I wasn’t quite sure how to end this column (hence the hasty song-inspired title). All I knew is that I didn’t want to write something super sad, even if I have more of a talent for that! So, I am going to use this last article to dispel some worries I originally had about rusticating and focus on what this year proved, or rather disproved, about taking a year out from studies. 

If I rusticated, I would be giving up 

Rustication felt like a form of failure at first. Surely strong people get through their degrees, and wouldn’t walking away from Oxford be a selfish act? I think one of the first things I had to unlearn was that doing something selfish doesn’t make it a bad thing to do. You can do an action that is good and also selfish; this originally seemed crazy to me! 

Initially, when I had the difficult conversation with my parents about leaving, I certainly felt like I was selfishly giving up a shared dream. But if I had stayed, I would’ve given up myself and quite possibly my life. The thing is, rustication has actually turned out to be the opposite of giving up: instead it has been a defiant act of reclamation. Since I left my degree, I have been on a journey of rediscovering so many parts of myself that I thought no longer existed. I rediscovered my love for writing, for coffee and most importantly friendship. I also claimed the ability to say no and to trust gut feelings. Although I was no longer writing essays or being validated by academics, that loss was more than made up for by what I found in my time off, I’m not even sure the absence of those things are losses anyway. 

Rustication means letting other people down

My family was so immensely proud of me for getting into Oxford! Being an extremely timid child and a state-educated kid, it’s safe to say we were all a bit in shock that I’d been accepted. My Dad printed and framed my acceptance email, my entire extended family sent me congratulations cards and my mum even took me to visit Oxford as a birthday present during February half-term. I felt like so much happiness rested upon my shoulders, and I got nauseous even thinking about telling my family how much I was struggling. When I finally broke down in front of my parents, realising I physically could not return to Oxford without extreme suicidal feelings, all they wanted was for me to be okay. 

It is often the case in these types of situations that people will be disappointed, but not because of you. It is the situation that is temporarily disappointing rather than your own existence (something that took time for me to understand). My parents were only upset because they knew how upsetting it was for me. Their concern was for my happiness and not whether I was at Oxford or not. This is not to say that the coming months weren’t a difficult period for my family – all the uncertainty and shock took time to digest. Because I had masked what was happening for so long, everything was very unexpected, and adapting to moving back home was tricky at first for all of us.

As the months passed my parents were exposed to all sorts of crazy. They saw me unable to get out of bed or eat food properly. They listened to me as I tried to work out if Oxford was still a possibility or if I should pick a university where I could live at home. I still remember my dad trying to pull off a supportive smile one day when I decided to make oat milk from scratch (for context I do not have a good track record when it comes to cheffing). 

Recently, my parents came to visit the cafe I work at in Oxford and I served them some (if I do say so myself) gorgeous latte art. When I came to the table my dad was in happy-tears, he said he’d never been so proud of me. My mum said she couldn’t believe what I’d accomplished in the space of a year. I learnt at that moment that you simply cannot let anyone down just because your life path is non-linear. My parents are far more proud of me for being able to know what II can and can’t handle, for making choices based on what I feel is right for me. Though there have been people in my life who have told me otherwise, I know now not to believe them. In the wise words of Emma Watson, ‘don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do, or can or cannot achieve’. 

By rusticating, I miss out on chances to be successful

Leaving Oxford can feel like leaving a world of opportunities behind. I felt this especially when I watched my friends progress through term, whilst I progressed through yet another series of Selling Sunset. It is hard to not think of all the lectures you’re missing, the tutorials you were meant to be at or the exams you were meant to take. For the first five months of rusticating I lived with my parents, so I was not remotely involved in Oxford student life. The main event of the day was staring out the kitchen window watching numerous cats pass through (and sometimes shit in) our garden. 

As much as not being a part of Oxford hurt, it also gave me opportunities to pursue my own interests without the pressure to turn them into something productive or network-y. Firstly, I could read whatever the fuck I wanted and not have to ruin it with psychoanalytic theory, a major win. I could go on extended walks and listen to music without feeling guilty that I wasn’t searching for some intellectual undertone. I had time to bake and watch all the Harry Potter films, and then watch all the Harry Potter films again. Most importantly though, I had time to write, and I feel so much more like myself now because of that. 

Though none of this is what Oxford would define as success, I don’t believe that this year has been unsuccessful. I am more proud of myself than ever, I know myself a hundred times better than I did this time last year. I have a deeper understanding of compassion and empathy, and I honestly think my mental illness has made me a kinder person. 

Oxford is not everything, Oxford does not define your success or your happiness. If you need or want to leave the university it is not a step backward, it makes you brave. Your life-path possesses the same potential for love and magic regardless of whether you got to study in the RadCam or not. When it comes to success the most meaningful thing to do is look inwards and take care of that. You do not owe this city anything. 

If you would like to check out more of my writing, I wrote a poetry collection during my rustication! You can also check my social media 🙂