What I’ve learned since First Year

Emma Drewett 30 October 2018

From lazing on sun loungers to relaxing in bed, finding new novels and becoming well-read, from partying all night, with no alarm clocks in sight, to watching movies all day or having laidback coffee dates, cinema trips or arriving at work slightly late, from family days out to lazing about, Summer seemed endless, with so much fun to be had, and now we’re back here in Cambridge, wondering how the time flew so fast. It seems strange to be reflecting on the flurry of Summer so late into term, with relaxation traded in for endless work, constant stress and dare I say it, sleepless nights. Now, having been thrust into Autumn, it feels as though Summer was a mere cloud of the imagination, an insubstantial, fast-fading fog, ghosting the outskirts of the frosty Cambridge reality.

Whether you were returning to Cambridge this term or arriving for the first time, the impact of the busy student life was certain to startle you from your Summer daze and heave you into the ‘go, go, go’ reality of the University of Cambridge. And yet, Summer, for many, can be as fast-paced as the reading lists or problem sheets, looming deadlines and late-working nights. Take internships and work experience, for example, or rather, at the opposite end of the spectrum, running up and down the country to visit family members, whilst preparing for the return to Cambridge, but having time to making to relax and trying to see friends frequently. But wait- isn’t so and so busy this weekend? And I can’t make next weekend. But the week after that I promised to do this. Can you do tomorrow instead? No? Too last minute? Let me see where I can fit you in…

That being said, there is an overwhelming contrast between the rush of Cambridge life and the hubbub of Summer. For me, the Summer holidays were heavily friend and family orientated. Throughout the months spent away from university, I grew to realise the great importance of my support network back home. In first year, I had perhaps taken friendships for granted. Making minimal effort to keep in contact with school friends, I often felt lonely and grew apart from my childhood companions, wondering why the amount of communication was thinning. Having always relied upon my friends and family for their strong support and helpful advice, I often felt overwhelmed trying to tackle the weight of work and my building anxiety. Friendship is a two-way street. Do not hesitate to send that first message. Your friends and family need you as much as you need them. Share your experiences, call your parents, offer guidance to your friends, schedule times to call your siblings, arrange visits to see one another. Maintain your ‘old’ friendships during your time at university; in fact, maintain your ‘new’ friendships made at university too. Make sure to keep in contact with university friends over the vacation period. Upon returning to Cambridge, I realized how little time I was prepared to make for both myself and my friends, so over the vacation, I revealed the struggles of first year to my friends. Sharing my worries helped me to grow closer to the group and realise that a lot of the progress I wished to make relied on my own self-motivation to arrange time to meet people, to get involved, to stop turning down group events, and so on. Go out for coffee, work in the library together, cook for one another, walk to lectures together, join societies together, explore the city together. This sense of togetherness is crucial when studying at university to avoid feeling overcome by the immense pressure, isolation and self-doubt.

Scheduling time for yourself, however, is as important as making time for friends. There is no shame in going for, as I call it, ‘lonely coffees’, strolls around Cambridge, reading on a park bench, treating yourself to lunch, watching films in bed. Amid the whirlwind of work, time to slow down, to stop and relax, is essential. Recharge and re-energize. Slowing down can be as big or as small as you make it, whether you take an entire day to yourself to relax or simply leave yourself a longer amount of time to walk to a supervision or lecture, to avoid the frantic powerwalk and incessant watch-checking.

With that, if I haven’t already said it enough, make more time! Make time for whatever you want! Friends, family, yourself, there is time for all of it. Whenever you find yourself worrying that ‘I don’t have the time for that’, question ‘can I make time for that?’, and you will soon see free slots making themselves available. Make the Cambridge opportunity into the experience you always wanted it to be. There will never be enough time if you don’t make the time. So, ask yourself ‘what can I make time for today?’