I came to Oxford in 2021, and when I say it aloud, I feel very old. But still it feels like only yesterday. I remember walking into my first year room and being terribly surprised, questioning how I was going to share a bathroom with however many people that I didn’t even know. That academic year was definitely an experience. Memories of it are underscored by feelings of regret because I definitely could have explored more. Upon reflection, I can admit that I certainly did not make a sufficient effort to integrate into University life. There was no overarching or systematic reason as to why I isolated myself. I just remember feeling as though there was no one like me, so I withdrew to what I knew. I preferred to chill with my friends who had followed me from the Oxbridge prospect machine (Brampton Manor) or retreating to the safe haven of my family home (in London).
In a weird way, I thought this perennial struggle I’ve had with imposter syndrome would actually help me as I had grown accustomed to not thinking I was the ‘best’ or the ‘smartest’. I thought having the nagging reminder that I always had to work a little bit harder than my peers, would mean that I would not struggle with being surrounded by so many geniuses at university. But I did. It reaffirmed the worry that I always had; the fear that I wasn’t as intelligent as everyone had told me, and that one day everyone else would figure it out and the gimmick would be up.
Fast forward to 2nd year, I was a lot more settled into the identity of being a university student. I truly began immersing myself into the ‘Oxford Experience’; I attended formal dinners, finally went back to my first love (football) and set the foundations to begin mentoring. Everything seemed fine until 2nd year summer. I had finished my summer internship, and was overwhelmed with the amount of work I had waiting for me. I was yet to start the pre reading for my upcoming module and hadn’t even glanced at my prescribed reading list for my dissertation. After multiple late night tears and pep talks from my older sister, I confronted the work. But once I had done that, there was somehow even MORE. I then had to worry about finding a graduate job and constantly compared myself to my peers.
Weeks into my final year, the dreaded combination of stress and exhaustion tested my mental fortitude in ways I never thought possible. I told my dad it felt like I was drowning. I still recall his response as a reminder that I’m doing okay. He said, “don’t worry about swimming for now, just try and keep your head above water.” This academic year has been nothing but colossal waves of pressure from university work, to fretting over job prospects and applications, to worries about life itself after university. But remembering to ‘keep my head above water’, has reminded me to face each wave, one at a time and force them into smaller splashes, it makes everything more manageable. It also taught me that it is fine to just be okay, you don’t always have to be extraordinary. It takes its toll eventually. I’ve had to accept that being just okay is also alright, as long as you’re on track with your work, you’re doing fine - and sometimes, that’s all you need.
With this being my last year, I’ve been trying to capture every moment as everyone reminds me that this period of adulthood is the last time I will ever truly feel carefree. But in pursuit of that, there’s a feeling that the time I am ‘wasting’ such time making memories could be devoted to something more productive such as acing applications or doing further reading for my modules. For three years, this place will have been my home, so I’ve been committed to at least making the experience aesthetically enjoyable.
It’s almost like Stockholm Syndrome, I spent a lot of my time hating Oxford but it holds a special meaning for me because it has been a site of tremendous growth. I’ve found my footing, lost it, found it again, lost it again – you get the idea. What I’m trying to say is, as you get older, life gets messier and you find yourself being lost more times than you can count. Things no longer fit neatly into the little boxes you had originally sorted them into and you find yourself yearning for the long gone blissful ignorance. I think university continues to embody that for me. It has made me appreciate the transience of emotions. It won’t always be plain-sailing (sadly), but it also means you won’t always be drowning.
For those of us with Peter-Pan syndrome, the end of this academic journey can feel frightening due to all the uncertainty. My anchor has been remembering the surge of excitement I felt when I first started despite having no clue what was in store for me; I tell myself it’s okay to part with this specific chapter and be excited for everything else that is to come.