"I had pictured days spent in libraries with impossibly high ceilings and reading Austen on the backs with punts gliding past along the Cam"ODESSA CHITTY

I made my way down the carpeted stairs of my accommodation, en route to a typical Sainsbury’s haul, with the intent of buying chocolate and a bottle of delightful £5 wine: the essentials. However, I stumbled into a Porter carrying a notice emblazoned with all caps in Calibri font: BUILDING UNDER QUARANTINE. This week’s asymptomatic tests had returned a positive case and, due to the 70's partiality to an open plan layout, the whole building had to be locked down.

After two days of collective outrage, denial and mourning of the outdoor world, we began to settle in for the long haul and establish routines and events to keep us entertained. With regular movie nights and animated card games, huddled around a makeshift table of beer boxes, friendships seemed to blossom, and the ingenuity did not end there. The communal mass-purchase of LEDs from Amazon were set up in most rooms to create our own nightclub setting; flashing lights accompanied our trusty speaker, always on standby for wailing requests of, “Alexa, play Toxic by Britney Spears.” We punctuated the days with frequent takeaways — although our inability to leave the building, paired with our inconspicuous front door, created quite the quest for our Deliveroo drivers. We settled on shouting from a third-floor window to the street below, closely resembling a scene from Rapunzel — but more romantic.

“Despite the many activities invented by my housemates, the gulf between many of them couldn’t have been more apparent”

As well as takeaways, we attempted Come Dine with Me and cooking rotas, of which the only reaped reward was a blaring smoke alarm and the opportunity for a few gulps of fresh air from the outdoor world before being escorted back inside. We returned to lukewarm noodles and extremely charcoaled salmon, a sharp contrast to my Hogwarts dreams of medieval banquet tables filled with Michelin star food, illuminated by hovering beeswax candles, with owls gliding overhead. As my train pulled into Cambridge station for the first time, I had so many expectations of what was awaiting me; a Freshers’ week punctuated by late night meanderings, strobe lighting and endless new faces. I pictured days spent in libraries with impossibly high ceilings and reading Austen on the backs with punts gliding past along the Cam. Locked in my accommodation, my packaged gown gathering dust in the wardrobe, it became clear these expectations had been fantasies. But instead of mourning these lost experiences, isolation provoked me to reconsider and reclaim them as postponed. The perspective I gained from a four-walled existence made me appreciate the perfect, albeit unprecedented term that I was having.


Mountain View

Life as an international student during Covid

Despite the many activities invented by my housemates, the gulf between many of them couldn’t have been more apparent. Between procrastinating my latest essay and blankly surveying a horde of unwatched lectures, time seemed to stand still, evoking the memory of our first Fresher ‘meet and greet’ Zoom calls. It seemed like the worst possible time to be an incoming first year. Catapulted into an unfamiliar environment and subsumed into a strange collegiate system, it was always going to be daunting for most, let alone being enclosed in a building with only a few weeks of social foundations. Whilst we were fortunate that the entire twenty-one of us in the building had been locked down and therefore had each other, I honestly wasn’t sure whom that entailed.

In the midst of week four, in which term was beginning to escalate into stress and chaos, I admit I hadn’t spent a large time within my accommodation itself. Due to the continued struggle to transcend the social limits of a household and to encounter those rumoured beings from other colleges, my time had mainly been devoted elsewhere. Whilst of course, some friendships had sparked immediately, and indeed stood the strains of close confinement, some still remained blank faces in the corridors. Just like Kerouac depicts his tentative new bonds in On the Road, “We got along fine — no pestering, no catering; we tiptoed around each other like heartbreaking new friends” — we gave each other very formal, very British pursed lip smiles of acknowledgement, but nothing more.

Whilst I can’t say I was sad to leave quarantine, to exploit my newly found appreciation for the outdoors and be reunited with my lovely friends from other buildings, I can honestly admit that I look back on my days in confinement fondly. Our building, comprised of those brought together not of compatibility, but from their partiality to a double bed or ensuite, blossomed into a community and stayed that way until we were dispersed home, to our different counties and countries.

Now, facing an online term, and the possibility of not setting foot in the building that was my entire world for fourteen days, my mind returns to this period of time and my desire to relive it instantly. Was it Stockholm syndrome? Possibly. But, what I first thought to be a social death sentence in the middle of my first term resulted in treasured and solidified bonds with real foundations, not just fleeting Fresher friendships, facilitated by alcohol. It was another exclusive addition to this pandemic university experience, but maybe one, unlike so many that have disappointed Freshers this year, that can be cherished.