The start of December marks a mass exodus of students from university. We are flung to various outposts, some local and some rather exotic as our colleges send us packing; eagerly anticipating the lucrative conference and holiday crowds. Save for a few hangers-on who volunteer to assist the doe-eyed, nervous innocents who come for interviews (read - so they can stay another week to study), Oxford returns to its naturally placid state. There are few crowds save for the weekend and you can enjoy a tea or coffee without hearing anxious whispers about tutorials and essays. A student free Oxford is rather nice come to think of it. But where do all the students go? Here's a brief rundown.
One young woman left to teach horse riding in beautiful Patagonia, another to visit a sister in San Francisco. Another angrily packed a bag before screaming for a taxi to the airport so that she wouldn't miss her first shift back in an Irish hospital (a doctor in another life, gone back to replenish her depleted bank account). A boy I know ran to London to see his boyfriend whilst another went somewhat sadly back to Scandinavia. Another still sent me a rather glum SnapChat picture of himself boarding a long haul flight to Australia (tough isn't it?) In other worlds, we're scattered all over the globe.
So, having finally settled down into the rhythm of college life, accustomed ourselves to the appallingly early breakfasts and dinners, it was something of a shock to find ourselves so quickly ejected with much less ceremony than our Matriculation or formal dinner by the suddenly enervated staff and housekeeping. The streets fill with on-duty parents, mostly mothers but a few fathers get honourable mentions, standing doggedly by their double-parked cars as their prodigies came shuffling slowly out of their colleges. The parking inspectors know to stay far, far away. An interesting socio-economic experiment might be to record the make of cars against the chosen college. New College is rather fond of Range Rovers, Christ Church Audis and Mercedes although my favourite was a two-person motorbike outside Exeter. The more seasoned students mostly march to the bus or train station unaided.
The students squawk and flap around until they slowly exit the congested, beeping streets, borne back ceaselessly from whence they came or to somewhere more exciting. Having paid no attention to where I would go, I found myself very thankful that a certain Australian friend had shown such expert timing in taking a room in a nice, central London hotel and promptly offered me a pillow. I couldn't get there fast enough. High-pressured hot water? Check! Fresh towels? Check! No grouchy men guarding the college door at 3AM? Check! So, experiencing some upmarket couch surfing, my first few days were passed in perfect idleness.
Yet, serene as it sounds, there is a certain anxiety that comes with a sudden return to London from a quiet town and the menagerie of sights and sounds that pepper its streets and assault its citizens. Carollers had to be shouted at from the window to pipe down, anxious lunch-break Christmas shoppers strenuously avoided and my friend and I had to outfox the concierge every time we smuggled in a Tesco meal deal (which was often). I think they figured us out though - judging by the looks we got come midday. All in all though, a nice landing. But it's not an exodus without departures and soon I found my friend shoving her seriously overweight bags onto a very full Piccadilly line train to Heathrow much to the evening commuters' annoyance. Where to now? Cue a frantic phone call to another friend and I found myself on a couch in Kensington. But wait! There's more. Said friend was headed to Africa and before I knew it I was once again homeless and this time headed to Belgium for a few days. You'd think I would have made some more locally based friends in college but Belgium it was.
Now, some days later, I'm back on the same couch in London and am soon leaving for Canada - the one booking I had made in advance and I am hungering for a real bed. I suppose my fellow students probably had a bit more foresight than I did but on reflection the constant hustle and bustle, new sights and ever changing landscapes has been an enervating experience which hopefully will serve me well when the college gates reopen and the ponderous life of the student resumes. Still, I'd like a few more weeks before that happens.