Around this time a year ago, I wrote my first article for Cherwell. I’m not writing this to be narcissistic – why would anyone reading this care that this is my Cherwell-versary? But in that article, in the middle of Hilary term, I wrote about burnout at Oxford and the relation between this and meritocracy. Much of what I wrote back then still stands, as I write now in my final Hilary at Oxford.
Something about Hilary term feels, to me, grey. Michaelmas is sweet in post-summer glory – the arms of friends and the dreaming spires a warm welcome back after a long break. As the weather gets colder in Michaelmas, Oxford still remains beautiful and unchanging. Walking through Christ Church Meadows, you can feel the seasons change – one day, orange leaves crunch underfoot, and the next, the Isis is frozen over. There is, too, a particular cosiness to Michaelmas term. With the increasing cold and dark comes the switching on of Christmas lights, and the luxury of Oxmas dinners and Christmas parties.
Can you tell I tend to romanticise? No university term, Oxford or elsewhere, is perfect. Between sparky Michaelmas memories were plenty of essays and hours spent in the library – which feels a fitting transition to describe Hilary. As I mentioned earlier, Hilary embodies grey. There are no seasonal transitions – so far it has been cold seemingly every day – and nothing to look forward to at the end. There’s no JCR-funded Christmas Party, just my dissertation deadline (poor me).
It was this feeling, the constant working to fulfil goals that are slightly out of reach, just to do the same again the following week. This is the essence of Hilary: that my friends and I joke that we are living a St Peter’s variant of ‘groundhog day’, unaware of date, time, week, just living the same day on repeat. When it’s cold, you have two essays to write, and nothing to look forward to, term can feel boring and painfully monotonous. This is why I wrote a year ago, that, ‘everyone feels like we are pushing and pushing for a non-existent, unreachable goal’.
Working to such a high standard, and constant tight deadlines, as we do in Oxford, is hard with little reward. Hilary feels like there is no end in sight.
However, a year later, my perspective is a little different. Perhaps this is my romantic finalist mindset – the awareness that this isn’t an experience I am going to have forever – but I do now believe that there is a slight comfort that can be found in a repetitive and monotonous Hilary. I try my best to soak in the joy I feel on the walk to the library with friends, and in the chaos of a post-Bridge debrief (despite feeling like one of the oldest people in the club).
This is, of course, idealistic. Romanticising moments of Hilary is redundant if you actually feel unhappy, which is an entirely fair thing to feel. If this is the case, reach out to welfare services either through college or the University more widely.
I have found, though, that focusing on these little moments of joy among the bleakness of Hilary does make it a little less grey. Whilst it is easy to miss the cosiness of Michaelmas, and look forward to the sunny days of Port Meadow and picnics in Trinity, grounding yourself in a little appreciation does not hurt.
Image Credit: Torsten Reimer CC BY-NC 2.0 Via Flickr.