'Wanderlust' or 'Fernweh' is the ache for far-flung placesLois Wright

As a new term begins, hunched over that text that you’ve read, re-read and yet remains indecipherable, it would be easy for anyone to wish to be somewhere more exciting. Spain, Japan, Barbados, B&M Bargains Swindon – all seem more appealing options than the close analysis that you really should have finished by now. But what if this sense of wanting to be elsewhere isn’t simply a passing notion, but a more recurrent thought?

In her autobiography Elsewhere, travel journalist Rosita Boland discusses the German word Fernweh, or the idea of “farsickness”. Like many Cantabs, it’s not that I don’t want to be at Cambridge, but, like Boland, I find it hard to escape Fernweh or the ache for far-flung places. While I am extremely grateful for the opportunities and friendships that Cambridge has provided, I often find myself preoccupied with how work and extracurricular commitments are gobbling up my free time as quickly as student living is consuming my money. I’m probably not the only person who finds the micromanaged environment of a college a little suffocating compared to life outside of Cambridge.

It’s hard to approach the desire to be wandering or elsewhere without the ever-present Cambridge companions of ‘Guilt’ and ‘Fear of Appearing Entitled’ rearing their heads. Much as I appreciate Eat Pray Love, no one in Cambridge, or anywhere else for that matter, wants to listen to someone bleat about what a drag it is to receive a world class education as they recount misty-eyed stories from their ‘gap yahhhh’, straighten their tie dye harem pants and resume plaiting their armpit hair. But having done an extensive survey of my friendship group (I asked my friends Lewis and Josh who happened to be in the garden), followed by a more genuine survey of my college population, this idea of Fernweh within the Cambridge bubble seems to be much more prevalent than I initially thought (Richardson, 2019), with many of us keen to get out of Cambridge and see the world.

“I think this is really what the idea of wanderlust is about, the idea of experiencing something that simply cannot be replicated at home”

Indeed I feel this isn’t something we should have to feel guilty about, with university, if anything, allowing and inspiring students to look outside of their worldview through conversation with students of other countries, lecturers, or studying places or cultures that are not our own. Consequently, I feel it’s perfectly natural to have a slight case of itchy feet while studying.

So what do you do when the wanderlust sets in and the last place you want to be is Cambridge?

Personally, I have found books to be a great source of comfort, with travel books or books set in a different culture providing a much cheaper ticket to elsewhere than Skyscanner. While you might not be able to get a tan from reading My Family and Other Animals, about Britsh naturalist Gerald Durrell’s childhood in Corfu, it might be able to satisfy curiosity about other places and act as a welcome escape from essays and Michaelmas term rain. I feel by reading travel writing and related fiction I have widened my search for new adventures, considering destinations I hadn’t previously thought of and gained new perspectives on certain places through the eyes of different writers.

I feel it is also worth noting that, for me, itchy feet can be less of a sign that I need an exotic holiday and more a sign that I need to escape the Cambridge bubble. While my heart might be telling me to book flights to outer Mongolia and live out the rest of my days as a goatherd instead of doing my coursework, my head usually tells me that a trip home might be more sensible. For me, more often than not, a more instant cure to wanderlust can be a short trip to somewhere just beyond Cambridge or a weekend visit home.


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Long holidays are also great for planning adventures abroad if you are lucky enough to have the cash to spare, particularly university society trips or tours – which some colleges can provide grants for. I found solace in university trips, having felt deprived of places to explore during the academic year, relishing the fact that they are trips unique to students that cannot be accessed outside of university. Unlike the wonderful but transient or long distance friendships I made while travelling the world in 2018 on my year out (it wasn’t a gap yahhh I promise!) the friendships I made on university trips are ones that I will be able to maintain and grow in Cambridge. I usually consider myself someone who prefers to travel alone in order to best soak up the atmosphere of a place, but travelling in a university group really allowed me to appreciate the joy of sharing a moment in a new place with others, whether it be sipping drinks together in a busy square or helping each other scramble along a coast path to a nearby pub on a break from rehearsals.

In many ways I think this is really what the idea of wanderlust is about, the idea of experiencing something that simply cannot be replicated at home, whether it’s the feeling of standing on a beach or exploring a new coffee shop in a quaint town on the other side of the country. While we might berate it for trapping us, university could be seen to provide us with many new adventures – whether it be visiting uni friends abroad or in a different part of the country, or organised trips and volunteering opportunities. I would advise fellow aspiring adventurers to remember how brief our time at university is and treasure it, however difficult and complex a task that might be.

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