The people you meet and surround yourself with will define your experience here more than any class you takeRosie Bradbury

I could probably scrape together a couple of lessons that I’ve learned from my first two years at Cambridge. But most are still fuzzy: half-formed thoughts, borne from hazy memories and nestled in some forgotten part of my brain. I’ll figure out lessons from them one day, maybe, before I turn 30.

For now I’ll just tell a single story: a story of my friends’ voices. The voices in phone calls and recorded memos, quick run-ins and late-night conversations, that have cut through the sounds of loneliness here.

One’s voice is bright, always upbeat. It almost has the cadence of a melody — she’s a singer, that might be why? Another’s is warm. She often speaks rapidly, like she’s out of breath. Or as if she’s on her way to somewhere important but she bumped into someone she knows, so now she’s running late. And no matter what the third is feeling or how much she’s trying to hide it, her voice gives it away. Sometimes when you listen to her speak, you can hear a part of her soul. It sounds like home to me.

These voices, and those of others, have formed individual imprints on my ear. At different times over the past year or so, they have guided me. When I hadn’t heard their voice in a while, I would think up an earlier conversation, and use it to ground my thoughts or slow my heart rate.

Let your friends ground you: nothing else will with as much care and comfort

There’s no cure for loneliness. I’m not even sure if these phone calls and conversations have been my remedies, or if they’re just distractions. A fraying rope I grasp onto to be pulled somewhere safe, a loud song I turn on to drown out noise inside or around me.

When you first arrive in Cambridge, there won’t be many people whose rooms you can just drop by, or people whom you can call at 2am without pissing off. So until there are, call those ones back home who can bring you some of the warmth that you’re lacking, during those times when you feel like the city itself aches of your isolation. Whether it’s by your second term or your second year, eventually you’ll find people in Cambridge who will bring you that same comfort. And for whom your voice is the one they need to heal.

This might seem like a strange thing to fixate on. Maybe it is. But what I know now, two years since I bought a stack of books off my freshers’ reading list that I’m pretty sure I barely opened, is that the people you meet and surround yourself with will define your experience here more than any class you take. Once you find them, the friends you make at Cambridge will be your salvation, if you let them.

What would you say to your fresher self?

Write for Varsity's annual series, Letters to Freshers. Just email our Features team with a 150-word pitch with a story to tell about your time at Cambridge.

So when you have the time, between the rushed supervision essays and the lectures you swore to yourself you’d start attending this week, call them. Drop by to see them. Send voices notes back and forth that you can listen to with headphones in. Leave weird voicemails that they’ll laugh to later. Or just sit on the phone with them in silence — all out of things to say, but comforted knowing that they’re just on the other end of the line.

We all need connections to survive: comforting tones, a shoulder leaning on yours on a walk back from Sainsbury’s. It will hurt to lose those points of connection you previously had when you arrive here. But you’ll find them again, even if it seems like it’s taking far too long. And when you do, don’t settle for just texting – it has a tendency for misunderstanding. Anyway, it’s harder to say the important things over text.

These calls and conversations are cemented in my memory, bookmarked under “Cambridge.” But I’m sure they’ll continue long after I’ve returned my hood to Ryder & Amies and packed up my things.

When I think back over my two years at university, long periods of loneliness stick out. But competing with them are short snapshots of conversations that have, at various times, come to heal me:

Easter term is just about to start. I’m sitting in my room, my arms wrapped firmly around my legs and a phone pressed up against my ear.

It’s raining lightly, so I stop, and listen through my headphones as my friend sends me voice notes.

I hear the occasional, “I’ll need to stop talking soon,” hours before she finally hangs up.


Mountain View

In the chaos of Cambridge, I come back to cooking

At points, you will find yourself feeling lost, and unassured — university tends to do that. Let your friends ground you: nothing else will with as much care and comfort.

Take opportunities to talk to those who care for you, and whom you care so much for, whether they’re at Cambridge or further away. Run errands for them. Ask the follow-up when they only say, “I’m okay.”

Remember: you’ll need them. And in this city of 21,565 students, there are people who, some time soon, will need you, too.