My time in the United Kingdom was coming to an end. From a Couchsurfing perspective, the United Kingdom had proved more difficult than I had initially envisioned. Bristol, Glasgow and Edinburgh failed to provide any hosts for me. Previous contacts allowed me to Couchsurf in London and Belfast and Liverpool was a fight.
I was slightly surprised, therefore, when I managed to find a Couchsurfing host in Oxford with relative ease. It was nice to know that my final stop in Britain would provide me with a Couchsurfing experience as the last few days had passed by in Scotland without any.
I was accepted by a guy named Marcus who, after having sent five or six requests, was actually one of my most preferred hosting options. The reason was that he was a student at the University of Oxford. As my last post explained, the University plays a pivotal role in the history and operations of the city of Oxford, and it was the primary reason for my visit to the city, so to have the inside knowledge from a student was perfect for me.
Marcus lived in a pretty unassuming house not far outside the centre of Oxford. An older house with cracks exposed at every corner of the room that gave the impression that it would burst at the seams and collapse at any minute. It had character though, and none of its residents seemed to give it a second thought.
When I arrived Marcus wasn’t actually home and I was greeted by one of his roommates, Aiden. At least, I was under the impression that Aiden was a roommate. I never really figured out who was a permanent inhabitant within this house and who wasn’t during my couple of nights there. That was the kind of household that operated here.
In what is becoming a recurring theme with the Couchsurfers I stay with, this household was quite fluid in it’s population. People seemed to come and go on a regular basis. Not couchsurfers – I was the only couchsurfer there during my stay – but friends and fellow students would enter and leave without much notice, all familiar with one another. It was a very social environment but at the same time everybody seemed content with doing their own thing. There were quite a few people throughout the house that I didn’t even see the face of, let alone get to chat with.
I did get to chat with Aiden a bit though when I first arrived and not long after Marcus had come home. He was a really relaxed and chilled guy with a passion for travel. He studied medicine at the University of Oxford (along with most of the other members of the house) which overawed me a bit.
These guys were smart. They seemed to know something about everything and it made me super conscious that whatever I contributed to a conversation was completely correct. That is, when I could contribute to a conversation.
One evening I went out to a local pub with Marcus and another housemate Moneeb. The conversation revolved around medicinal ways to make the body more alert and the mind smarter and Moneeb and Marcus traded stories of different drugs and their impact on the brain for doing this.
I was left dumbfounded. The third wheel of a conversation way over my head. Still, at least I could understand the context of the conversation and chip in with questions to further highlight my ignorance. I could at least indicate that I had no idea of this topic and in that way it was still much more comfortable than being lost in translation to language difficulties akin to what I had experienced in Málaga, for example.
But this is Oxford, after all. It’s not your standard town conversation about the football match last night, even in the pubs here. There’s a higher level of intelligence here – on average – than almost any other city in the world. It was fun to see that unfolding first hand.
Sometimes it can be pretentious, however.
I distinctly remember the following conversation between a student and what appeared to be a professor while walking through Christ Church Meadow one day:
Student: I remember being younger at school and learning French and thinking ‘what’s the big deal?’….
Student: I mean, it was so easy.
I guess it’s only natural that when you bring in some of the brightest students from around the world to one place things can get a bit competitive and some may make more of an effort than others to remind you of their superior intelligence.
Luckily, Marcus, Moneeb and co. weren’t pretentious in the slightest. They were very laid back, but tended to forget at times that perhaps visitors not studying medicine at the University of Oxford would have a hard time understanding their conversations about the latest medical breakthroughs.
Moneeb was originally from Pakistan from memory, but moved to Newcastle at a young(ish) age. Besides Moneeb, most of the other students I met had all grown up around the area of Oxford and I asked if this was normal for students at the University of Oxford and if perhaps there was preferential treatment for the more local students.
Not at all, was the reply that I received. But apparently this region of England tends to be the more wealthy and so naturally the children receive a better education and are more likely to be accepted into the university.
On the last night that I was there, they were attending a party elsewhere. Regrettably, I had to decline as I had only come to the realisation earlier that day that my train back to France was leaving quite early the next morning from London, and so I would have to take a very early bus back to London.
My last days in the United Kingdom were able to be a relaxed, pleasant discovery of life inside one of the most famous universities in the world. This is not really your typical England, but it is an important part of it nonetheless.