Oxford is many things, and the description you get of it depends very much upon who you ask; it is amazing and terrible, life-affirming and soul-destroying, and sometimes everything all at once. What seems to be universally agreed upon, however, is the fact that Oxford terms are of a mercilessly high intensity, with literally every hour of every day accounted for in some way, and the combination of an obscene workload, a booming social life, and the frustrating necessity of sleep means that every block of eight weeks passes in the blink of an eye.
I knew that going on my year abroad would be very different to how I have lived my life for the past few years and would offer a welcome break from Oxford’s rigorously academic environment (which some, including, at times, myself, would describe as nothing less than a toxic melting pot of perfectionism, constant pressure, and untreated mental health problems); what I wasn’t quite so prepared for was the absolute bliss of having evenings and weekends completely to myself, without the constant presence of an essay or translation hanging over my head.
Let’s be clear here: my life in France is exhausting in a completely different way to my life in Oxford. Most days, I work from 8am until 5.20pm, meaning that I leave the foyer at 7.15am for a 10-minute bus journey followed by a 20-minute walk, and get back at about 6.15pm. Throw in the once-weekly night that I’m expected to sleep over at the château to help with clients in the evening and you’ve got yourself a fairly relentless working week. And all whilst contracted for a 35-hour week (the existence of which is a myth, by the way) and receiving approximately €3.30 an hour for the trouble. I kid you not.
Additionally, as may be clear from my previous posts, I’ve got a busier social life than I could ever have expected. But, for almost the first time since I started university, socialising is a guilt-free activity. I can come home from work and go to a bar (or, more likely, the Irish pub down the road) without feeling like I should be at my desk, slaving away over some obscure 16th-century Spanish poetry. Equally, if I feel like staying for a quiet night in chez moi, I need have no qualms about spending two hours cooking dinner (usually curry, in case you were wondering) and then spending the following two hours scrolling aimlessly through ASOS looking at clothes that my measly intern wage does not stretch to. Although my working day is nine hours long, it finishes at the end of those nine hours; any time afterwards is mine to while away. I’m looking forward to going back to Oxford for fourth year for a lot of reasons, but the unrelenting sense of having something productive and important to be doing is, categorically, not one of them.
The Thanksgiving party that I mentioned in my last post was, I’m pleased to say, a roaring success: 20 people successfully squeezed into my room and the food was outstanding. I have literally never seen such a vast array of dishes in the same place: to name a few, we had guacamole, cauliflower cheese (which, I would like to add, I made from scratch with my own fair hands), Waldorf salad, candied yams (essentially sweet potatoes cooked in sugar), Spanish tortilla, and devilled eggs. By the end, hungry we were not.
On a different subject, I’ve finally managed to organise myself and sort something out for my Spanish year abroad, albeit it only for the first six weeks. From the beginning of March, I’m going to be volunteering in a hostel in Granada in the south of Spain, a placement that I found on a website called Workaway. Anyone can advertise for volunteers on the site, with the idea being that they offer accommodation and, usually, some food in exchange for a few hours of work a day. My initial plan was to spend the Spanish half of my year abroad in South America, specifically Bolivia followed by Argentina; however, this is no longer possible due to a difficult family situation, and so I will content myself with getting to know a bit more about Spain. The only place I’ve visited before is Barcelona which, from what I can gather, is quite different from the rest of Spain anyway, and so I’m looking forward to spending time in some different Spanish cities even if it’s not what I originally had in mind.
Speaking of visiting different cities, I’m spending this weekend in Tours with five other girls from the foyer. Again, I can’t emphasise enough how surprised and delighted I am that my French friendships have developed to the point of going for a weekend away together. Tours is in an area full of (apparently) beautiful châteaux and we’re going to visit a couple of them on Saturday before spending the evening and the following day in Tours itself (which, rather excellently, happens to have a Christmas market on during this very weekend). Then there’s only one weekend left in Laval before I finish work for Christmas. My time here may not be quite as packed full as the time I’ve spent in Oxford has been, at least definitely not in the same way; however, it is certainly going by just as quickly, and my quiet little life in Laval is certainly teaching me just as much as Oxford has done.