolute best college, in my wholly objective opinion. But when my friend asked me to write about my time in Oxford this is the story I wanted to tell. Because I feel as though it isn’t one that gets told often enough. It’s whispered on drunken walks home from Wahoo or mentioned quickly in a dorm room over a fourth glass of Shy Pig: Oxford is great and wonderful and special; it is also isolating, lonely, and far from home.