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The return to Oxford

Phoebe Walls describes the bittersweet sensation of returning to uni.

The return to Oxford university after the long summer vac provokes mixed emotions. My dog was sad at the sight of my looming suitcase. Packing up my belongings and travelling from Edinburgh to Oxford was a bit of a thought. There is undeniably excitement about the prospect of Michaelmas term, catching up with friends after months of living hundreds of miles apart, pints in the college bar, bops, and essay writing in Oxford’s inspiring libraries.

This time last year I was feeling very nervous about starting university at seventeen and moving over three hundred miles away from everything I’d ever known. This year I’m going into my second year at Lincoln college and the prospect of my new role as a college mother is strangely thrilling. My schoolfriends were baffled when confronted with the concept of the Oxford college parent system. My lovely husband and I have welcomed two daughters. They share the same trivial yet all-consuming concerns we once harboured. What exactly are the washing facilities like? Rest assured, the laundry room became my happy place. Are there bins or hangers? 

Accommodation questions aside, the Oxford summer reading lists form a heavy weight on the young shoulders of anxious freshers, stepping into the unknown world of tutorials and collections, the opportunity to collect one’s intellect. I had my own summer reading list to chip away at over the last few months, from medieval French lais to Goethe’s poetry, depicting effectively a ‘sneaky link’ reminiscent of a so-called ‘situationship’ (a non-committal relationship destined to sink without anchors). 

While defrosting the strange Titanic iceberg that had grown in my fridge over the vac, I considered the many connections forged at university.

Staying connected during the vac is made easy through technology. Yet talking to friends on the phone is a jarring experience. My phone voice sounds like a silly schoolgirl. Snapchat messages have a best-before date and automatically disappear, but the app does provide Snap maps, cartoon friends scattered across the globe. Instagram only offers the best bits of students’ summer vacations rather than the reality of mundanity. BeReal provides the most realistic portrayal of friends online. It offers exclusive shots of messy bedrooms, family members in fancy kitchens, and kittens resting on laptops. BeReal boasts pictures of computer screens with all the tabs open. Is it normal to zoom in and find out what exactly someone is up to online?

Sometimes there’s too much to keep tabs on. Stories, posts, messages. Personally, I enjoy channeling elderly energy and sending my close friends letters and postcards. However, nothing beats the face-to-face interactions I crave after the vac, from the simplicity of quick study breaks to Pret to attending a formal hall. 

I am even looking forward to seeing my tutors again and the slightly surreal buzz of hearing them read a snippet of my essay aloud in a tutorial. Oxford throws you straight in at the deep end as soon as you move back, with the return of a challenging workload. A French translation collection before the official start of term was a typically Oxford surprise. There really is no rest for the wicked. Yet there is something uniquely magical about the student experience here. Everyone is effectively in the same boat trying to stay afloat. I’m now eighteen and have learned plenty about circuit laundry, essay writing, referencing, JCR political landscapes and the very flat Oxford landscape. As I bid farewell to Edinburgh, the city built on seven hills with a beautiful castle and beaches, I am reunited with Oxford’s spectacular architecture. Within the medieval core of the ancient colleges, there’s the hustle and bustle of Cornmarket. So as my train leaves Waverly station, like many students, I prepare to embark on my new journey, to go off the rails whilst also staying on track. 

Image credit: Liv Cashman

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