Heading back Home

first_img“So, do you have any exams?”Almost every day for the past few weeks I have been confronted with this question, and the response is always the same. “No,” I answer sheepishly, and then proceed to give a lengthy speech explaining that even though I’m American and only here on a one-year programme as a visiting student and have no exams, I really am working; this year really counts for something; I need to make sure I do well… Chances are that at some point you’ve run across someone like me. At times it seems that Oxford is practically infested with us. For American university students, spending part of their education abroad is becoming more and more common – as popular as gap years are in England. And, Oxford is certainly an attractive location: the rigour of the academic system, the opportunity to work in small tutorials (quite a different scenario from the crowded lecture halls of many American universities), the challenge of adapting to a surprisingly different culture, the chance to view our own country from a new and often critical perspective, and quite simply the opportunity to study at one of the world’s greatest universities manage to attracts us Yanks in droves. Now that my year abroad is drawing to a close, I realise that while all of the above reasons factored in my decision to come here, they were not my genuine motive. During the past few years, I have noticed that the pace of life has been accelerating at an alarming rate. Looking back on my first days of university orientation, I remember how incredibly long that blissful week felt. New faces, new opportunities – it felt like life was just beginning. It didn’t take long for me to sink into the routine – essays, projects, part-time jobs, summer vacations that slipped away before I could even fully appreciate them. As much as I detest clichés, I cannot help but asking, “Where has the time gone?” I came to Oxford looking for newness. By immersing myself in a completely different environment, I hoped to slow time down. And I often think that this feeling of restlessness, this anxious desire to halt time’s passing, plays a part in many foreign students’ decision to study here. Is this a form of escapism? I cannot deny it. However, like all attempts at escape, the relief is only temporary. Time moves quite strangely in Oxford. I think most of us can agree that Trinity is considerably shorter than Michaelmas. And yet, I feel that somehow, I’ve succeeded in slowing time down. America’s national obsession with success leads to a yearning for achievement that sometimes eclipses the thirst for knowledge; finishing with high grades is more important than actually enjoying your subject. While all the Oxford students whom I’ve met genuinely strive to work hard and do well, they seem to keep life in better perspective. They play hard and work hard. This year has given me the chance – for the first time in a long while – to learn my subject for its own sake. However, while I could tell you all about the influence of Calvinism on the poetry of John Donne or Wordsworth’s concept of empathy, these are not the most important things that Oxford has taught me. I’ve learned that the best time to walk though the streets of Oxford is Sunday night, when all of the bells are resounding at once. I’ve learned that after procrastinating for three hours and finally completing an essay at 1am, kebabs are the best food anyone could ask for. Despite my weakness for sentimentality, the simple fact is that soon my fellow exchange students and I will be leaving. Admittedly, in some ways this year has felt like an extended vacation, albeit a very work-intensive one. For finalists this is certainly not the case. However, to a certain extent all university students are indulging in escapism to a degree. No matter how hard we work, we are still fleeing from the reality that soon the situation is going to change. “Enjoy university,” a former teacher once advised me,“because once you get out, it’s all nine to five.” But I would rather not view life in that way. I want to believe that there will always be chances for adventure, always something new to learn. Saving money to travel, taking up a new hobby in one’s forties, going back for further education – all of these could be dubbed “escapism” to a degree. And yet, these are things that make life fulfilling. Call me a hedonist, but I’ve come to believe that life is something to be enjoyed. And, in moderation, a little escapism does no harm at all.ARCHIVE: 6th week TT 2004last_img

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