Fighting the mundane to escape the Oxford college bubble

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It’s been a few weeks since the beginning of Trinity term, and most of us have finally settled back into Oxford. We’ve had our slightly awkward yet obligatory post-vac conversations (“How was your vac?” “Oh it was fine thank you, how was yours?” “Oh yes, yes, yes, it was very good too, thank you.”). We’ve gone past the excited flurry of catching up with friends. We’ve moved back into our rooms; figured out which lectures we’d like to attend (and which ones we’d rather avoid); and nestled into the daily grind of work. And as the term continues, we’ll return to our favorite activities and places, going about our lives in more or less the same way as we went about them during Michaelmas and Hilary.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a routine. It’s nice. It’s comforting. It makes Oxford a home away from home. But after we settle into the familiar rhythms of our day-to-day lives, there’s an almost sad sense of having given up and given in –to the comfortable, the familiar, and the mundane. Here we go again, queuing up at Park End on a Wednesday night to bop up and down on the cheese floor. Here we go again, fuming silently at the swarms of tourists congesting the pavements on High Street. Here we go again, racking up points at Sainsbury’s. Yes, I will swipe my Nectar card, thank you.

After the first few weeks, we lose something that’s magical about the beginning of every term. We forget how, in the beginning (as in most beginnings), we are gripped by such possibility and energy! We want to try something new. We might venture to finally talk to the cute potential-significant-other from lecture. We might resolve to eat healthy food, hang out more (or less, as the case may be), and explore Oxford. We might be excited about the possibility of making new friends, of branching out from our social groups to talk to people we might have never talked to before. It’s like the first couple of days of the New Year, when gyms are packed with people vigorously exercising on treadmills and ellipticals and weight machines, determined to really stick to an exercise program this time around.

However, the numbers of devoted gym-goers inevitably dwindle. Old habits die hard. Instead of running on the treadmill, we run back to our comfortable chairs and chocolate-covered Digestive biscuits. (Unless you are allergic to gluten, in which case perhaps you might fancy some gluten-free chocolate-covered Digestive biscuits.) We lose the flash of courage that had so possessed us to think about talking to the cute, potential-significant-other from lecture. We succumb to unhealthy lifestyles again, trapped within our college bubbles, cooped up once more in the library or out in nightclubs. And we retreat back to familiar social groups, tired of polite conversations about things that are not interesting but are nonetheless necessary, like holidays and the pernicious weather.

But as we approach the fourth week of Trinity, we haven’t yet completely plunged into this mundane yet dangerous pit of sameness.

Instead, we are just tottering on its brink, swaying back and forth, wind blowing in our faces as we peer into the familiar foggy depths of what we’ve always known. It’s tempting to step into a routine, to return to the same clubs, activities, and places with the same people we’ve always known. Like I said, it’s nice. It’s comforting. It makes Oxford a home away from home. It gives us the regularity and stability we need in our fast-paced, gadget-driven lives.

This term, though, I just challenge you to hold on for a bit longer. Hold on for as long as you can to that almost naïve sense of possibility we had at the beginning of term but inevitably lose. Don’t lose the courage to talk to the cute potential-significant-other in lecture. Go to a museum exhibition. Shop at a farmer’s market. Find a new café. Audition for a musical. Try out for a sport. Make a new friend. Attend a lecture outside your subject. Walk a different route to class, away from the hoards of camera-laden tourists. Run a mile, or run for President of a society. Hop on a train or bus or boat or car out of the city.

And when you can’t hold on any more, when you’re ready to fully settle back into your life at Oxford, just remember that feeling. Remember that clear-sighted openness to opportunity that inspired you to try new things, go new places, and meet new people at the beginning of term. After all, it might come in handy when you’re bogged down with books and boredom in the middle of term. Who knows? Maybe you might pick up a new habit for your routine.

 

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