What if I'm not interesting enough?Lisha Zhong

If I was given a pound for every time someone has said to me, "Wow, Cambridge! You must be so excited!", I wouldn’t be rich, but I would certainly be able to afford a fluffy rug for decorating my new room. And although I am quite excited, I'll openly admit that I'm hide-under-my-duvet levels of terrified.

Having attended the same school for the past seven years, leaving the safety net of my old friends is a rather daunting prospect. Despite trying to avoid thinking about it, the odd doubt slips in to taunt me. What if I'm not interesting enough? Not adventurous enough? Not [insert any other adjective] enough?

In particular, I am feeling somewhat panicked about not being 'good enough'. Throughout my time in education so far, the spotlight has always been on my academic achievements – yet at Cambridge I fear this this will hardly be noteworthy. These niggling doubts are compounded when I have to Google the definitions of words used on my subject group chat, or just genuinely don't understand what's going on in a conversation about Marxist historiography. Although it hasn't made me doubt that I should come to Cambridge, I will confess that it has made me question how I’ll adapt to an environment so different to my mixed-ability state school.

It was difficult to remember that I no longer needed to ‘sell myself’ as the ideal, multi-faceted Oxbridge student

To me, Eton students (and the like) seem somewhat like unicorns – mythical creatures from a world away. Yet suddenly, some of them are going to be my peers. I expect that we will have had a disparate experience of education so far and, as a consequence, will have developed different skill sets. In my sixth form, I attended classes of thirty students, where targets ranged from A*-E. My teachers were frequently overstretched – and although trying hard to support everyone, there were often so many demands on their time that there was a limit to how far they could extend learning. With the high proportion of privately educated students attending Cambridge, will I be put at a disadvantage by my lack of knowledge beyond an A-Level curriculum? Or will my experience actually put me at an advantage in respect of the independent study skills and self-discipline I developed?

A year on from redrafting my UCAS personal statement 21 times, I’ve found myself countlessly rewriting the four-line bio about my hobbies requested by my college. It was difficult to remember that I no longer needed to ‘sell myself’ as the ideal, multi-faceted Oxbridge student, as I was told to do countless times during the admissions process. Therefore, I took some convincing that it was perfectly fine to write about my love of trashy romance novels, rather than feigning a fascination for Homer’s IlliadPart of my struggle was because my interests are maybe not quite on the same tier of national excellence that some people appear to have reached…

On various group chats, people have discussed their political campaigning and their orchestral performances. By contrast, I read the odd Snapchat news article and struggled to reach Grade 5 on the piano. They have mentioned their acting experience and their times in choirs, whereas the extent of my performance in the theatre was as the Lead Elephant in a Year 7 production of The Jungle Book. 

It has made me question how I’ll adapt to an environment so different to my mixed-ability state school

Despite this, I find it genuinely interesting – and very often reassuring – to see what is discussed on these chats. In the case of my college chat, it was a relief to discover that everyone has found the Admissions Office impossible to contact; in the case of my subject chat, discovering others with similar educational experiences has helped alleviate a lot of my concerns about the state/private divide. I will confess to being somewhat of a ‘lurker’ on most of these chats. Perhaps my reluctance to regularly contribute is based on the fact that I’d rather people judge me on how they find me as a person in ‘real’ life – although that hasn’t stopped me from scrutinising my Instagram and Facebook to remove anything remotely embarrassing.

My current friends were made with the blissful overconfidence and social obliviousness of a rather cocky eleven-year-old. Now, a slightly more insecure and jaded version of me has to convince a whole bunch of new people that I'm worth keeping around. It's more than a little bit scary. In an attempt to appear as if I’ve got my life sorted to all of these new people, I have overthought everything about my room decorations, reaching a point where my packing list even includes mini wooden pegs to attach photos to my string of fairy lights.

I’d rather people judge me on how they find me as a person in ‘real’ life

However, my advance planning has managed to exceed even this ridiculous level. I have already selected which Doctors' surgery I intend to transfer to at Cambridge; worse still, I have even filled in the registration forms. No: I'm neither a hypochondriac, nor am I unlucky enough to be plagued with ill health. But I am somewhat worried about how I'll survive being independent.

My common sense isn't exactly renowned, and a recent week of being home alone led to an accidental defrosting of the freezer and the demise of our entire tomato crop, as well as the untimely and inexplicable disappearance of my sister's pet fish. As much as I like to claim that I'm capable, I'm well aware that the truth is far from that – hence overcompensating before my arrival.


Mountain View

Why I chose Cambridge

When it comes to the 29th of September, I'm hopeful that in reality I will crawl out from under my duvet and be genuinely excited about coming to Cambridge. Ideally, I'll reread this article in the future and laugh at my typical habit of overthinking absolutely everything. Yes, I'm scared about making friends—but most people know no one, so we're all in the same boat. Yes, I’ll find having more autonomy intimidating – but hopefully I won’t burn anything down. Yes, a lot of the people will be formidably talented at seemingly everything – but not everyone can grace the stage of the National Opera House, and the same group chat has happily debated fitting Timberlands in a clutch bag.

Most of all, in contrast with my summer factory job, I'm ready for an academic challenge that stretches beyond repeatedly counting chocolate truffles into small cellophane bags.