From inside and out, Cambridge can be a very daunting place for students. Not knowing a single person here when I came was a challenge and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in this position. A sense of home is fostered by the relationships that we make. For a majority of previous students, this took time as first interactions don’t immediately result in lifelong friendships. This year’s fresher cohort might not all experience the same thing. Many have gotten to know each other through a platform that has facilitated communication: the Cambridge Freshers Instagram page.
For those unfamiliar with this, Instagram has been a place where freshers have sent in profiles, created group chats and bonded over mutual interests. The page is entirely run by first-years who, frustrated by lockdown in March, craved interaction with their future peers. A tight-knit group of friends, who met on Facebook, created the page after seeing similar initiatives from other universities. In true Cambridge tradition, a rivalry with Oxford propelled their status, as they began to receive more and more profiles.
What has this experience meant for the administrators? As I spoke to them, I could feel real excitement about their arrival in the coming week. The three administrators said they felt very confident even amidst little communication from their colleges. Despite everything, they felt they had been able to make real connections with people, even before the start of term. This is extremely valuable to them due to the restricted freshers week they will have. Some did not think they would have made friends otherwise.
Online interaction is becoming more prevalent for all of us this year. What this also allows is an increased amount of insight into what Cambridge is really like. As the page became bigger, current students and members of various societies have been able to communicate to freshers in a way that debunks the very stoic and academic reputation the University has. The admins were glad to find that Cambridge is full of “normal people”, that there were others that shared similar interests. With the formality of the application process, the admins were glad to be able to take the pressure off of getting to know others. “It really humanises everyone”, one said. The issue of access is also one that they spoke about. For people who are hesitating to apply or do not know as much about the process, having this kind of insight is crucial. The page gets a lot of messages asking for advice, which they often redirect depending on particular subjects or situations.
The Instagram account could change the way people perceive Cambridge. One admin described it as “a place for people to connect.” There will always be people “like you” at Cambridge – this platform just makes it easier for freshers to find them. The way people interact has been forced to change during the pandemic. The freshers’ page offers reassurance and a community of equally nervous and excited students. As we all continue to adapt to a new Cambridge, it will be exciting to see how this platform grows and changes.