Returning to Cambridge, a year on

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Even writing this article makes me nervous. Four months of summer and now I am finally facing the reality of returning to Cambridge. Last year, my first one, was a whirlwind year. Everything and everyone was new, adjusting to living alone and away from home was far from easy. First year everyone turns up bright eyed and bushy tailed, full of great expectations and a sense of optimism only a newcomer could have. This year I am being more realistic.

The images of Cambridge that I had last year: cycling through the cobbled streets, lazing around on the grass discussing thought-provoking concepts with fellow students, being politically involved and active have faded into the background. These dreams were crowded out by the reality of Cambridge, a relentless repetition of essay after essay, cindies after cindies. The monotony of the days, up early for rowing in the freezing cold, somehow dragging yourself to a boring lecture filled with students that could not care less, staying in the library until you no longer could, and then mustering the energy to go the bar and out clubbing just because that seems to be what everyone else lives for, and therefore must be the ‘fun’ thing to do.

Your University years are the best of your lives. Everyone tells us this. Yet no one mentions the loneliness, the isolation and the instability of being wrenched away from your entire support network and family. It is difficult to live alone. At the start of University everyone is drowning, struggling to make friends, to cope with the work load and therefore no one is in a position to help other out. It is every man for themselves. On the surface of it everyone is having a great time. No one admits that they find is hard at times. No one confesses the waves of homesickness that regularly overwhelm them and confine them to a day of Netflix and tearful conversations with their mum.

Cambridge is made even harder because of the workload and the strain that students are under, often self-inflicted. Used to being the best people find it difficult to adjust to the level of other students and the improbability of ever being top of the class again. When everything else in your life is turned upside down, having the one thing you were always sure of and took for granted (your ‘cleverness’) questioned is the last thing you need. A blow to your already fragile self-esteem.

This year I am determined to handle things better, lower expectations should minimise disappointment. But that does not mean I am excited to go back. Yes, seeing everyone will be nice, but ultimately my friends from home mean more to me. Yes, it will be nice to study again and feel productive, but to what end? To narrowly scrape another 2.1? At the very least terms at Cambridge are short. Eight weeks is short enough to bare the unrelenting pressures of Cambridge. Pressure that effects every aspect of your life, from the intense workload to the social groups and tight knit community of college that can sometimes feel stifling and oppressive, making you afraid to stand out from the crowd.

Important to remember is that Cambridge is a challenge. I have learned that it will not be as easy as I once thought. The more people that start to contact me, the bigger my pile of summer reading appears, the greater the dread of going back is. Already I am overwhelmed by the thought of going back to University. But I will, and this year will hopefully be an improvement. First year teaches you a lot, and things should settle down after that. At least I hope. Although I now know to keep my optimism in check.

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