Posted by: Nicholas Davis | June 12, 2009

Going back to school

A friend of mine who moved directly from an undergrad to a grad programme at Oxford a few years back told me that she found the transition really hard – it just wasn’t the same vibe, people or experience as it had been just a few months earlier, and the contrast was distressing. Another way of putting this is, as my mum is prone to repeat, “you can’t go back”.

Which begs the question why I’m currently writing this from the Said Business School bar, with one eye on the cricket, just having spent an entire day working in various nooks and crannies around Oxford. Should I be wary of going back?

Perhaps it depends exactly what contributes to negative emotions when you’re revisiting a previous life. Part of the problem is expectations, as usual, often heightened by selective memory which paints student days in a rosy, dappled light that no doubt dramatically distorts the experience at the time. Another issue is simply ageing – being a “mature student” at college is quite different from being a “normal” one. Another is the difference in seriousness of the workload – the further you go, the more intense it gets. And finally there’s reversion to the mean – if you had a phenomenally successful social AND academic experience the last time, it’s more likely than not that you’ll find things a little harder this time around.

But the big problem I guess is the assumption that you are, in fact, trying to live a previous life. At a different time, in a different degree, it’s a different life, even if the architecture, personality types and college food all remain comfortingly/distressingly similar.

Which begs the question. What life are we trying to lead when we go back to school: an old one or a new one? Because you can’t go back, not really.



  1. No you can’t go back but that closed door allows new opportunity to present itself that will override your nostalgia. You have taken a big intellectual step in coming back that is important – don’t let memories of the NC MCR diminish its significance… The familiar places will comfort and soon take on a new complexion. Welcome back (but forward).

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