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Oxford in the summer

Phoebe Walls reveals how Oxford changes in the holiday months.

Oxford in the summer feels remarkably different. Most obviously there is a lack of students wandering around with most of us having gone home for the vacation. However, the streets are far from deserted: Cornmarket street is mobbed. More tourists than ever are littered across the city, trying not to look bored on walking tours and slowly tiptoeing through libraries. Plenty of teenagers attending summer schools can be found marching around in formations resembling packs. The students that do remain seem to be busying themselves in the library with summer reading lists and dissertations. However, the dog-eat-dog struggle to find a great spot in the Rad Cam is over with lots of empty seats. In terms of nightlife, Bridge Thursdays seem to be a thing of the past. Spoons is noticeably quieter and missing the overdressed boys in suits. Lots of interns from other universities are here and potential new friends for people feeling down about their empty college. Breakfast in hall is a strange hybrid between a hotel buffet and the old-fashioned dining hall. Instead of catching up with friends who have managed to make it to breakfast albeit in pyjamas with their eyes still half shut, the dining hall is full of strangers, namely American tourists and people staying in college for conferences. Lincoln College, for example, welcomed students from Bread Load School of English, an intensive summer master’s and continuing education programme for teachers and other professionals. These students had exclusive access to Lincoln facilities and were found dining in hall.  

There are certainly pros to staying in Oxford over the summer. Due to the infamously short yet intense terms, residing in Oxford provides the opportunity to potter around museums and make the most of the city without the pressure of deadlines. The libraries remain open, offering the chance to get ahead on the reading. Living alone also grants students the perks of independence and being under their own steam. Importantly some students who have a hard time at home may not wish to return. Lots of international students also stay over the summer. 

However, there are cons to remaining in the city of dreaming spires. The people make Oxford, and with friends many miles away, some students may feel isolated. Oxford is an expensive city to live in and even with a job, most of that money will have to go towards paying for rent and living expenses. Often a lot of persuasion is needed for a college to grant ‘vac res’ in the first place. For example, some students from Lincoln College were declined vac res. Oxford colleges are keen to rent out the rooms and profit from our absence from student accommodation.

I was granted vacation residence in Lincoln for a week in August. I volunteered for the Lincoln college charity, Vacproj, which takes children who are involved with the Oxfordshire social services away on daytrips and residentials. The city felt very different without most of my friends. Having a drink in a pub by myself has pushed me to meet new people and put myself out there. Striking up conversations over the threat of wasps falling into a pint has proved effective. I made a new friend, a student from Bristol university who was visiting Oxford for the day. As Yeats said, ‘There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet’ . I’ve enjoyed long walks in university parks and seeking comfort from my favourite benches and a meal deal. Oxford in the summer is truly a unique experience because there are the same dreaming spires without the dreamers.

Image: George Hodan/CC0 1.0 via PublicDomainPictures.net

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