"It really is a tale of two cities"Danielle Jump

Leaving Cambridge at the end of term is always a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I appreciate the break from work; on the other hand, I have to return to Birmingham.

Before moving to Cambridge, my entire reality was shaped by my experiences living in Aston, situated north of the city centre and home to Villa Park. Having a majority Asian population, it is also one of the most deprived areas in the city. Here, it is normal to see mattresses or fridges dumped on every street corner, to be greeted by the stench of piled-up bin bags as you walk past houses, to see cars plonked on the pavement, or to read about crime in the area every other day. These are all part of the Aston experience.

“When it was drilled into me from a young age that I shouldn’t go out at night for my safety, to be able to now do so was like a newfound freedom”

Moving out of home for the first time, then, the difference between the two cities was like night and day. Those sights that I had become used to were more or less non-existent. The air felt cleaner, litter was non-existent, walking around was therapeutic, and I was able to go out at night or venture into the city centre alone with relatively less fear. This almost sounds unbelievable, but when it was drilled into me from a young age that I shouldn’t go out at night for my safety, to be able to now do so was like a newfound freedom.

Unfortunately, this freedom was short-lived once I returned home and was swiftly brought back to reality. The contrast between my two lives became shockingly clear: during term time, I was enjoying the luxury of a big room, a library across the road and several others within walking distance, and beautiful gardens; at home, I’m back to my 2-metres-by-2-metres room, the nearest library opens twice a week for a few hours, and the closest I have to greenery are the weeds sporadically growing in my back garden. It really is a tale of two cities.

Coming home makes me realise that being in Cambridge provides me with a taste of the middle-class lifestyle that many aspire to have. I like it. I wish I could have it forever. But I cannot. The end of term is a time when the inequalities that exist amongst the student body at Cambridge become glaringly obvious to me (not that they aren’t already apparent during the term). We may all study in the same university, but the different lives that we return to after each term reveal the transience of the “Cambridge experience”. To give an example, exam season is soon upon us and we all should be revising at the moment, but some of us are living in conditions that make this difficult. On this note, there is a quote from Damian Barr that really resonated with me:

“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some of us are on superyachts. Some have just the one oar.”

Ultimately, I want people to recognise that their experiences are not universal and to be conscious of the privileges that they possess, both inside and outside of university.

A row of shops in AstonRichard Vince / Geograph.org (LICENSED UNDER CREATIVE COMMONS ATTRIBUTION 2.0)

Moving out to Cambridge and leaving the Birmingham bubble also brought with it a change in how I viewed people from home. I began to perceive people as uneducated, uncivilised and narrow-minded, while the people in Cambridge were sensible, clean, civilised, and polite. In fact, I lavished so much praise on the city that my uncle asked if I was considering buying a house there (he clearly hasn’t seen the house prices).

While writing this, I frequently asked myself if I was being too unfair to my home city. But every time I went out, the sights I saw only further confirmed this feeling of alienation. Outdated views on mental health, an atmosphere of toxic masculinity, and taunts at studying a subject that isn’t remotely STEM-oriented only scratch the surface. For these reasons, I have enjoyed the distance and autonomy from home, and returning back home genuinely feels like a regression.

“I am simultaneously an insider and an outsider”


Mountain View

Two planets, 256 miles apart

I have felt this way for as long as I can remember. Experiencing life in Cambridge has only reinforced these feelings. People are surprised when I tell them I am from Aston, as I do not fit the stereotype of an “Aston guy”. They are shocked when I tell them I am a Cambridge student because the expectations held of young guys here are so low that a university like Cambridge would not even come to mind. Clearly, home isn’t a place where I feel like I belong; interestingly enough, while a lot of people worried about moving to Cambridge and whether they will have to change to fit in, for me, it was the opposite – I felt more comfortable at Cambridge, while it’s at home where I need to blend in. The shifting realities as I move back and forth between the two cities have given forth a sort of hybridity: I am simultaneously an insider and an outsider.

I have always wanted to move out of Aston; being exposed to Cambridge has demonstrated that a different reality does indeed exist. My ideal “home”, then, is an aspiration, a possibility, a dream that I am toiling towards, but I know there’s a tough road ahead if I ever want it to materialise.