Rustication is an utterly Oxonian term. The word has a mysterious, almost taboo-like element to it. It’s often whispered rather than spoken, some of us not entirely sure what it is or what it entails, though are aware it’s a serious decision.
I was your stereotypical first year hermit: relatively social for the first two weeks of Michaelmas before disappearing into my room never to be seen again. Whenever I left college I went via the back gate. The one time I went through the Porter’s Lodge, I had to show my Bod card to prove I wasn’t a tailgating tourist.
During that brief spell of sunshine last Trinity, when everyone else sitting out in the sun, I was sitting in my room and polishing off my 20th boxset of the year. Later that week I went to a tutorial and spent the whole hour and half crying. After that things moved very quickly.
I went to the GP, spoke to all my tutors, and my friends from home before I finally worked up the courage to tell my parents and sister that I wanted to rusticate. Like most parents, they were worried I was making a mistake by leaving. I think their biggest concern was I might never come back.
Looking back, I had spent my whole first year of Oxford in a torturous existence. I was unhappy, though rather than acknowledging it, I adopted that all too familiar British ‘stiff upper lip’. When I was finally brave enough to make a completely selfish decision, I realised it was probably the most important one I’ve ever made.
As soon as I knew I was suspending my studies, it felt like a physical weight had being taken off my shoulders . I had a whole 15 months of academic relief ahead of me. It took me a long time to build up to doing any work again. For my first three months off all I did was rest, socialise, travel and see friends. It was a tremendously liberating experience. I felt in control of my own life again. If my university experience was the subject of a history essay, rusticating was my turning point, my watershed moment, albeit a good one.
In September 2016 I got a job at the local Sainsburys, this kept me productive and gave me a feeling of independence I was yet to experience. When I left that job ten months later, it was not just a bit of extra cash I’d earnt, but a lot more self-esteem. By doing something very different to academic work, I had proven to myself that there was more to life than studying. To be at a place like Oxford is both a choice and a privilege, but I learnt I could still take another route in life if I wanted to, moreover I could still be happy.
Rusticating led to me feeling fulfilled again. I went to see my friend in Japan and I went interrailing around Europe. I even started reading around my subject about half way through the year for pleasure, because studying was no longer dictated by deadlines. I felt happy.
Coming back this year has been amazing, I’ve found a wonderful group of friends and comfortably passed my Mods. I am far more settled, secure, and I enjoy my subject. If I hadn’t had the confidence to rusticate, I would still be struggling through now – utterly miserable, isolated and with far fewer fond memories of my time at university to look back on.
Don’t be afraid to do what’s best for you. Sometimes the road less traveled is the one which can change your university experience for the better.