Cambridge may seem like it's straight out of a fairytale, but it's important you make yourself at home.Olivia Emily

To me, Cambridge was always the kind of city you could only see online or on television and film: picturesque, and full of bookish students walking down the streets in their Harry Potter gowns. It was a place I visited with my family for days out on rare sunny weekends, where I routinely joined the legions of tourists blocking King’s Parade to snap photos of the beautiful, centuries-old buildings, amazed that students actually worked, ate, and slept in them. It was a city I always placed on a pedestal. I daydreamed about being a student walking down Trinity Street to my chosen coffee shop with a bag full of books in hand — a scene fit for a film starring Eddie Redmayne or Felicity Jones (or both).

Cambridge was always a distant horizon I was desperate to reach but could not actually picture myself reaching. So when I did reach it and I realised that I would be living in the fairytale city I had always considered beautiful but never considered homely, I was a little dumbfounded.

“As time passed and I got used to living in Cambridge, its quirks became the new norm”

From what I had heard of student experiences at other universities, the fun was in the making-do, the mucking-in, the cupboards hanging off their hinges, and living off instant noodles. I struggled to align that image of what I thought student life was supposed to be like with the reality of living in a city as ancient and ostentatious as Cambridge. Where would we even pre-drink? The chapel? More importantly, how would a place so weighted with history that it felt like a museum ever feel like home?

During my first few weeks as a student, it was disconcerting to look through my bedroom windows and see tourists taking photos with my new home as the backdrop for their posts on social media. It felt weird eating in a room as beautiful as my college dining hall every day with rows of painted old men staring down at me and my pasta bake. I felt guilty spilling a drink in my bedroom.

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It was an odd sense of feeling out of place: I didn’t think I belonged in Cambridge, not because I wasn’t smart enough, but because I felt like my clothes were too casual for the beautiful buildings. I felt guilty when I hadn’t bothered to look my best, knowing that I would be walking into the same rooms Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Darwin, or possibly even Princes Charles and Edward had once studied in. I found it difficult to wrap my head around the fact that I was walking down the same passageways that generations of the world’s best and brightest had walked before me. They were probably looking their best, while I looked like I had just rolled out of bed.

But, as time passed and I got used to living in Cambridge, its quirks became the new norm. Dinners at formal hall, as outrageously and outlandishly posh as they seemed in Freshers’ Week, gradually became commonplace. This felt completely out of step with what my classmates from school were doing at their universities, but I became familiar with the lavish Cambridge lifestyle, to the extent that I stopped feeling the urge to take photos of King’s College whenever I passed it on my walk to Sidgwick every morning.

I also started to feel increasingly comfortable being myself in Cambridge. I allowed myself to walk around college in my pyjamas, because why not? This was my home now (and sometimes, when locked out of my room, I had to). I experienced the student life I had always imagined, courtesy of good friends, poor budgeting, and messy nights out. It was everything everyone I knew from home was experiencing, just with a more picturesque backdrop.


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Sometimes, I miss the feeling of awe I used to get every time I walked through the gates of my college. Known as the ‘Chimney,’ the path leading to the main entrance of Jesus feels like a fairytale passageway. I came to appreciate my college all over again in Easter Term when flowers began to bloom alongside every path. My friends and I went punting and indulged in the most stereotypically ‘Cambridge’ experiences we could imagine. During May Week, while my school friends had already been home from university for weeks, my friends and I dolled up for our college May Ball and took to the streets of Cambridge on a mission to take the most ‘extra’ photos possible — a mission to appreciate the city we had lived in for the past year, and would be living in for years to come. Cambridge can seem stuffy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be home.

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