“Living out” is dying. More and more colleges are building new accommodation to keep their undergraduate students living “in”. My college, St Peter’s, aspires to house nearly all of its undergraduate students in college-maintained buildings; in fact, it just unveiled two new buildings after almost a year of construction delays. Castle-Bailey Quad, nice as it is, got me thinking: if I had to make the choice between living out and living in, would I really choose to live out? I’d like to think so – but allow me to explain.
Sure, living out sucks sometimes. List the cons and it’s hard to understand why anyone would willingly do it. House-hunting is notoriously stressful, the houses themselves are poky and poorly-furnished (not to mention often riddled with mould), and landlords and property managers will do everything they can to avoid spending money on, well, anything. But if you put all of that aside, it really does have its draws. Take the practicality aspect: you don’t have to move everything you own in, then out, then in, then out (ad infinitum) with the vacations. If you’re a collector of textbooks, proud owner of a substantial wardrobe, or budding interior decorator, this is ideal – and it wouldn’t typically be allowed under a 27-week lease for college accommodation.
But there’s more to living out than just the practical benefits. I think it improves your student experience. It’s important to experience Oxford outside of term-time; when you’re focused on essay deadlines, tute work and labs, it’s hard to see just how much the city has to offer. Live out and stay over the vac, though, and you can spend all the time you like visiting museums, exploring Christ Church Meadows, or in the pub with friends. If you’re stuck with vac work, living out can somewhat sweeten the deal – after all, finding a seat in the Rad Cam is never as easy as it is in Week -2. This disconnect persists into term-time. Living out in deepest Cowley, far from college’s reach and faculty libraries, allows you to actually destress. It’s far easier to forget about collections, overdue tute work and overbearing tutors when it’s just you and your housemates in a kitchen-diner extension in Cowley than it is when you’re living in college, surrounded by tute rooms and stressed coursemates. To me, living out doesn’t feel like being an Oxford student – it feels like being a university student. The boarding school vibes of first-year college accommodation melt away, replaced by real independence: cook for yourself, learn how to live on your own, break free from the college bubble and figure out what it is to be an adult.
Living out is about independence, but it’s also the furthest thing from isolating. There is a feeling of community with other students at your college who are living out that transcends physical proximity. You can create your own spaces outside of your JCR. In Michaelmas, when my housemates and I hosted friends to watch the Rugby World Cup, it occurred to me that it just couldn’t have happened in college; a student house is not just a location, but it also offers total privacy from college oversight (crucial when you’re loudly cheering Ireland on to victory against South Africa). Forget entz reps and junior deans: socialising happens on your own timetable. And when it comes to friendships, it’s more than likely that you’re living with at least one close friend, which can have a transformative effect on your relationship. If you weren’t living out with your best mate, how would you ever have learned that they need to listen to 90s trip hop to study, or that they’re deathly scared of spiders? There’s an intimacy in knowing someone’s sleep schedule and what their favourite cereal is. Living out fosters this connection – a deeper connection than you would experience without living together. I’ve never felt so secure.
All things considered, then, I’d still choose to live out. Maybe it isn’t perfect, but living out has been a staple of Oxford student life for decades, and it’s one of the only similarities it has to the typical student experience at any other university. It would be a real shame to see it disappear.