Making myself at home

Estranged from her family, Laura McGriele discusses the challenges in forging a home out of Oxford

A woman walks down a snowy path with trees lining it. She is wearing a coat and carries a black bag over her shoulder.
Oxford can be a cold place when you have nowhere else to go

December in Oxford; interviewees arrive at colleges eager to get a break from their home towns while tourists shop and explore the Rad-Cam, the Bodleian, and perhaps even the Eagle and Child.

December is a festive and busy month, a place to visit briefly, look around, and leave. For us students it seems to be the same; we are here for eight weeks, we look around at the restaurants, the clubs, and then we get to leave and go home too. Oxford never seems to slow down, it’s always bustling, always full, and I am never separated from it.

It’s hard to make Oxford your home when it’s always churning. I have been estranged and independent since I was fifteen, so the notion that I belong anywhere is alien. Pair this with imposter syndrome and Oxford does not feel like something I have earned or can enjoy. Rather, it feels like I am back in my early teens, jumping from home to home, waiting to be kicked out.

In truth, I don’t believe anyone truly feels as though they belong in Oxford. But, the thing is, they don’t have to – you can just fake it for eight weeks before going home where you do belong. However, when you’re here for most of the year, making this city your true home is a feat that seems impossible.

If you stay here over the vacation; the college makes you feel unwanted. If the interviewees are loud and disrespectful; you just have to be overly gracious – this is not your home now insomuch as it is theirs. If you cannot fund yourself over the vacation; you must sacrifice a portion of your overdraft (or all) to be deducted next term.

The University does a good job of reminding you that you’re here on loan.

Don’t get me wrong, in some ways I am privileged. Oxford does not get to keep me for the whole Christmas vacation – I can go back to a friend’s home in Wales for a bit. I get to go back to their cats, their home, and their food, and to my friend’s loving and caring father who, although I wish he were, is not my own.

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My friends are in Oxford over the vacation too. Beautiful, honest people that everyday go through the same struggle of feeling mismatched and misplaced, yet still are able to remind me that if believe they belong here, then I must belong here.

I think that to make a home out of Oxford University you don’t need to feel as though you belong, you just need to surround yourself with people who make you feel accepted and wanted. To me, term time feels like I need to prove that I belong here academically, whereas vacation time feels as though I need to make myself believe I belong anywhere at all.

I know that I do not belong here, there, or anywhere. But I know that one day, if I use this education wisely enough, I can make sure that I never feel this way again. I can truly belong.