Oxford, west of Bohemia

Student Life

It is an important but little considered fact that the university student is a figure who stands astride two very different worlds. The student, especially the Oxford student, is told to be disciplined, organised, regimented and respectful. He should be polite, intelligent and just a tiny bit smug. He should wear glasses to read The Times in the week and watch Marr on Sundays. These are the expectations and the demands placed on the student by the titular ‘Oxford’.

However, that very same student is also a resident of ‘Bohemia’. Here it is the norm to sprawl across bean-bags discussing the rights and wrongs of Russell Brand and not see daylight for weeks. Bohemia is blocked off from the rest of the world by an Iron Curtain forged from posters of Che Guevara and stacks of the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. This is also the land to which each and every student is issued a VISA upon entry to the strange world that is University.

The metaphorical ‘Oxford’ is the inevitable destination for many successful graduates – the realm of the white-collar job, the nice car, the three-bedroomed house with spouse plus dog. However, through becoming overly wrapped up in this model life, we neglect the other side of our university-selves. Somewhere along the way many people forget that it’s okay to stay up until three in the morning to complete an essay for the following day. At some point grades come to matter more than experiences, jobs matter more than friends. Or, to continue the metaphor, the Bohemian VISA expires and the door is closed forever.

This, surely, is a travesty. It should be a duty on the part of every student to never forget the novel world that is the student life. The commensality of the dining hall, the comradeship of the classroom, the friendship of the stress support group – these are all qualities and skills that each student is trained in and they are far more valuable than any degree or qualification that can be reduced to a piece of paper. These are the tools of life and they should be preserved and valued, not thrown away in the pursuit of conformity and expectation. The liberal outlook and the carefree spirit of Bohemia should never be sacrificed in the name of what Oxford expects from us. Instead, we should strive to appease both worlds.

But how should one go about maintaining their dual residency of Oxford and Bohemia? That, unfortunately, is where this article stumbles and the reader must pick up the banner. Perhaps it’s sufficient just to spare a thought each day and ask oneself, “What would 19-year-old me do?” However, if one is asking that question then the transformation has already occurred, and one’s Bohemian passport is lying in a drawer somewhere gathering dust, long since expired.


PHOTO/Baz Richardson

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