Ah, the end of term. An inescapable, hateable topic. Oxford is so all-consuming that eighth week feels like agony, wondering how the vac will change you and your friends. Anxious that you’ll return and your friends will somehow have forgotten who you are, your entire existence. Maybe that’s just me. 

I am no mathematician, but in my estimation, I have now spent about 1/52th of my life in Oxford (eighteen weeks over eighteen years, although those eighteen weeks have been very condensed). 1/52th of my life, and yet I came to think of Oxford, and my college, as “home” within about two weeks of being here. It is more home than anywhere else I have ever lived, because it’s a home I’ve made for myself. I spent the majority of my teenage years waiting to get to uni just to be able to design my room exactly how I wanted, to have a blank canvas to paint on without the embarrassing memories of my ten-year-old self lurking in corners. And I only get that for less than ninety weeks over three years. If I could, I think I would never leave this place, an idea which I know is definitely not shared by some of my peers, who are all anxious to get home and see their families. I would rather spend all my time in Oxford (sorry, Mum!), with frequent 5-day breaks, rather than the dreadful five weeks which I know I’ll spend rotting away in my bed, the ghosts of all the previous versions of myself ceaselessly mocking me.

I cannot, however, live in Oxford forever. For one thing, my college has a limit on how much vac res we can get. For another, even if I had limitless vac res, I could not afford rent for a full year, not at £25 a day. So instead, I spend all of seventh and eighth week mourning my life here, hoping it won’t change too drastically by April. 

The best thing about Oxford, I think, is the people. Obviously, my friends are at the top of this list of Oxford things I adore, but that’s a given. This is a Love Letter to Oxford as a city, not to my friends. What may be less obvious are the non-friendships in Oxford, the strangers who I pass every single day on my way to my lectures in Exam Schools, who I pass so often that they are no longer strangers to me. I love the fact that I can’t go to Atik without bumping into someone I know, that there is never a time when I leave college and don’t find someone waving at me from across the street, or a friendly face passing by outside of Tesco. There is something so comforting knowing that just as you’re going about your day, everyone you know is doing the same, going to lectures and on food shops and to clubs. Oxford often feels like a big community, and whilst I hated that in my small town – the fact that I couldn’t walk down the high street without someone asking me how my mum’s doing – in Oxford I am entirely my own person. To people in Oxford, I am simply me, without a family life back home. These people never saw embarrassing photos of me in the bath as a little kid, never heard about the time I broke my arm, and don’t particularly care about the achievements of my brother and sisters or question whether those achievements are better than mine. I think that’s the release in Oxford – I both have a community, and in some sense, a family, but I am able to remain my own individual person. 

My second-favourite thing about Oxford is the architecture. The Rad Cam, the Bridge of Sighs, Exam Schools, the History Faculty, my college library. All beautiful, all filled with the presences of those who came before me. The cobbled streets hurt my feet (a sign I need to get new shoes) and I am reminded that this university has been around for a millennium. It is old and wonderful and everything I had once dreamed of.

I cannot mention my college library in an offhand manner – my college library consumes my soul. It is what I live for, what I study for. She is the bane of my existence and the object of my desires. I fear I have spent more time in the library than in my room. I have seen my college library at every hour of the day – the stressful 4pm, when deadlines are approaching; the eerie 6-7pm lull when the library becomes temporarily deserted in favour of food; the 5am quiet when it’s just me and whatever poor sod also forgot to write their essay which is due the next day. The worst part about going home is the loss of a place that’s a two minute walk from my room and has multiple locations for me to have a breakdown or essay crisis in. There’s the basement, which has affectionately been called the ‘panic room’ and always contains at least one student in an essay crisis. There’s the classics room, which is relatively quiet, and in which I can pretend that my essay is about the Aeneid, and not the economic systems of the Franks. There’s the creaking beauty of upstairs, which feels like a proper Oxford library. I could spend my entire life in my college library and not run out of new study spaces. I am ashamed to admit that I miss her more than certain people over the vac. 

A key aspect of Oxford that I miss is the studying. I loathe revision. Why should I have to re-learn something I’ve already learnt? Why can’t I constantly be exploring new topics? Of course, there are certain topics which I am learning for the first time in my revision, but I cannot tolerate having to make timelines and do practice questions. I think I should be allowed to do my entire degree without a single exam. I know the content, I promise. Just don’t ask me when or how or why anything happened ever. It is only when I get to revision that I seriously question being a History student.

The point perhaps most relevant to my degree: I love Oxford’s history. I walk around the city and I walk around my college in awe that just under 150 years ago, this entire city was closed off to women. That women couldn’t matriculate until 124 years ago. I think about the thousand-year history of Oxford, and how little of that includes women. How lucky, how lucky to be part of that history, when so many women who came before me found it closed to them. I go home for the vac and I am just a person, but I come to Oxford and I am part of a movement that fought for women’s education. Every second I spend here pisses off an old dead white man, and perhaps it is the very presence of women in Oxford that I love. The presence of female students, the existence of an LGBTQ+ nightclub, the ability to study things other than theology, the fact that all of my tutors so far have been women. 

I recognise the flaws of Oxford, of course I do. Intellectual elitism run amok, which of course I contribute to just by being here and expressing opinions. But I look at those thousand-year old buildings and can’t help but feel a certain sense of awe.