Enia Phocas

What does it mean to be halfway through your degree? This was the question which floated into my mind when I received the email inviting me to my college’s Halfway Hall during the winter break. And now that Halfway Hall has come, I feel myself still pondering this question: am I supposed to feel like I have gained in life experience, knowledge of English literary history and cooking skills?

I struggle with the idea that progress of this kind should be quantifiable. Yes, I could estimate the number of books I have taken out of the library, or the amount of people I’ve met, the number of times I went out, or when I have enjoyed myself in a supervision, but I feel this would somewhat miss the point. My time at university has been far more than the sum of individual experiences or arbitrary statistics to catalogue them.

I wondered if there was a way to evidence the progress an event like Halfway Hall implies, even if it was just for myself. And then I remembered. You see, since I received my acceptance letter, I have been unconsciously formulating a mental list of all the things I wanted to do during my three years here, my ‘Cambridge To-Do List’. Some things are, naturally, rather touristy things, like going punting and climbing up Great St. Mary’s Church. Others are more Cambridge-specific, such as the formal challenge (with only three colleges done, I will really need to up the pace if I want to get round the remaining twenty-eight), or getting college married. And some are entirely personal: getting my laundry done beforeit was completely necessary; showing my mum the UL; reading Sylvia Path’s diaries about doing the tragedy paper.

Although it will be impossible for me to know if I am halfway through this list, as I have never written it down, thinking back on the things I have already done has been a surprisingly moving experience. If I hadwritten it down, one of the first items on the list would have naturally been to make friends. And ever since I asked my neighbour to help me set up eduroam and the conversation started flowing, I have been able to tick that one off. However, in some ways, this is also something that can never truly be ‘complete’; there are always new connections to be made and new friendships to form.

Enia Phocas 

A more personal aim was to read James Joyce’s Ulysses, which I had wanted to do ever since I was in sixth form, having just discovered the delights of literary modernism. Within my first term here I had not only read the work, but written an essay on it – my sixteen-year-old self never would have believed it possible.

Something that definitely had been on my list for a long time was going to May Ball. It was both everything I had imagined it would be, and somehow more magical than I had anticipated – I spent much of the evening in a happy trance, floating in the wonderland that was my transformed college.

There have been smaller moments of personal joy too: going to the UL by myself was particularly exciting (and more than a little stressful); my first cheesy chips made me wish I had tried them sooner; I remember my very first lecture (on Childhood in the Victorian novel) was utterly delightful.

So, as I stand on this precipice between past and future time, between the first half of my degree and the second, I have given much thought to what should be added to the list. Without doubt, I would like to pursue my own academic interests more, now that I have grown in understanding about what sort of literature and authors I enjoy. Simply contemplating this made me realise how much I have learnt over the last year and a half, as well as recognising an increased confidence in my own judgements to shape my learning.

With my first set of ‘real’ exams coming up this Easter, I am also looking forward to ticking off going to Grantchester as another item on my list, especially as I deliberately prolonged going there so that I could enjoy it as a post-exams treat. I guess you could say that I’ll also be ticking off my first Cambridge exam term, but I personally prefer to keep the list fun and relatively frivolous, a distraction from more serious concerns.

Of course there are many other things I could add: Mill Lane Winter Fair, Compline in Chapel, or the annual Fashion Show, I could go on. But whilst I think that many good things have come from ‘The List’, equally, some of my favourite memories have come from entirely spontaneous situations: conversations in the gyp; coming out of a formal greeted by the sight of snow; a midnight walk. Perhaps what I have realised most from this first half of my university experience is how quickly the time has gone; I would like to live in the moment as much as I can for my remaining time here, and maybe tick off a few more things from the list.