Oxford terms are frequently described as fever dreams, digestible only through Instagram photo dumps and Facetime debriefs. The first time I came home from Oxford – after a lockdown-heavy, hazy eight weeks – I experienced a culture shock like I never quite had before. Transitioning from my small East Kent hometown to Oxford was strange enough, but somehow the reverse was even weirder.
Oxford, and where I call home, are radically different places. If I could place them on a scale, they would be polar opposites. It doesn’t mean I prefer one to the other, but rather that I feel like two different people in either place. Oxford is busy, stimulating, challenging, exciting, and social, but also unwelcoming in places. I can navigate my hometown with my eyes closed; its comforts and mundanity embrace me after weeks of rushing to meet deadlines and not stopping to look after myself. Despite this, I don’t know who I am between the two places – I don’t necessarily feel torn between the two, rather stuck somewhere in the middle.
Morrissey once compared being a teenager to the feeling of waiting for a bus that never comes. This is what going home is like, for me. Long summers, though spent with my loving family and the school friends I grew up with, are a plateau of lack of aspiration and feeling disconnected to everyone around me. Maybe this is an Oxford-produced superiority complex, but I don’t quite fit there anymore – when I get my hair cut at home, I lie about the University I go to, as it starts a conversation I would rather just not have. I should be proud to say I go to Oxford, but it isn’t quite as simple as that. In Oxford, however, I’m not waiting for a bus. I’m falling into it, half-drunk, in an essay crisis flurry, probably crying over a boy who hasn’t thought twice about me. Though chaotic, I’m challenged and stretched, and someone who has been lucky to have an opportunity that most people simply don’t have where I am from.
Yet, Oxford is still adapting to become truly accessible. This does show through the assumptions that come through in language, and baffling tradition – so I don’t truly fit here either.
Not necessarily a concrete, or frequently articulated, problem, I don’t think there is equally a clear solution. Often, students from backgrounds and towns like mine shy away from discussing where they are from, our words often lost among conversation of tube lines and second homes. It’s easier said than done, but we need to challenge ourselves to speak openly about our hometowns – whatever complex feeling this may cause internally. University-wide, this is facilitated by the developing field of ‘increach’, providing support to students who struggle in Oxford because of their background. This has real potential to start a conversation that most of the time is not heard: by students who almost fit, but also, almost don’t.
Image: Alison Day/CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr