Nancy Drew in Cambridge: The curious case of the reluctant traveller

Image credit: Porapak Apichodilok

My best friend (let’s call her Bess) who lives in India loves globe-trotting and visits a new country every year. Unlike Bess, I am what you would call a ‘reluctant traveller’. I detest travelling and have never understood the hullaballoo about backpacking through Europe. I cringe at the idea of nine hour long flights, living in dubious low-budget hotels/backpacker hostels and subjecting my stomach to traveller’s diarrhoea.

Unfortunately, by virtue of being an international student, I am forever a traveller. Bess loves dotting her Instagram with photographs of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the pyramids of Egypt. I, on the other hand, find it incongruous to share photographs of punters on River Cam and the iconic towers and turrets of Cambridge and don’t derive the same kind of sadistic pleasure that Bess does. For one, I don’t want to annoy my fellow students who already fret and fume at tourists with their intrusive selfie sticks (whom Cantabs would happily defenestrate from their mullioned windows). But more importantly, I feel that after the initial one week or so of living in Cambridge, even my friends back home would find it mundane to see the same stories again and again; I can imagine that even royalists, no matter how much they adore the Queen of England, would be bored if Her Royal Highness took to posting selfies in Buckingham Palace for nine months in a row!

Like many who enjoy traveling, Bess loves to experience different cultures and meet people from other countries. As an introvert, I avoid social excursions outside of my lectures and rowing club outings. But at Cambridge, new friendships have a strange way of finding me when I least expect them: I enjoyed a home-cooked meal with my Chinese flatmates in the mid-Autumn Festival, watched firecrackers with my Greek friend on Guy Fawkes’ night and just yesterday celebrated the 30th birthday of an Israeli friend. It is tough to imagine that I would have had these experiences had I been on a week-long vacation abroad. While we meet many interesting people on holidays, I wonder if we really get to ‘know’ them (and truly ‘experience’ their culture) the way we do if we actually live with them for a year or so.

Interestingly, for all her talk about wanderlust, the homing instinct in Bess is too strong; she loves to visit new countries but never wants to live in one for any stretch of time. Her reasons are simple- it is too much of a struggle to live abroad as you don’t know anybody and everything is just too unfamiliar. As I struggle to understand this equivocation, I wonder who among us is the real traveller- is it the tourist who loves visiting the Louvre and Disneyland, or is it the reluctant traveller?

[Join Devika Agarwal every week as, in the spirit of her literary hero, she unravels the mysteries of Cambridge as an international student]

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