"Despite the distance, I rely on my friends from home"Max Pixel

Based on very anecdotal (and highly unscientific) evidence, lots of people seem to think they find their group at university, with the people they knew at school gradually becoming a distant and altogether different breed. University is often painted as where you’ll find your team and truly be able to fit in with people you like, rather than people you’ve been stuck with for the last seven years. Everyone who has ever been to or intended to go to university has experienced some variation of ‘it’ll be the best three years of your life’.

This has not been my experience. My school friends have always been people that I like, and have continued to feel a deep affinity with throughout my university years. Of course, I love my friends from Cambridge absolutely. They have shared an experience that has bound us together, not just because it’s special but because it’s hard. It isn’t something I can share with my friends from home in any way.

“At Cambridge, it’s vastly easier to feel alienated from people”

But my home friends are  still my team. Eleven to eighteen is an incredibly formative experience for everybody, but we had ups and downs and capital-E Events that really tested us as people, and taught us to lean on each other as friends.  

Admittedly, it can seem like we don’t try very hard sometimes. We nearly all go to different universities, ranging from St. Andrews in the north down 500 miles to Exeter in the south. We hardly ever visit one another – it’s expensive, and a weekend out of Cambridge is a long time missed. Every holiday we meet as a big group maybe once every week and a half, on average. Out of fourteen, each of us speak to two or three every day, and another two or three on a semi-regular basis.  

At Cambridge, it’s vastly easier to feel alienated from people. This is not just due to varying amounts of various types of privilege, but because their perspectives on this particular experience – that has the potential to be so binding – are often radically different to mine. If somebody thinks it’s easy here, or that it’s wrong to really hate it sometimes, or even really that going to Oxbridge is normal, the common ground quite dramatically shrinks.

“Of course, I love my friends from Cambridge absolutely. They have shared an experience that has bound us together, not just because it’s special but because it’s hard.”

That’s why, despite the distance, I rely on my friends from home. During term we are a sprawling network, and nobody minds that – I check in with Kathryn, who checks in with Tom, who checks in with Ellen, who checks in with me. We know the other ten will be there at Christmas or Easter or summer. I’m certain I have a guaranteed fourteen guests at my wedding, even if nobody else wants to come. The permanence of this friendship is important, and it’s comforting, and seeing them feels like going home.

My best friend at Cambridge comes from nearly exactly the same background I do, where going to Oxbridge is special, has nearly exactly the same attitude to work as me, where you’ve got to be able to say you did all you can, and dislikes Cambridge at least as often as I do. There’s a lot of common ground between us, but almost exactly because we are not archetypal Oxbridge students. I’m equally certain that she, and a few other people from Cambridge, along with my friends from home, will flesh out my side of the church to at least twenty.  

I like things like this. I like having close and intense Cambridge friendships because it is a close and intense place. I like having two netball teams’ worth of people at home because I can be lazier there. I like it especially when they mix together, and my worlds approve of each other.


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Preserving a legacy of feminist action helps carve out spaces for the present

When I was sixteen, we were at a party, like we were every weekend. It was dark and cold, because it was January. We lay outside, on top of one another for heat, looking up at the stars and talking. I love that image of us. It is an incredible cliché and very indulgent, but to me it represents what all my friends are.  

We are, and will always be, one another’s checks and balances, shoulders to cry on, potential bridesmaids and godparents, legs over chests to keep us warm. Physical distance is the least of anybody’s worries.  

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