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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Time-turners and doppelgängers: battling homesickness at Oxford

Nicola Dwornik talks about the difficulties of finding a true home within college walls

I think I’d be a crippling disappointment to my ten-year-old self. My first thought upon acquiring a time-turner probably wouldn’t revolve around a desire to be simultaneously battered in two tutorials at once. Unlike Hermione Granger, I’d probably first use my additional time to renegotiate my currently distant and frayed relationship with a systemised sleep cycle. After all, it’s sixth week: I’m already the shattered husk of the eager-eyed 0th week student I once pretended to be. At Oxford, there just never seems to be enough time.

Yet, we battle on. Feeling as deflated as IKEA flatpack furniture and tired as aged wallpaper, we furnish our lives with far too much to do. The idea of missing out on the ‘Oxford Experience’ is incomprehensible. We must all bustle on the eight-week-long highway to success and survival. But, amongst all this rapidity there exists a desire to escape. To leave the city, it’s social chaos and unrelenting deadlines, and just, well, go home.

Homesickness is not a foreign concept to the university student. Yet, it seems that Oxford has taken great efforts to create its own special brew. Procured guilt and an undertone of apparent selfishness combines to create a powerful notion: the belief that you lead two separate lives that often seem irreconcilable.

Part of the problem of homesickness is that you often self-diagnose yourself as its root cause. University is supposedly meant to be the time of your life, and getting into Oxford was no mean feat. The reality then, of life slightly dragging at points and missing the comforts of home, doesn’t really cross your mind whilst you read that acceptance letter with trembling hands. Oxford does not fail to present you with countless opportunities—one for each essay crisis—and, when you are unhappy, the natural conclusion is to blame yourself for not taking enough of them.

Indeed, the collegiate system does essentially grant you a home away from home; happy days spent within college can make everything seem quite well with the world. But, sometimes, amid all the insularity and relentless welfare teas, one can feel quite suffocated, lonely and unable to display any of these sentiments. This is especially true on the weekends where hoards of tourists will gaze at you aghast, as if the tears on your face form part of an out-of-place 20th Century water feature. Often, then, just as you have begun to feel comfortable during term-time, you are forced to pack up your belongings and clear your room to make space for some all-important conference guest.

This guilt felt for experiencing homesickness often combines with the knowledge that, as Oxford students, we can prove rather self-centered with our priorities. I have often found myself—more than once—easily finding excuses to justify why I may have forgotten to call a friend from home, or buy my brother’s birthday present earlier than the day before. Similarly, it must seem somewhat ridiculous, from an outsider’s perspective, that the times when I choose to Skype home often revolve around the points when I’ve decided not to fall into an essay crisis (that was probably avoidable).

As often as we may express a desire to escape from the land of dreaming spires, there also exists a marked tendency to avoid or postpone contacting those from outside the Oxford bubble. After all, keeping up with everything during our eight-week terms can prove quite a struggle. Thus, we idealise about returning home whilst simultaneously putting off connection with the very people and places we long for.

If only we could all have our own doppelgänger that allowed us to keep both of our lives successfully running in tandem. Then we wouldn’t feel so constantly swamped.

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