Clearly there are some aspects of ‘the Oxford experience’ which are nice. Plenty of dreaming spires, picnic-friendly parks, quaint little bookshops, etc, etc. I’d would be hard to disagree that there are some interesting souls about to chat to, and some interesting places to go and look at. You never know, you may even leave with a degree and some semblance of employability. However, I don’t imagine I am alone in my habit of having had quite enough of Oxford usually by about 3rd week and – more cumulatively – certainly by third year! The following represents my views at the most bitter and homesick point in the term’s cycle…
There are those of us who try to cope with stringent academic demands by ignoring them as best we can, and getting involved with some time-consuming, life-eating, CV-boosting project, like acting, societies, media, etc. Whilst they seem like a good idea at the time, once you’re in a position worth having these invariably become such a commitment; with cycling everywhere, forgoing funner engagements to attend meetings, and innumerable panic-inducing missed calls from unrecognised numbers, that you wonder why you ever decided to stop reading books, writing essays and being a normal student in the first place.
But the ‘normal’ student (that is, those that do have a little of the appropriate respect for Oxford as an institution of learning, and didn’t give up their half-baked attempts at being studious after Michaelmas in first year) is hardly having a whale of a time, either.
Their best clothes are aired for five-days-a-week excursions to faculty/Bodleian Library where they delve into their ‘suggested’, ‘secondary’ or ‘further’ reading lists (‘Tutors give us these for a reason, right? They must be important, right?!’) and dream of two week’s time when the eve of their next permissible night out arrives. Outsiders might be baffled as to how one person can be so diligent. How can they bear it? What is all the hard work for? So they can go on to do more hard work, of course! This brand of student becomes so addicted to drudgery that their only option is to secure some tragically uninspired position as a cooperate-investment-lawyer-civil-banker-manager-service-hedge fund-city-type-person where they will be able to continue in their nose-to-the-grindstone habits. Except in exchange they’ll get top dolla (which means they’ll probably have to buy magazines for ideas on what to buy). That or an MA, obv.
Aside from all the cycling through the rain with a flat tire, on three hour’s sleep, to make a ‘tute’ where you plan on letting your partner do the talking only to find they have pig flu so you’ll just have to read out your excuse for an essay alone, or walking in the rain with hair curling, hands shivering and nose running, to the library to pay your debt of £34 in fines for books you didn’t even read only to find that it’s closed on weekends because, erm, this is supposed to be, like, the bestest, oldest most well-funded, super-dee-duper, researching, pioneering, genius-attracting university ever, but hey – money doesn’t grow on trees and even librarians need a day off!
Yes, aside from these motifs, there is no getting away from the fact that Oxford is full of awful people with ghastly clothes (think people so keen to flash their ‘country gentleman’ credentials that they wear shooting tweeds to the corner shop and end up looking like painfully try-hard twats, or young men and women who think combat trousers, or shoes incorporating Velcro are good plans). Of course, you do find roses amongst thorns, but ultimately the thousands of people with axes to grind and chips on their shoulders, people with [probably] small willies or whose mothers [probably] didn’t show any affection, and whose sole purpose in life is to show the world – whether or not they are even remotely interested – how completely, astonishingly clever they are, people who brandish their supposed intellect, ironically, as brutally as some prehistoric ape would wield his club. It is these trying and terrible people that have got me wondering where I can go, and what I can do after finals that is as far away from the cherished ‘Oxford experience’ as possible.
I love it really, though. Deep, deep, deep down.