An Oxford Choice

It was a choice, I chose to sit in this café, inside an art museum, and I chose to write this post in the middle of the afternoon. On my way here, after having been inspired from the sight of the café’s storefront below my window, I had to walk three minutes in a roundabout way through Pembroke (my college at Oxford), the streets, and past my window again, to get to where I am now. I had many other locations to choose from on my way here, the first of which was the quad in my college, surrounded by seventeenth century, castle-like dining halls, churches, and dormitories. I could have taken a turn to the right, instead of going straight, and I would have ended up in Christ Church (another Oxford college), walking past its commanding clock tower (which, at night, adds an especially eerie tone to St. Aldate’s otherwise quiet street) and into its meadows, filled with cows, horses, and storks. I could have even continued straight, not taking the left past my window, and ended up on corn market street, a market as old as Oxford itself was established, full of the excitement that it attracted because of its many one legged and magical street performers.

I chose to sit in a relatively low-key café precisely because of the balance that it brought in the face of such an otherwise overwhelming experience. My day was exciting enough to tone it down, I thought, having spent my morning studying consulting cases, preparing for possible internship interviews, and then going to a lecture by one of the UK’s top labor economists on the difficulties that econometricians face when studying the labor supply. On my way back, listening to a podcast by Harvard’s Occupy Movement on the origins of the UK’s monetary system, I walked past High Street’s stunning medieval architecture, the very beauty that power built, the very power that my podcast chastised. I arrived in my room once again, exhausted, and once again, overwhelmed; being an economist, I naturally asked myself how I could optimize my five hour block of time before class started again. This race to occupy myself was motivated by what everyone has told me, and what I’ve experienced myself, that there’s always something interesting happening at Oxford. You could go to a talk (I signed up to see entrepreneur Elon Musk tomorrow night), you could get in touch with other ambitious students (I scheduled a coffee for Friday with a Rhodes Scholar), or you could go to career events (I already attended the recruiting events held by some of the world’s leading international banks). Not to say that I thought that I’d done it all, but peeling away my jacket and jumping into bed, I did feel that my choice to rest for a bit wouldn’t be undermining the incredible opportunity that studying at Oxford provided.

Surprisingly, it feels that way sometimes. There have been too many days that I would find myself short on time, wishing for the very five hour break that I had now, to finish an essay on the US’s trade deficit in 1970, to attend a lecture by the founder of the Oxford Martin School, to read up on South Asia’s energy crisis. Today, when my break suddenly appeared at an inopportune time, as they so often do, I found myself feeling guilty and paralyzed, scrambling to find a use for it. Having napped with the hope that I would wake up realizing that I had something important left on my to do list, and a metaphorically blank list in front of me, I finally came to terms with the relaxed trajectory that my day was taking, and chose to find myself in a café for the rest of the afternoon.