Oxford: solo exploring, personal pep talks, and finding myself a prime target for people watching

Unlike my past two summers, during which I went gallivanting around Europe, (and blogged about some of my adventures: Part 1, 2, and 3) living out my not so secret dream of being a travelling hippie, this summer, I am somewhat reluctantly thinking about what will happen when my university bubble bursts – I will need to make decisions about what I want to do career wise. So, while I have many more travelling hippie adventures planned for the future, this is going to be my summer of work experience. I have narrowed down my options by thinking about what I enjoy, and what I do best. More specifically, I love reading, writing and organising, and am really interested in the arts world, so I have been thinking about working in publishing or journalism. However as these are very broad fields, I know that I need more information about specific roles within them, and the best way to do this seems to be to get some work experience to better understand what is involved in each, and what role I would best fit into. First stop in my trial and error process is at Oxford University Press. While making life plans, I am also setting aside a little free time in Oxford to sightsee and, of course, people watch.

It’s a pretty impressive building

Arriving in Oxford, for me, was a strange experience because, for the first time, I found myself in a city where I literally know no one. I had a similar experience when I moved cities to go to university, in the sense that none of my friends from home came with me, but the difference was I did have contacts – if I got lost, (which happens a lot when you are lacking in a sense of direction) or had some kind of emergency, there were people I could call if I wanted to. Here in Oxford, however, the realisation hit me that I didn’t have even have this safety net. Don’t get me wrong, I am independent, and perfectly content in my own company, but the prospect of two weeks all by myself seemed rather daunting. After an initial inward panic that I would get lost and never be found again, and a teeny tiny moment of feeling lonely and sorry for myself, I gave myself a pep talk, the essential message of which was: you are a strong independent person, work experience at OUP is too good an opportunity not to make the most of, and if you get lost, you have a magical thing called a smart phone that will point you in the right direction.


My OUP “hot desk”, and drinking tea from an OUP mug. How exciting.

With these crucial pieces of information in mind, I have spent my first week at OUP doing my best to make myself useful, learning more about the company and the many different roles involved in publishing, and meeting some really lovely and interesting people. Outside of working hours, I have been exploring Oxford, aided by afore-mentioned magical smartphone. Exploring by myself didn’t bother me – until faced with the prospect of eating alone. However, my love of food, and the appeal of Oxford’s variety of rustic cafés and restaurants meant that I couldn’t let solo wandering confine me to eating at my lodgings. I took a deep breath and uttered the previously alien phrase “table for one”. I told myself this was prime people watching time. I felt completely anonymous in a city where no one knew me, and I wouldn’t even have to multi-task and hold a conversation while eavesdropping/spying – I could devote all my time to the latter. Once seated, however, far from feeling anonymous, I suddenly felt very conspicuous. It occurred to me that I was a prime target for other people watchers. If I had seen someone in my position, being dressed in summer work clothes, I probably would have come to one of two conclusions: either, a) that I was a young professional on a business trip alone, or b) that I had been stood up on a date. Next in my thought process would probably have been that I looked too young to be on a business trip. Great. Everyone in the restaurant thought I had been stood up. How embarrassing.

A glass of wine later, I re-evaluated the situation. Most of the other people in the restaurant probably hadn’t noticed me, and those who might have considered reasons why I was alone, I was highly unlikely to see again. I settled in to enjoy my meal, and remembered why I like people watching. It is purely speculative. You have no way of knowing whether the conclusions you come to about someone you notice in the street, a restaurant or on a train are anywhere near the truth. People watching is an exercise in imagination. It provides inspiration for stories, but it certainly doesn’t involve passing any kind of legitimate judgement on a person. So, as far as I’m concerned, anyone, including myself, is fair game for people watching, and if anyone did notice me in the restaurant, or indeed anywhere else, I hope they enjoyed creating a backstory for me, whether it was close to the truth or not.

I have resumed people watching duties; stay tuned for further updates on my impressions of Oxford!

Kirsty x


2 thoughts on “Oxford: solo exploring, personal pep talks, and finding myself a prime target for people watching

  1. Everyone should experience solo traveling, including solo dining. You get to set your own schedule, you meet and talk to people you might otherwise ignore and you have so much freedom and flexibility when you do it yourself. Yes, it’s hard to eat alone, but I always kept a book and my journal with me so that I had something to do while I waited for my food.
    I didn’t explore Oxford solo (I went with a group there), but I loved finding my way through Cambridge alone. In fact, most of my travels in the UK were by myself and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for reading Cyn! I completely agree – solo travelling gives you a totally different perspective from being in a group, I’m glad I experienced it by accident and am planning on taking many more solo travelling trips! I hope you continue your travelling adventures! Kirsty x


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