And so my first week back at university draws to a close.
I am absolutely shattered and the muscles I didn’t know I had are groaning with the strain.
Firstly, the muscles in my legs are weary from all that cycling, though I’m generally jubilant that my journey gets a bit quicker and easier every day. And secondly my brain (is my brain a muscle?) Ouch, my brain. It’s a whole different way of using it: reading, assimilating, evaluating, critiquing and putting two and two together. Reconditioning it to process more quickly, to sift information, to forage around for what is relevant and to learn a whole new language of terminology and concepts that I’ve previously experienced in some way but had struggled to articulate.
It’s overwhelming and scary and I simply have no idea how I am ever going to get all this reading done. And that’s not to mention the daunting prospect of tutorials starting next week and having to engage with all this in a group context. Eek. On the other hand, I’m still pretty chirpy about the fact that I can dedicate time and energy to chipping away at all the questions that have piled up in the paths of my mind and heart over the past few years, and which need to be cleared – or at least labelled and sculpted – for me to move forward; emotionally, career-wise, academically, theologically even.
The language and culture of the new world I’m moving around in is simultaneously energising and exhausting, familiar and foreign, and my perception of this environment changes from one moment to the next.
At one moment, I love the diversity of societies advertising their activities in the raggeddy, organicky, liberalish, enthniccy, bohemiany common room, the passion of activists speaking out for their causes, the language of the academics which start to give me a way of articulating things that I feel but can’t put into words. I love the high percentage of international students, the headscarves, the struggle it is to hear English being spoken as a first language, or to hear English being spoken at all. I like that the Hare Krishnas are still dolling out free food after all the other freshers’ freebees have long run out (note to self: work out what Hare Krishnas are all about and exactly what’s going on here). I love that I can just be me here, and that anything goes.
But the next moment, the very things I love become a source of annoyance. I get irritated by the sameness of the diversity, the clichéd brand of revolution and anti-establishmentism, the zealous words of young enthusiasts who had multiple gap years doing humanitarian somethingorother in Whateveristan and have returned as Marxist vegan spiritualists . For all the talk of tolerance and inclusiveness, I wonder how welcome I’d feel if I was Israeli or a Tory. I get frustrated when I read the same paragraph of an academic paper four times and still seem unable to discern what on earth it’s talking about, let alone how to apply it to the real world. When the queue for the free food is getting in my way when all I want to do is get from A-B. And when I look around and see a whole bunch of ‘me’s and – in the context of self-proclaimed ‘open-mindedness’ – have an overwhelming sense of wanting some absolutes to make their mark here.
It’s swings and roundabouts, but generally I’m emerging on the positive side of things and am happy.
As I transition into speaking a new language and assessing how to find my place in this culture, I have found that little achievements have become significant accomplishments which help me feel like I’m keeping my head above water. Like finding the post-graduate common room and a nice place to sit and read. Like successfully locating books on the shelves and electronically borrowing them all by myself. Like being organised enough to get a locker before they all ran out. Check me out.
And, as is always the case in such scenarios, new contexts are much more fun when strangers’ faces start to become familiar. When you bump into coursemates you met just a week ago and greet them like old friends just because you recognise their features in the sea of anonymity. When a couple of people in the dining room greet you by name, stop to chat, and share stories of the past few days. When you find a friend who you enjoy hanging out with, who has done similar stuff in life and who seems to process all these things in a similar way. And, of course, who is fun to drink hot chocolate with and who is as keen to discover the delights of the local coffee shops as she is to grapple with the finer points of migration and development.
And on that note, it’s time to try to do a little bit more reading before jumping on a coach to Oxford to celebrate a friend’s birthday there. Looking forward to being in a place that I know like the back of my hand, and – more importantly – to spending time with a good friend who’s known me for longer than a week and who I miss.