Life Divided: Do you miss Oxford during the vac?

Are you pining after crippling academic pressure, or just enjoying being reunited with sleep? Priya Vempali and Joanna Lonergan debate Oxford nostalgia

Photo: Tejvan Pettinger

For

Priya Vempali

Ah, Oxford – a cruel mistress if ever there was one. During term time it torments me with deadlines, FOMO and existential dread, but once I’ve withdrawn from the academic prison I’m left eagerly awaiting my return.

The first week of vac is usually when the worry sets in. Why does no one around me know what an Oxfess is? How am I meant to survive the next few weeks without the culinary delights of Hussain’s? What am I meant to do on a Thursday night, now that queuing for hours outside Bridge is no longer an option? I’m at a loss.

Yes, the vac provides me with a break from churning out subpar essays, dazed and confused after my fifth coffee a night, but there’s something comforting about suffering in solidarity with other students. Unlike my home friends, they understand what it means to be crumbling under the weight of crippling academic pressure, just trying to make a 2:1 without having to attend any 9am lectures. I don’t have to explain to them why Emporium is the worst club that’s ever existed, or how my college bar tab is fuelling my growing alcohol dependency.

Worse still, the lack of structure that inevitably follows my return home is frightening. At least in Oxford I have a sense of what day, week, even month it is – thanks to the stringent deadlines imposed on me by my tutors. At home, by contrast, my pillow fort and I can go days without human contact, comforted instead by the familiar embrace of Netflix’s ‘play next episode’ button. The feeling of complete stagnation is wonderful, liberating even…until it’s 3am, and you’re struck with fear over the thought of selling your soul to some corporate City firm for the rest of your life.

All in all, I can’t wait to be back in the city that crushed my dreams of being a bright-eyed academic. Yes, it may be hell, but by God, it’s my hell – and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Against

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Joanna Lonergan

I don’t miss Oxford. I don’t miss the straw sack passing for a mattress, I don’t miss drifting off to the sweet sound of my neighbour having sex, and I’d take Mum’s Spag Bol over questionable hall curry any day. I’d seriously question your sanity if you disagree.

For the next five weeks I don’t have to worry about anyone stealing my ice cream from the freezer, or figure out how to wash my hair in the sink because the shower can only manage a lukewarm dribble. I’m free from the niggling guilt that comes with choosing sleep over 9am lectures, and from the realisation that once again I’ve left myself a single night to churn out an essay.

I can take a break from typing out the same apologetic emails, with my sorry excuse for an essay reluctantly attached. I don’t have to see the look of disappointment in my tutor’s eyes when they hand it back to me, decorated with red pen, or the frustration with which they answer me when I ask them for the fifth time to repeat the question.

In Oxford, I’d forgotten what sleep felt like. If I got into bed before 2am I was proud of myself for having an ‘early night’. I was neither a night owl nor an early bird – more of a permanently exhausted, dishevelled pigeon. Over the past week I’ve averaged 8 hours a night, and I’m really not exaggerating to say that I don’t believe my uni friends would recognise me now that I’m no longer a bleary-eyed corpse. Gone are the nights interrupted by 2am fire alarms because some halfwit had a craving for toast but didn’t quite grasp the workings of a toaster.

So no, I can’t bring myself to miss Oxford. Yes, the friends, the Bridge queue, the Hussain’s in Oxford are wonderful, but you’ve just got to appreciate home comforts.