Come to Cambridge with an open mind and a fistful of saltClare College

Forget what any American teen movie, nostalgic relative or year-above Instagram addict has ever taught you about Freshers’ Week. Your first few days at Cambridge might even be a disappointment, but hopefully, your next three or four years will more than compensate.

While you may start lectures left a little cold or feeling anxious, let’s face it: Freshers’ Week was always going to collapse under the hype, especially here. If it turns out to be your favourite week at university, let alone the best week of your whole life, I feel sorry for you.

Why am I saying this? I swear, I don’t mean to rain on your sick-ass #freshas parade. Perhaps I’m being overly wholesome, but knowing the week for what it’s worth might just help you enjoy it more – until you inevitably move on to better things, look back and laugh.

“Sooner rather than later, you may find people just like you, and definitely people who like you”

The perfect night out at Cambridge does exist. Except, for most of us, that doesn’t involve going out with a group of people we’ve never met before, in a city we don’t yet know, when we’re probably missing home, and we have introductory talks at 9am the next morning.

(Instead, it could involve going out with a group of people we’ve become inexplicably close to within weeks, bopping to R. Kelly in the basement of Waterstones and bailing for cheesy chips as we have a supervision at 9am the next morning, but you’ll laugh about that too.)

A possible key to surviving Freshers’ Week, like everything else at Cambridge, is to approach it with an open mind and a fistful of salt. Many of the traditions you encounter, as well as some of the students, will be sensationally ridiculous. Only at Hogwarts (and Oxford) would your first port of call after unpacking also be a gown sale.


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Only in magazines (and maybe London and the Home Counties) will certain people have seemed so intimidating. Yet the chances are, you do too, in a particular kind of way. Sooner rather than later, you may find people just like you, and definitely people who like you.

Though here’s the thing about Freshers’: it’s a statistical long shot that you’ll meet lifelong friends (or partners) within the first couple of days of living in any new place – not least Cambridge, where the ‘week’ lasts until the Thursday and includes a mountain of admin.

Alas, I have barely spoken to several people I bonded with over tea on Day One – and they lived on the same staircase as me.

On the odyssey to your dream squad, you may come across some classic characters. The wannabe lad, desperate to make up for not being cool at school. The attention addict, with a backstory that beggars belief. The sheltered child, who claims the North is “sparse”. The superhuman who must have swallowed a Shakespeare anthology, the pretentious one who prefers Marlowe, and so on. All you can do is do you.

Many of the traditions you encounter, and some students, will be sensationally ridiculousSelwyn College

These Cambridge students are living trinkets you are likely to notice in your first term and never think about again, as soon as you’re settled in a natural crowd. Bearing this in mind, your role during Freshers Week is to crack on with whatever you feel comfortable doing, crack open your personality, and let great people gravitate towards you.

Remember that a large chunk of the schedule is optional, so focus on the bits where you’ll have fun and feel happiest – they are also the bits with the best chance of you bumping into future baes.

I’ll try not to sound stupidly square, but I did actually meet more friends over a Nutella and chocolate muffin in the Clare buttery than at Lola Lo ‘Let’s Kill Disco’, trying to determine their name, subject and hometown above the entrancing Latino rhythms of ‘Despacito’.

“The only expectations that matter will be your own. Even you will struggle to recall what you did”

Sugar-coating aside, getting down to the college and university-wide societies fairs is probably the most sure-fire way of discovering your niche (the free food there is pretty good too, tbh). Lots of groups also have a Freshers’ Squash in the first week or so – a pointless name for a social where you can meet members from all years.

So long as you aren’t the one who passes out on a luggage trolley, don’t worry about making a good impression at the college icebreaker events. They contain roughly as much awkwardness and fumbling as any first time, and everyone forgets who you are overnight.

Top Practical Tips Micha Frazer-Carroll, CUSU Welfare Officer

Stay slept, fed, and watered: Yes, the prospect that you can go to bed at 4am and live off of Dominos might seem revolutionary now. It’s important to test these limits, but the lesson you will inevitably learn is that that too little sleep, an unbalanced diet, and drinking to excess can take a toll on your wellbeing. Bear this in mind in the weeks to come
Think about phoning: Phoning home/friends can be a vital way to get reassurance, and utilise existing support systems in a time of transition. But for others, it encourages homesickness. Learn what works for you, and use it wisely
Use your door: Leaving your door open, whenever you’re in, is an easy way to make friends - when people walk past, they tend to say hi. But equally shutting your door can also be an important way of marking alone time, where you can escape from all the hype for a bit
You are not alone: Knowing that support is in place should make you feel more at ease. SUAS, college counsellors, the University Counselling Service, Welfare Officers, and your Tutor, are just a few examples of people who are always more than happy to listen.

No stress if you don’t fancy making the most of the club nights either. (There’s plenty of room to get absolutely matriculated all-year round, ygm.) They’ll be way better with friends, and at least for arts students, Freshers’ is one of the rare times you’ll have to move around during the day. And please, don’t panic about rip-off tickets.

I can’t emphasise enough how the only expectations that matter will be your own. Even you will struggle to recall what you did during Freshers’ after experiencing the warmth of Bridgemas and Week Eight, birthday Formals and May Balls, parties and gyp gatherings.

So the Fresher pressure is off. Just enjoy the ride as you wait for the fake smiles to stiffen into real ones. Starting university is always going to come with challenges, and it really will be a week like no other, but the bottom line is Cambridge only tends to get better