Like eating raw cacao, or watching The Parent Trap knowing about the tragic IRL fates of Natasha Richardson and Lindsay Lohan (fatal skiing accident and going-off-the-rails respectively), the experience of my Oxford graduation was bittersweet.
It was great to celebrate with my family (who’d skipped over from Australia and with whom I’d spent the last week roadtripping around the south-west of England, visiting towns with names like Westward Ho! and Pucklechurch), and reflect on an incredible and challenging year. But ‘smiling because it happened, not crying because it’s over’ is tough advice to take (sorry Dr. Seuss…) – having to say goodbye to my BCL and college friends left me something of a blubbering mess.
My experience of Oxford is best summed up by my friend Johannes’ catchphrase (uttered with a sigh of contentment and A-Ok finger sign): “Ah, happy days!”
Arriving in Oxford, my expectations were ‘lofty’ at best, ‘borderline delusional’ at worst (my preparation involved watching Brideshead Revisited, Harry Potter and every collegiate movie/series I could get my hands on). And yet, appraising this place 10 months later, I feel somewhat vindicated. For me, the romance of Oxford has been real.
In less than a fortnight I will leave this beautiful place for good. I will desperately miss:
Having a tribe drawn from all over the world (Germany, Sweden, Canada, the US, France, South Africa, Hong Kong, the UK…), feeling like Anne Shirley forever waxing lyrical about kindred spirits and bosom friends.
Oxford really is that idyllic. But like most things in life, it’s all about the people.
I have met some truly wonderful people this year. Gadding about this beautiful sandstone city, rambling around Addison’s Walk, nervously attending tutorials, rowing through hypothermia (and hypochondria), nursing beers at the Turf, dining under flickering candlelight…it wouldn’t have been the same without these kindred spirits.
I came seeking an ‘Oxford Experience’ beyond the libraries (which, true to form, I did not set foot in except when Instagram called. Stained glass + vaulted ceilings = hashtag bonanza). I expected to have to wade through the nerds to find people on a similar wavelength. To some extent this was true. The intenseness of some students is startling, particularly amongst those coming straight from Oxbridge undergrad. The effects of the pressure-cooker environment are pretty obvious: seething stress and anxiety, intellectual combativeness, constant showmanship and outspokenness. Many people are also (admirably) just incredibly engrossed in their work, so seem to function on a different (slightly distracted) plane.
And yet, most people here are very down-to-earth. They’re keen to socialise, travel and switch off from their work, which makes for a ‘vibrant postgrad community’ (the brochures, like Shakira’s hips, don’t lie) and fast friendships.
Credit: EIBN Photography
Another day, another ball. Oxford in Trinity term has a bit of a travelling circus feel about it – it seems that every weekend the bands of performers, fortune tellers, firework technicians, magicians, tentists and fairy floss vendors just bundle up shop at one college and trundle over to the next (there’s a surprising mileage on those swing boats). Magdalen’s June Ball was themed ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’; the same as Brasenose and at least a couple of other colleges (I suppose the options are somewhat limited. ‘Taming of the Shrew’ Ball doesn’t have quite the same romantic ring to it…). Neatly ensconced between my 1st and 2nd week of exams, it was a welcome break from the stresses of study. For one evening, my only stress was trying to drink and eat my ticket’s worth of cognac and cake pops. And getting a few nice photos before my eyes took on a drunken glaze.
Credit: Romain Reglade
Worcester Garden Party (credit: Simon Mendelsohn), Summer VIIIs (credit: Cesar Manivet)
Of the 3 terms (Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity – I know, I know, they sound more like the names of 3 Dickensian orphans), Trinity was by far the most intense for me. 7 tutorials in 3 weeks (each requiring a critical essay, intelligent discussion and therefore bringing a fresh set of heart palpitations), a month of rowing training leading up to the week-long Summer VIIIs regatta, and the looming threat of exams in 9th and 10th week. As my final term in Oxford, I also felt the pressure to sign up for every event, lest I leave a single ‘Oxford experience’ stone unturned. It’s a great point of smugness that I didn’t hunker down in bookish misery until the end…so determined was I to experience this place in all its spring- and summertime glory. Seasonal delights include:
Magdalen Players (credit: Clarie Holubowskyj)
The Magdalen undergrad’s performance of ‘A Flea in Her Ear’ was held in the President’s garden. It’s definitely something special to see a performance where the stage wings are topiarised and your view is partially obscured by irises.
Yesterday, at 12.31pm, I walked out of the Oxford Examination Schools a free gal. It’s certainly been a long haul; about a month ago I boarded myself up in my room, put beaky nose to grindstone and began to learn a year’s worth of content. I also had to learn to write again (pretty sure my pen licence has expired by now); building up the wrist strength normally only associated with seasoned squash players and teenage boys.
“Punting is a uniquely pleasant experience, so long as you remain in the boat” – Magdalen College Punting Guide, 2015
The start of Trinity term in Oxford marks the unveiling of the punts. For Magdalen, this means the dusting off of a cheerful fleet of 17 rainbow-coloured boats.
As the guide suggests, theres is something distinctively lovely about drifting down the Cherwell, past weeping willows (and occasionally weeping tourists; more than a few iPhones meeting a watery death); water lapping at the hull, and dappled light playing across your face. You see people picnicking, and even serenading their sweetheart with sweet sweet ukelele strains.