At the age of 15, I visited Cambridge for the first time. I remember walking beside the Cam through piles of crackling autumnal leaves. I toured the ancient colleges, and even braved the cold for a punt along the river. There were students everywhere – hurrying to lectures, strolling across 300 year-old courtyards, comparing workloads in coffee shops. Even though I felt a connection, I never doubted that for my undergraduate degree I would follow in both my older siblings’ footsteps, and matriculate at Trinity College, Dublin.
But during that one visit, gazing at these students with their ancient buildings and idyllic town, I began to feel an emotion almost akin to envy. Cambridge was the perfect size for me – big and bustling, but not so large that my countrydwelling self would be overwhelmed. And with its winding lanes and stunning architecture, the city even reminded me of my beloved Dublin.
After returning home to Ireland, my memories of Cambridge remained with me. When at last I began to research the University online, it hit me: Cambridge was not only one of the most gorgeous universities in the world, but one of the best. It was terrifying to realize that I had set my heart on such a challenging goal. It was this image of Cambridge – its sheer beauty – that stayed in my mind while I worked to make the entrance requirements.
I obviously longed for access to worldclass teaching and resources, but I also looked beyond this into my memories: I could see myself rowing on the Cam, cycling through Market Square, or simply strolling idly down St Andrew’s Street of an afternoon.
My ‘Cambridge Experience’ would have been impossible to recreate anywhere else. Right now, my world exists entirely within a two-mile radius of Emmanuel, situated firmly within the Sidgwick–Boathouse–ADC triangle.
The city of Cambridge defines so many of us as students – I know it has for me. As I meander through the city, I can’t help but think that the beauty of this place is not just an ornamentation, but a necessary feature, to keep us all sane – because even in the midst of the deepest essay crisis, the reward is the sea of gothic stone beyond the window, and the beauty just outside the door.