Rachel Brown tells of the travails of students studying over Christmas and how the University has whittled down our Christmas break to a meagre four weeks.
“TWAS the night before Christmas, when all through the house, / Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.”
So goes the classic seasonable prose that might cast you back to a cherished Christmas. But if your holi-day was anything like mine this year, chestnuts roasting on an open-fire were exiled in the name of studies.
The average university Christmas break is four weeks. Oxford students even enjoy seven weeks of yuletide merriment! At Exeter, we have seen our holiday shaved down over the years to just three weeks. The student stereotype has us lounging around all day in our dressing gowns gossiping about the latest episode of Made in Chelsea. If that were true, when inevi-tably asked by friends come January, “So how was your holiday?”, so many of us wouldn’t have rolled our eyes and held the mockingly termed ‘holi-day’ in quotation marks.
For many students at Exeter our Christmas holiday has been punctuated (indeed, punctured) by looming essays and exams.
The problem is that as our holiday is increasingly reduced, we actually lose all R&R time – and, woe betide us, our grades – if we impertinently take Christmas day off. Most of my friends said they managed to take three full days off. The academic year started over two months before Christmas and our next ‘holiday’ (alias ‘exam season’) starts in three months. Taking three days’ holiday across five months is actually a worse deal than full-time employment conditions!
But as I face graduation this year, the short holiday has also given me an unexpected battering by the ‘privilege’ stick. I fall into the ‘desperately seeking masters funding’ category. Scholarship applications can take days to write and deadlines are, you guessed it, just after Christmas!
When money’s too tight to mention, you must have a plan B. Mine amounts to the equally time-sucking graduate scheme applications, with deadlines that are, correct again, just after Christmas! Compound all this with separate postgraduate applications and exam expectations, and you start to see your mulled wine dreams going down the drain.
Jokes aside, you then return to university with a New Year trajectory that sees you overstretched and exhausted, unlike your more advantaged, refreshed peers. The holiday experience is not the same if you can afford a masters or the prospect of postgraduate unemployment is not terrifying because your parents can cover you for a few months. It’s also been said that a shorter summer steals away money-making opportunities for cash-strapped students.
“Poor little rich girl. You’re at Exetah!” might go the reply. It’s true, there are far worse cases of the (un)privileged, and I don’t advocate for the work-shy or feel the world owes me something. But the University cannot ignore the nuanced, polar experiences between its student groups of varying privilege. In their duty to help students achieve their goals, they have decisive power.
Here, they can make improvements by simply realising the dramatic consequences of term date setting, saving future students like me from a very merry unholiday.
– Rachel Brown