"You will not be committed to the memory of everyone who has ever taught you..."

Dear Sofia,

Oh, the bittersweet benefits of hindsight. They knew you were unlikely to, but you really should have listened to the second years! For by the time the end of first year has dawned upon you, it is not the late nights that you could have spent studying that you will regret; it is the opportunities missed to consolidate friendships, the unnecessary stress you bestowed upon yourself for that 100% on a supervision essay and the starvation – both physical and emotional – that you endured in an attempt to be the biggest and best fish in the pond. A heads-up, only a little late: it’s not worth it!

“No achievement in your life is going to affirm something that you do not already believe inside.”

The reality is that you will not be able to memorise the origin and insertion of every muscle below the level of the neck, or spiel on about how to differentiate cat oesophageal epithelium from that of a human under the microscope. Unlike at A-Level, the colossus of facts you will face is far superior to your mere mortal capacity for intellectual retention. Here’s the revolutionary truth – that’s quite alright. There is no need for you to border on living the life of a hermit in the pursuit of being ‘the perfect student’, because honestly, what does that even mean? And what does it matter? The moment you learn that you have nothing to prove is the moment you will be free of your own self-imposed shackles of – unrealistic and unnecessary – expectations.

You will not be committed to the memory of everyone who has ever taught you, and attention will duly and quickly shift to next year’s protégés. I do not mean this to sound like self-deprecation, but rather, it is a paradoxical message of self-empowerment: you are enough, and you need not strive to demonstrate to others that you are worthy of their estimation; because no matter what or how you do, you are – and more importantly, you are worthy of your own. No achievement in your life is going to affirm something that you do not already believe inside.

“...the feeling that you have been dropped into a huge ocean and are continuously treading water, simply trying to stay afloat, is not uncommon.”

In affirming this message, I would like to present you with the highlight reel of ‘The Dummy’s guide to self-love’. First and foremost, the feeling that you have been dropped into a huge ocean and are continuously treading water, simply trying to stay afloat, is not uncommon. Actually, it’s as quintessentially Cambridge as ‘no walking on the grass’ signs. Equally, it is not either sink or swim. There is a lot to be said for keeping your head above water (even if by a small margin), and if all else fails, remember this: it is much easier to resuscitate someone who has inhaled seawater than freshwater (by the end of first year physiology, you will understand why).

Secondly, even as you achieve your lifelong dream – all medical students emerged from the womb wanting to be doctors, in case you were unaware – of studying Medicine at Cambridge, you will not suddenly ‘feel like you’re enough’. There are always more diagrams to be committed to memory, more books to be read intensely…In the end, studying here is like studying an onion: never-ending, and if you spend too long hunched over it, you will start to cry. So be less harsh on yourself. Eat well, ensure you are sleeping enough, and capitalise on any opportunity to emerge from the four walls of your bedroom world, and into the outside. Writers and poets have not been immortalising the healing powers of nature since time immemorial without reason. The stillness of the Cambridge wild can work wonders for the inner chaos – no matter how gargantuan the latter may seem. If anything, your Vitamin D levels will thank you for it, and you’ll be marginally more tanned than the rest of your year; two indisputably great things.


Mountain View

How to survive Cambridge Freshers' Week

Finally, cultivate interests and friendships as you would any flower – with love and compassion. The relationships and bonds you create here are treasures, but they will not flourish if you do not nourish them. Your textbook will not be a guest at your wedding, nor will it provide a shoulder to cry on and copious amounts of tea when it all seems a bit too much to handle. So, before you automatically assign your weekend to all of the homework and study that you are compelled to do, pause for a moment to plan time for amusement and sentimental nourishment.

Humans are inherently social beings, and the people you meet here will never cease to surprise, challenge and ultimately, delight you. Equally, university is undoubtedly the best place to begin to answer those existential dilemmas you’re still hungover on from your teenage years; namely, who am I? What do I like? Find out by experimenting – get involved! Whether it be dancing or rowing, writing or Quidditch, find something you enjoy and partake in it. And here’s the key: do so, even if – perhaps, especially if – you are absolutely awful at it. Yes, there may be that one peer that holds diplomas in playing three different instruments, can run five kilometres in 15 minutes and also speaks 17 languages, but you are not them. Nevertheless, you are still good enough. Better than good enough, actually – you are you! Unique, quirky and irreplaceable.

Have little doubt, as terrifying as it may be, that you will meet with both triumph and disaster. Hold dear the wisdom that Kipling taught you when you were a little girl, “to treat those two imposters just the same”; ephemeral, illusory and above all, by no means indicative of your worth.


Your older and happily clueless counterpart.

P.S. Sunday Life is cramped, sweaty and you can sense the raging testosterone within a 50 metre radius (or wider; depends on the Sunday). Nevertheless, if you go with a good group of girlfriends, it can and will be fun.

P.P.S. Yes, you read that correctly – you are allowed to have fun!

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