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Being a student has made me see Oxford in a new light

24 March 2014

3:21 PM

24 March 2014

3:21 PM

I have a confession to make: I go to my hometown university.

The decision to stay in Oxford is one I often feel I have to justify. When people learn that my parents live a 30 minute walk from my college, I get an ‘Oh, cool’. It’s in that tone that I imagine might also be prompted by someone telling you, while wearing flares and flashing trainers, that they maintain a shrine to Peter Andre.

I am, evidently, thoroughly lacking in a sense of adventure. Unimaginative and insufficiently independent, I am bound to be missing out on the full ‘university experience’.

And I am missing out on some things. There are no surprises at the end of cobbled streets. No getting lost on the way back from clubs in freshers’ week. No chance to leave my adolescence behind – on every visit to one of Oxford’s historic pubs, I think not of how Bill Clinton ‘didn’t inhale’ or that Tolkien and the Inklings used to meet here, but of that time my school friends and I got kicked out, aged 16, for adding Vodka to our Cokes from an Evian bottle.

Maybe it’s surprising, then, that my decision wasn’t an unusual one: at my school, more people in my year applied to Oxford than Cambridge.

So what made us do it? Growing up in a city with the university on every corner, it’s tough not being a part of it. All of Oxford’s best bits are accessed by University swipe card, and we wanted in. We’d walk past the colleges, peek through the windows of Examination Schools and imagine working in the Radcliffe Camera. Every October, at precisely moment when the novelty of the new school year was turning to tedium, we’d envy the incoming students in their gowns.

I didn’t feel that I’d ‘done’ Oxford after living there for 18 years, because, without being a student there, you can’t. It would have felt unadventurous not to take the chance to explore my city as it’s meant to be explored.

But I’m living in college. Why didn’t I join the 27% of British undergraduates staying at home while they study? I would have saved, by the University’s estimation, £8,100 a year, while enjoying a full laundry service and my mum’s cooking.

Logistically, it would only have been as inconvenient as going to one of the less central colleges: on a bike, 10 minutes to my faculty library, my tutorials and my lectures. If I’d kept it to a bare minimum, I would only have spent 70 minutes commuting a week.

And that’s exactly why I didn’t do it. I had four-and-a-half contact hours a week last term – if I was living at home, that’s all I’d be coming in to town for. I’d miss out on the cups of tea in friends’ rooms, cooking dinner with my corridor and the too-late late-night chats. There’s no space for spontaneity if you’re on your own, a bike ride away.

If I was from any other city, I think I would’ve wanted to get away from my hometown too. But Oxford’s different: when you live in a university town, you’re going to consider going to the university. When it’s one of the best universities in the world, why would you go anywhere else?

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