"In the spirit of taking things at my own pace, I dawdled around Cambridge a lot during freshers week."LOUIS ASHWORTH

I’m sure I won’t be alone in saying that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Cambridge recently. As the dreaded, yet promising (maybe even exciting?) October draws close, I find myself thinking of where I was a year ago. I remember feeling nervous, enthusiastic, and mildly confused as to how I’d ever got an offer in the first place. Going into second year, I feel a little less nervous and just as confused. Some things never change. 

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 your idea!

I was a rather atypical fresher in that I didn’t drink and still don’t. This means that, unlike some friends, I can actually remember my freshers week as if it were yesterday. I, rather uneventfully, spent most of it drinking tea and reading cosy novels. Surprisingly, I’m not actually massively antisocial, I just didn’t fancy going out most evenings. This put me into a minority, but not an unhappy one. 

Freshers week did feel a little daunting at points if I’m honest. It’s bound to be strange, though, because you’re in a brand new place with brand new people. First impressions can be intimidating, and if you’re anything like me you’ll probably not have met 99.9% of the student population before arriving at Cambridge. Given these circumstances, slowing down and taking things at your own pace is completely acceptable. I recall spending a lot of time talking with my ‘neighbours’ in the ‘gyp’ (I still find that term weird!). We chatted about almost everything, putting the world to rights with our late-night conversations. I also spent some evenings alone, either reading, or absolutely exhausted and flat-out asleep. University can be strangely tiring, even if you feel as though you’ve achieved nothing during the day, as is often the case. 

"Remember that you’re not crazy if you don’t fall in love with Cambridge straight away. You’re not crazy if you never do." 

In the spirit of taking things at my own pace, I dawdled around Cambridge a lot during freshers week. I used to treat myself to a hot chocolate or a little cake (or two) whilst wandering around the town. I think I got to know Cambridge quite well this way, and on my own terms. I remember being struck by the vibrance of it all as I walked around the different colleges, hearing the ringing laughter and muffled conversations that characterise the streets, and breathing in the frosty scent of the sprawling gardens. I’m conscious that I sound like a woeful wannabe novelist here, so I’ll leave it at that. 

Going in, I was wary of the Cambridge portrayed by media horror-stories. However, while Cambridge isn’t perfect (nowhere is), hundreds of students are dedicated to making it a better place. I was the only student in my school year to get into Cambridge, and I’ve fit in just fine. Sure, I couldn’t play lacrosse or quidditch before I went to university (and I still can’t now) but this places me in a comfortable majority. Apparent cultural-codes can sometimes feel confusing, but you’ll find your own way around things. Remember that it is fine to challenge a ‘culture’ of Cambridge that makes you feel uncomfortable. Remember that there are people who feel the same way as you. Remember that you’re not crazy if you don’t fall in love with Cambridge straight away. You’re not crazy if you never do. 


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I’m going into 2nd year now, and I’ve still got a lot to learn about Cambridge. I don’t have hundreds of friends, but I do have good friends who I know I can rely on. I haven’t got straight firsts throughout the year, but I’ve made good progress. I’m not a member of countless societies, just like most other students. I spent a lot of first year feeling inadequate,  having convinced myself that everybody was doing more than me. Don’t fall into this trap! The truth is, most people are just getting by themselves and Facebook feeds very rarely give you the full picture. 

This freshers week: you are in charge. Settling back into real work is going to be challenging,  I’m trembling just thinking of it now! Just try to remember that most of us are in the same boat, and it may take a few weeks to get those cogs whirring again. Your supervisors aren’t evil and they don’t expect a perfect essay or assignment from you straight away (or ever, really). You will soon fill Cambridge with countless memories of your own: some incredible, some saddening, some remarkably unremarkable. Don’t forget, in the midst of all this upheaval, Freshers is just one week. You’ve got years to look forward to.

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