Settling in (after an existential crisis)

Freya Sanders 15 September 2015

In preparation for the arrival of another round of freshers, the TCS team is running a column that will present diverse perspectives on the process of settling in to Cambridge. Getting ready to head somewhere new can be nerve-racking. We want to dispel both nerves and myths by giving an idea of how different people settled in through their own personal reflections and practical advice. As the new Columns Editor for Michaelmas, I’ll be starting off the column with my own story.

In a number of respects, my experience settling in was easier than it could have been. I’d spent the previous ten years at boarding school, so homesickness couldn’t have been less of an issue. Moreover, I’d attended private schools before coming to Cambridge. I must have taken a lot for granted in terms of accepting the similar culture that’s found here and being used to being around other former private school kids.

In spite of that, an inconveniently-timed existential crisis left my Freshers’ Week (and most of Michaelmas) a mess. Like most people, I’d looked forward to reinventing myself cooler and more interesting in this new place packed full of cool, interesting people. Unfortunately, my efforts to do so left me questioning who I was in the first place and, more importantly, if I was even capable of being cool and interesting. I ended up spending most of my first term indoors, watching and re-watching ‘A Single Man’, and calling up school friends at all hours to have them convince me that I did, in fact, have an actual personality.

Watching these two does not count as social interaction   Image: YouTube

This crisis was exacerbated by the general otherness that came with being one of only three black people in my college, in my year. Not to mention the fact that the first friend I managed to make during freshers dropped out a week later, leaving me with only one other person with whom I spoke on a regular basis. And I’m sure I bored her most of the time considering I was (more or less constantly) preoccupied with what it means to be a human being and interact with anything outside of oneself. Watching everyone else form their niches at what seemed like lightning-speed, I felt like the odds were against me. I saw my future, and in it I was friendless, college-unmarried, and probably very academically unsuccessful as a result.

But things worked out, as they always do. Tatum, the friend who dropped out, dragged me along to the Women’s Campaign freshers’ squash a few days before she left. There I met one of the founders of FLY, the network for BME women at Cambridge, who invited me to their meetings where I’ve since found some of my closest friends and a welcome reprieve from being a minority in my college. Eventually, my school friends stopped answering my midnight calls (so understandable) and I was forced to set aside my questions on the human condition and interact with people in my college. And, for reasons I’m still not sure I understand, they found me interesting, invited me to things, and generally proved that my worries were unfounded and that I’d wasted a month cooped up in my room with Colin Firth and Matthew Goode.

So the obvious advice I’d give to my past fresher self, and to any future fresher with questions about the nature of the self or general social anxiety, would be to try and get out of your head. Freshers is scary. But everyone’s in the same boat, and, though they’ll hide it well, everyone will be just as anxious as you are about reaching out and forming relationships. If I could go back, I’d strike up conversations with everyone I meet, and leave the deep thinking to the philosophy undergrads.