What do you value?
Since I’ve come to Oxford, I’ve realised that a big part of my life is travelling places – that’s one of the things that makes me most happy. I’ve spent much of the last ten months travelling round Europe, and I think that building up experience is a great use of time and money when you’re a student. It’s great to see how different people do things, how they live; if you think about a tiny village in the countryside somewhere, their lifestyle is so distinct from ours - it seems amazing, remote but intriguing.
I went to Switzerland with my mates over the summer: we just got a chalet there, and every day we went out for a hike in the Alps. Although at the time it was often excruciatingly painful, it felt like a real adventure; although you can’t call the Alps a wilderness, that’s exactly what it felt like. There was one day where we had a really long hike planned – my friend said it would take 11 hours – and we were meant to get up at 7 and be there for 7:30. I think we left about 10. By the time it got to about 4pm, and the sun was already setting, we were nowhere near the end – I looked ahead, and we still had to climb this huge mountain. My knee was really hurting by now, and another friend of mine behind me kept pushing me on. Halfway up the mountain, it got dark, but eventually we made it to the end and found a road. The pain was really bad, but I was really surprised at how we were all able to keep going, mentally and physically. Strangely, I remember that as my best trip – I guess that’s because I was pushing my boundaries, out of my comfort zone. It’s definitely good to keep pushing yourself. Richard Branson has a quote, where he says “Life is more interesting if you say yes”. That obviously doesn’t apply to everything, but if somebody says, “Do you want to come on holiday to Switzerland with me?”, or “Do you want to go on a hike for 11 hours?”, more often than not, I think you should just say yes.
I go to Cornwall each year, and a mate of mine there has a kayak – each year, we take it out into the bay and see how far out we can go. One year, this mate was completely set on getting to this rock, way out in the sea, and as I sat in the back of the kayak, I could start to see the water get darker and darker, as well as the odd jellyfish. When we finally turned back, my mate said “How fun was that?”; my response was, “That was horrible”. Looking back on it, though, I can’t help but think it was loads of fun, and even at the time I think I knew it was really cool – I guess at the time, you’re thinking much more about how easily you would fall in if a wave hit you. Those are the best memories – the ones you don’t expect to enjoy, but you do.
When do you feel most alive?
I feel most alive at either end of the emotional spectrum – intense joy or intense sadness. When I see my dogs, Merry and Pippin, again after two months away, seeing that they’re happy to see me is one of the best feelings. To see an animal loving you so relentlessly and unconditionally, even when you accidentally step on their tail – that joy makes you feel alive. When you’re really sad, be it grief, pain or sorrow, you become similarly conscious of how much you want it to end, and in that way you feel very aware of you own existence. At the end of the day, it’s these experiences – even the simplest moments – that shape who you are.