PaigeY (left) and Elena Handtrack (rIght)Paige Yallop and Elena Handtrack with permission for Varsity

There’s no shame in admitting that prior to university applications, we all binged Youtube ‘Day in the Lifes’ and ‘Cambridge Q&As’ before making those all important decisions. Graduate vloggers PaigeY and Elena Handtrack attest to how much watching these videos helped to give them a glimpse at what student life would be, and when filming for their own channels they loved being able to connect to those who were studying alongside them. Elena laughs as she tells me that she was part of Paige’s “international audience”, and watching her videos definitely influenced her decision to apply to Cambridge. Now having experienced the reality of life inside the “bubble”, they think of their “online diar[ies]” as something they can look back on fondly from the outside world.

“Vlogging enabled them to document their lives inside the bubble and stay connected to those outside of it”

Paige recalls that while there is so much to do in “the Cambridge bubble”, she “stumbled” into “casual vlogging”, and carrying her camera around became “second nature”. She later states that committing to her channel was one of the best things she did at Cambridge, and she continues to film her life since graduating, studying for actuarial exams while working in the “corporate world”. Now back in Germany, Elena admits that she is very shy by nature and often felt extremely embarrassed walking down the streets of Cambridge talking to a camera, but really “nobody cares because everybody’s busy”. It is clear that, for both, vlogging enabled them to document their lives inside the bubble and stay connected to those outside of it.

The phenomenon of the Cambridge bubble is something Elena says she was very aware of before applying. Having studied abroad in Germany, and since completed her master’s degree there, she appreciates how different the work-life balance was, with reading lists that actually felt “completable” and time to take breaks – even weekend trips! She says that while we all “come out stronger at the end”, the freedom to breathe and catch up was something hard to find in Cambridge. Paige too attests to the “busy, fast-paced lifestyle” she had to adjust to at university, recalling that she would “for[get] what was going on outside” and get “wrapped up in the moment”; it’s impossible not to get immersed.

“Freedom to breathe and catch up was something hard to find in Cambridge”

After the bubble burst for Paige and Elena, their exits into the real world felt “quick and abrupt”. Paige explains how a lot of people struggle with it, and recalls how after going back to live with her parents, it felt “like travelling back to my school days”. She remembers the anxiety she had after leaving and how she struggled to “have faith that life was ever going to be fun again”. Maintaining friendships takes “a little more effort” when your friends aren’t on your doorstep. However, she now says that she’s “very content with my life outside the Cambridge bubble”, and her social life has picked back up again, working with other young people in the busy centre of London. As she says, it’s “very, very common” to switch tracks after university. Despite feeling “stressed out by the whole subject” while studying Natural Sciences, she feels she can always go back to it.

“Trust the process”

Meanwhile, Elena is grateful for the freedom graduating has given her to prioritise her health, something often neglected in the bubble. After completing her master’s degree in Law, she has been in recovery from a surgery on her spine that measures “recovery time in months not weeks”, something she never would have allowed herself to do during such fast-paced Cambridge term times. Nevertheless, she definitely seems to have kept busy, telling me that she’s written a book that will be published at the end of March. Although entering the working world is never smooth, Elena is keen to mention how lucky we are to have the University Careers Service (whose emails many of us admittedly ignore … ), a resource that like many, including the University Counselling Service, we should never feel “ashamed” to make use of. Connections are everything, and building a “network”, she says, can also help with that transition.


Mountain View

Why are periods so political? Molly Fenton reminds us how to love our periods freely and fairly

As our chat comes to a close, the pair are both keen to offer their wisdom, now having gained perspective from outside the bubble. Elena stresses how important it is to “take care of your mental health”, and even though it may feel that there’s no time, there’s always someone to talk to who can help you “get that break”. Meanwhile, Paige reassures me that you have to “trust the process”. Even as they often struggled worrying “one step ahead”, everything would usually work out and she’d realise that she “didn’t need to stress”. She says that setbacks are “not the end of the world” and there’s always something you can do to “bring it back round”. Looking to the end of uni, Paige recalls the best advice she was given was to “lean into the next chapter” and be “open-minded” that the next steps can be fun too. It’s inevitable that the bubble will burst for all of us and we will be thrust back into the world outside Cambridge; it’s the people like Paige and Elena who make these “online diaries” that can ease the transition and remind us to enjoy the ride.