My first year was very much testament to the value of patienceGigi Gilgallon

I was recently made a college mum. The first thing I did was to announce the news to my friends. The first thing they did, in response, was to suggest that I pass on my wisdom.  

I’ve since been asking myself what it is that I’d say if my college daughter, or any fresher for that matter, were to ask for some advice headed into this year. It seemed as though there was so much that I could say but the question was, really, what should I say?

This is what I’ve come up with: be patient. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Yet, it’s not something I remember being told, and I think it’s worth hearing. So, hear me out.

What I found most stressful about Michaelmas as a fresher was watching everybody else settle before was ready to settle

Personally, what I found most stressful about Michaelmas as a fresher was watching everybody else settle before I was ready to settle. And, when others settle, you can feel forced to do the same. I’ll give you a ‘for instance’. It seemed to me that others were forming determinate friendship groups surprisingly soon and, in doing so, they were turning their back on other opportunities. It could be that they’d have been a better fit with some other group in the making, or it could just be that they’d have formed more friendships worth having had they been willing to live outside of their comfort zone a while longer. But, really, I felt it was me who had come away with the raw end of the deal. It was my possible friendship that they were turning their backs on. And while this fact didn’t bother them – they had their group – it did bother me. It bothered me a lot.

I have a friend a few years above who had stuck with the first community she’d been a part of – her college staircase – and she’d come to regret it. These people hadn’t quite been the right fit for her, they had just been an easy fit in what can otherwise often be a difficult term. I’d been wary of doing the same. In the end though, my caution got me left behind. I was suddenly left without many chances to meet people, or it felt that way at very least. And so, just like that, in mid-Michaelmas, I settled as I was, before I felt quite ready.

All aspects of my life at Cambridge improved with time

The situation wasn’t bleak, I promise. The friends I had already made by this point have become indispensable. I even refer to one, my college wife, as the ‘cherry on top’ of my Cambridge experience. It was simply that I’d hoped for a close-knit community whilst at Cambridge. I remember listening with mild envy as a friend at Jesus explained ‘teas and pres’ to me. Pre-drinks for those going out for the night, tea for those staying in, but everyone holed up in the one kitchen together. Isn’t that little tradition (specific to his staircase, I think) adorable? That’s what I wanted, and I hadn’t managed to make that happen in time. I was disappointed, I’ll admit.

Fast forward and I did find my way into a group. These friends came from where I least expected, and wouldn’t have thought to look - perhaps that’s why I met them only once I’d stopped looking. I didn’t meet them through Freshers Week, or through society squashes; they’re all in the year above me. I didn’t meet them through Newnham; they’re all in Selwyn. I didn’t meet them through my course; they’re studying a variety of different courses. Okay, I confess that this last bit is only partly true - I met them through the one group member who is on the same course as me.

I met the fellow philosopher, Sam, who eventually introduced me around, in the first few weeks of Michaelmas term. We met at The Eagle, after a talk, and ended up walking home together. I worked really hard on the friendship through the rest of term. We placed bets, and I’d run brownies (I bake, a lot) over to Selwyn. After a while, I’d bump into other members of the group, either in Sam’s room or in the corridor. I became a familiar face. They’d invite me to the Granta, or to watch The Simpsons. Soon enough, they’d invite me to formals. Then I got up the confidence to invite them places, sometimes an exhibition at the Tate Modern. This process was organic, and gradual. It wasn’t forced, or rushed. Skip to present day, and I just had three of them stay with me in Paris. In fact, I’ve not gone two weeks this whole break without seeing at least one of them.

Looking back now I can see what I gained by waiting

Contrary to my (faulty) impression of pre-existing groups, they didn’t close ranks at the prospect of a newcomer. Their timing was surprising, also. This all began to unfold mid-Lent, a full term later than I expected it to. They were, without the shadow of a doubt, worth the wait: they’re pretty perfect.

It’s not that I was making an effort to wait patiently; I wasn’t actively biding my time. My original approach to Michaelmas – holding out for the right fit – had been a conscious ‘go’ at patience, and I’d given it up because it didn’t seem to be working. Rather, I think I was living in hope, and, without me realising, this kept me waiting. Hindsight’s 20/20 though, and looking back now I can see what I gained by waiting.

All aspects of my life at Cambridge improved with time. Work didn’t quite go my way until early Easter term. A few essays through the year went particularly well, but then I never even finished four of the sixteen (one big fat quarter of them). In both the last two weeks of Michaelmas and Lent term, insomnia struck me down. 


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Mountain View

With a little help from my friends

One size doesn’t fit all. For many, putting down roots in early Michaelmas may have been the right call, just not for me. Instead, my first year was very much testament to the value of patience. Based off this, I’m going to make a concerted effort this year to take up the (mindful, perhaps?) practice of patience. And, freshers, you should too.

Take your time adjusting to – and taking to – life at Cambridge. Don’t force yourself to keep pace with those surrounding you. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same applies here. Don’t expect otherwise.

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