Apparently you can’t matriculate twice. The moment I accepted university membership as an undergraduate fresher, three years ago, I was irreversibly matriculated. There appears to be nothing planned for the graduate fresher returning to Oxford, except maybe trying to get their forever Oxonian hands on post-matriculation brunch. It may be only fitting that this is the case; as a first-year master’s student, I may be a two-time fresher, but stepping into my second fresher’s college room, I do not feel at all the unsuspecting excitement I felt three years ago.
Three years ago, back when such things mattered, I was delighted to find out my room was in the historic main site of my college, overlooking Broad Street. I lucked out big time; the en-suite room was actually two rooms, one the bedroom and the other a study room, with a desk, a coffee table and some quite cosy chairs. I went to Whittard’s to buy a teapot and started hoarding mugs and teabags, picturing myself hosting conversation-filled afternoons with future friends and forgetting how quiet and coffee-drinking I could be. The absence of a fridge or nearby self-catering facilities, except for the crusty JCR kitchen across the quad, didn’t bother me just yet. Nor did the placement of the radiator right next to my bed, which eventually led to my waking up to the occasional scalding jolt overnight.
I wouldn’t go back to it, but living in a traditional, centrally-located college room had its perks. I was close enough to most lunch spots to bring still-hot takeaways (mostly from A Taste of China, in the Covered Market) to my room during crowded times. I was surrounded by fellow first-year undergrads, and I could walk into the chapel or the 24/7 college library at any time of the day without worrying about going out after dark. I felt deeply the fascinating gap between this historic Oxford room, sponsored and once inhabited by so-and-so, and my usual ultra-modern habitat in Korea, and turned it into a source of inspiration and impressively unrelenting motivation – motivation that helped me survive 4pm sunsets and the harrowing experience of speed reading Middlemarch and Bleak House.
The Victorians and the radiator’s attempts at assassination by bedside slow-roasting now a distant and too-warm memory, I am once again a fresher and settling into another college-provided room, this time at a modern block in Cowley. I know the drill: I greet familiar faces at the lodge before collecting my key, give Royal Cars a ring and arrive with the appropriate bedding (single bedsheet, duvet cover, two pillowcases). My boyfriend, whom I met in my third undergraduate year, helps me bring boxes over from the storage facility at Botley – no more bursting into tears in the middle of Cornmarket Street while carrying a mini fridge across town without anyone I knew enough to ask for help.
The room is a nice, standard student room, the kind I am now all too familiar with. Single bed, reasonably wide desk and noticeboard. Tiny bedside cabinet that could use a lamp that I’m thinking of getting from Amazon. I’m not loving the limited view my window offers, but know I will be grateful for it come Trinity term, when blue-skied, big windows will turn rooms into greenhouses. The en-suite bathroom is inexplicably big, with no cupboard and a shower with intensely powerful water pressure, but I now know not to ask too many questions. It is a bit removed from central Oxford, though cycling is still off the table – I decide to commit some of fresher’s week to familiarising myself with Cowley and the Oxford Bus Company.
Standing among my suitcases and the reasonably-nice-and-reasonably-strange-ness scattered all over this new room, I feel a bit weird. I’m not sure if I should be looking for a sense of continuity or a new start. Some friends are still here, having taken a year off or doing a four-year degree; others have left university and rented rooms elsewhere, probably London. I am in Oxford, and this is my fourth student room here – I find this both comforting and unnerving. I might be irreversibly Oxonian, according to university rules, but I couldn’t really tell you what my status as a person mostly resident in Oxford is, to be honest. I wonder if, after my masters, I will ever get a fifth student room as a three-time fresher. May that one have more reasonable water pressure. And be nearer to a library.