My heart resides in Cambridge

8 March 2013

Only three hours into week seven, I am hit by the full force of the Cambridge term. If you’re thinking that this is a bit late for a work crisis, you’re probably right; yet for a crisis of premature home-sickness, the timing could not be better.

By the time we hit the last fortnight of term, it is impossible to avoid the fact that, far too soon, we shall have to drop our Cambridge lives and try to pick up the pieces of the existence we left behind in our respective hometowns.

It is not a uniquely Cambridge phenomenon for students to have shifting ideas about what counts as their home. As we enter adulthood and move away from our parents, perhaps gaining true sink-or-swim independence for the first time, we naturally strive to re-establish ourselves in a new environment.

After 18 years of being the child, it’s incredibly liberating to be a proper adult, leading our own lives and (sometimes literally, for older students starting a college family) taking on the parental role.

Returning to infanthood during the vacation break is hard: all of that personal growth seems to have been in vain. Whether our old lives seem to have stagnated, motionless, or to have rushed on without us, it can feel like there is something missing.

We no longer fit so neatly into the only home we have ever known; once we’ve recovered from exhaustion, students everywhere find themselves desperate to return to university and the new lives they are leading.

Although few of us can comment with any certainty, it feels like this effect is exacerbated in the case of Cambridge. How could our short terms have anywhere near the effect of terms of normal length?

Ultimately, in seeking the real reason why Cambridge enters our concept of home so easily, we must draw upon the plaintive cry of our teenage years: “No-one else understands me!”

Apart from our friends at the Other Place, non-Cantabs arguably don’t appreciate this unique university environment: weekly essay crises, awful nightclubs, gowns and out-of-bounds grass are all strange enough when taken out of the Cambridge context, but are relatively normal compared to the intensity which drives our every day.

Cambridge is a pressure-cooker, with eight-week terms and constant deadlines. It’s an environment which creates great things, but it leaves us fundamentally changed; often, far more so than our friends at home can possibly imagine. The more time we spend in Cambridge, the more we need other Cantabs just to feel understood.

There is another side to the short terms, of course: how can Cambridge become your home when you’re only there for half of the year? Indeed, with such short terms it’s easy to feel disjointed. The vacations are too long to waste, but too busy – filled with revision, extra essays and the all-important sleep – for us to hold down a proper holiday job across the year.

Of course, when your societies drop off, and you don’t have a job to ask as a replacement, vacations automatically feel less real, less vivid than term-time. Without the fast pace of a Cambridge term, it’s easy to feel listless and lacking in motivation.

But to whom do we turn when even the vacation is too much to handle? Our school-friends at other universities, whose holidays haven’t started and who are only now working up to their only essays of term? Or our Cambridge companions, who are going through the exact same thing?

We might not spend all of our time in Cambridge, but home is not measured in days and weeks. It is the people we care about who make a home and I think that however much we love our families and our friends from ‘back home’, we cannot help but share a special bond with the important people in this, the first stage of the rest of our lives. If home is where the heart is then, personally, my heart resides in Cambridge.

Ashley Chhibber, first-year Classicist, Kings.