Hilary Term: Start of something new, or a little bit blue?

image description: Oxford University’s Bridge of Sighs 

If I were to sum up what Hilary term feels like to me in one word, it would almost certainly be ‘liminal’. You don’t have the excitement of heading back to Oxford after a three month vac, but you’re not gearing up to the end of the year either. Its position in the middle of the academic year but the start of the calendar year only adds to its confusion. Moreover, as a term repeatedly hit by COVID-19, it is hard to work out what exactly Hilary term holds, making feelings about it all the more muddled.

I think that a new term, regardless of when in the year it falls, offers the possibility of hope and change. After a reasonably long vac, it feels easier to view the term with a bit more perspective; you’re (hopefully) not exhausted from weeks of all-nighters, and the excitement of seeing friends you haven’t seen in a while is enough to make Hilary at least a little bit appealing. Even though the mountain of work always seems daunting, often a new term brings in module changes, and a change in topic and tutor can be just what is needed to bring the fun back into academic life at Oxford. It is too easy to take our amazing resources and buildings for granted, and coming back to Oxford less sleep-deprived and with slightly more zest for life I find means that I see Oxford life, with all its libraries, cafes, and old buildings, in the shiny grandeur I did on my first open day. What’s more, after a few weeks at home, the idea of increased independence and the freedom to get a kebab in the middle of the night seems all the more appealing.

Of course, all that I have said could be said about any term, so what is it that Hilary offers that neither Michaelmas nor Trinity do? I think Hilary’s unique position comes from its proximity to the start of the new calendar year – I believe that this can bring about both enthusiasm and apprehension for the term. The new year is always regarded as a time of possibility; the sense of being able to start afresh can be invigorating and inspiring enough to dispel some of the stress that an Oxford term brings. New years’ resolutions in particular can help us feel motivated and eager to get on with the term. The flip side of this, of course, is that the heightened expectations to achieve more, be healthier, be happier, can bring about increased feelings of anxiety, and can result in a sense of disappointment if we do not live up to our often somewhat unrealistic targets.

Amongst all the excitement a new year brings, I’m sure there are many students who are perhaps feeling more worried than not about Hilary term. Some may still be burnt out from last term, and others may already be concerned about looming deadlines. Hilary also brings in questions about the future as summer internships open for applications, and decisions about living situations begin to be made. Furthermore, the impact of Michaelmas may have left many students with a plethora of feelings regarding the start of Hilary. With many of us having experienced our first ‘normal’ term of university in a while, perhaps ever, the overload of academic commitments alongside a significantly fuller social calendar may have left some feeling overwhelmed by the volume of things to do, and thus apprehensive about resuming this level of activity in Hilary. I think it’s important to recognise this, as whilst some people may be feeling particularly thrilled by the resumption of normal life, for others Hilary may seem like an uphill struggle.

All this considered, I think it’s important for us all to be aware that students are coming into Hilary with feelings ranging from apathy to excitement, joy to dread. There’s a lot in the term that is enjoyable and will bring a great deal of fun, but there are also worries and concerns that may overshadow those experiences at points. It’s important for all of us to check in with our friends as we embark on this new term, so that no one feels that their feelings aren’t valid or are out of line with what everyone else is thinking. It is possible to be looking forward to and slightly dreading this term, and the kinder and more understanding we are to one another, the easier it will be for us all to get through (and enjoy!) the upcoming eight weeks.