"I find some solace in that I don’t feel like I’m drowning — not yet, at least"Rosie Bradbury

Coming to Cambridge, I had a lot of preconceptions about what it would be like. A place full of posh, rich, public school students – the stereotypical Cambridge – where there’s absolutely no place for a northern lad from a state-comprehensive in Sheffield. But having just finished my first week in this strange environment, I’ve found that it’s not the people I’ve met that have made me feel out of place, but the pace of life here that has left me out of breath (quite literally).

My time in Cambridge so far has been dominated by a frenzy of freshers’ events, from fairs to fun-runs, before being dropped, with no lifeline, into the choppy waters of lectures. I feel as if I’m playing a game of constant catch-up, that there’s always something else that needs doing, arranging, or handing in. I have always been prepared to work hard, and thought that, by making it to Cambridge, I would prove that to myself. But my first week here has made me question where I stand, or if I stand at all.

I feel as if I’m merely treading water in an attempt to stay afloat. Yet, I find some solace in that I don’t feel like I’m drowning — not yet, at least. Yes, it’s very intense, the workload is already demanding, and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to actually living here, but the fact is that I’ve been here for a week and survived. I find in this a sense of accomplishment and achievement, and a feeling that I’m actually challenging myself academically, socially, and even physically.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to actually living here”

I’ve realised that all aspects of Cambridge are intense. This was after I was innocently coerced into what was advertised as a freshers’ five-kilometre fun-run, ‘open to all’. I enjoy going running every now and then, so I thought, sure, why not. Little did I know what I was getting myself in to.

The first red flag was upon arrival, when I had to register and was given a number. Now I study History so I don’t claim to be a genius with numbers, but I was pretty sure being given a number meant that there was some sort of ranking system in place.

The next warning sign was the fact that everybody was stretching, in ways that I had imagined only professional gymnasts could, not your average jogger like me. Then there was the apparel: the start line was a sea of light blue university kit. I thought I had missed the memo to bring proper sportswear before realising they’re obviously club runners – professional athletes, by my standards. When the fun-run started, it was clear that I was pretty off the pace, and completely out of my depth. Nonetheless, I endured and, in all honesty, enjoyed the brutal 5000 metres, clocking in what I thought was a respectable time of 19 minutes and 46 seconds. I attribute this to the competitiveness I possess, which I guess is a trait Cambridge cultivates by fostering an atmosphere where only the fittest can survive (literally).

“There is a pressure to perform the role of the perfect student”

This sense of overwhelming breathlessness has been reinforced by the intense academic rigour of Cambridge. I know, it’s Cambridge, supposedly one of the best universities in the world. It’s to be expected. But speaking individually with an academic is still something that’s utterly alien to me. Going from classes of 20 or more students in sixth form to one-on-one supervisions is hard to adjust to; I’m intellectually exposed, with nowhere to hide.

As I can't run or hide, this feeling of vulnerability comes to the forefront. There is a pressure to perform the role of the perfect student in this place, to uphold its tradition of excellence, which is something I’m constantly reminded of whenever I wake up in the shadow of King’s College Chapel. My initial reaction to this breathtaking example of late Gothic architecture was how small it made me feel – so obsolete, so unimportant. Yet now I see it as an expectation, something to live up to, a feat of awe-inspiring greatness to which I’m meant to rival. The comforting and attainable aspirations of my classmates from state school and the lives of my mates who have honest jobs back home are the only things overshadowed or hidden. Having been accepted into Cambridge, they see me as ‘too smart’ for them, which is difficult to grapple with when I don’t feel at all good enough to be here.


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Mountain View

Feeling like an impostor is a symptom of life here

Paradoxically, it’s when I close my door and escape the relentless academic interrogation of the lecture halls and supervision rooms that I feel the most vulnerable, and the pressure feels the most emotionally intense. I think it’s easy to forget that, with everything else going on, it’s been a week of the biggest changes in my life, including living away from home. Something that has been diluted by an endless flood of events. Something that needs time to permeate. Something that surely affects everyone.

As the ‘weekend’ comes to a close, there is an emotion that is a byproduct of this never-ending intensity: tiredness. The constant work has depleted my energy, although, in fairness, it’s also probably because of all those freshers’ club nights, not to mention that bloody run.

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