'We started going for walks, with no particular direction in mind'victoria chong for varsity

Before my arrival in Cambridge in October, I’d been forewarned of the notorious ‘Cambridge Bubble’ where even in the first few days of freshers’ week your life becomes inundated with essay deadlines, lectures and supervisions, leaving little time for anything else. It becomes hard to keep up with friends from home, family, world news and basically anything that constitutes the world outside Cambridge. Your day starts with an autopiloted bleary-eyed walk to lectures with a caffeinated drink in hand, before returning to your desk to start the next round of relentless reading

Mid-way through Michaelmas I found myself falling victim to this ‘bubble’, feeling increasingly claustrophobic and bored with my new way of life, even in this picturesque, bustling city which is always buzzing with activity. I knew I needed to develop some strategies to relieve myself of the stuffiness and monotony in order to make the most of all the amazing things this University and city have to offer. 

  • Evening walks

One of the dilemmas my friends and I talk about is the fact that it is possible to go for days without actually leaving college - something that definitely contributes to the feeling of confinement and boredom. So, we started to go for walks into town in the evening, with no particular direction in mind. This momentary aimlessness helped me to regain a bit of freedom I felt I had lost in Cambridge. Whilst it might seem cliché, the architecture of the central colleges illuminated against the blackened star-littered sky is actually quite inspiring, and can remind you that there are things that are bigger than you and the essay crisis you’re likely to be having. 

  • Journaling and letter writing
Johannes Hjorth for Varsity

Something more personal that I have found particularly therapeutic in combating against Cambridge’s stuffiness is journaling and writing letters home to family. Whilst it was hard to make time for (yet more!) writing as a humanities student, I found that the simple act of jotting things down that had happened in my day or even doodling helped me to regain a sense of creativity that essays don’t often allow us to express. Similarly, writing a letter home to a family member might seem pointless as you can just send a quick text or call, but I have found that writing a letter to my Grandma meant I could physically document my life at Cambridge whilst at the same time keep in touch with family in a much more meaningful way. 

  • Exploring Kettle’s Yard

Getting a change of scenery has also helped me to dispel feelings of confinement. My personal favourite space to simply be is Kettle’s Yard - a quirky but beautiful house owned by the University with a large collection of 20th century modern art and completely free admission. At the end of Michaelmas term, my friends and I, exhausted but determined to explore Cambridge now we finally had the time, entered the gallery and felt almost instantly calm. What’s great about Kettle’s Yard is you can sit on all of the furniture in the house, so we spent almost an hour and a half stretching out on a 70s sofa chatting and absorbing the diverse array of paintings and sculptures.

  • Reading for pleasure

More reading may seem like the last thing a humanities student needs (and admittedly, my progress was very slow as I would usually read only a few pages before nodding off), but escaping into another world, even just for 10 minutes before bed was very restorative. Fiction I read last term included Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’, the sequel in the saga about the tyrannical religious dictatorship (which gave me lots of perspective on Cambridge life!) and Madeline Miller’s ‘Circe’ about the Ancient Greek gods which was a playful but potent slice of pure escapism. 

  • Making the most of the social calendar

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Mountain View

We need to talk about the unhealthy ways we discuss food

Lastly, something very simple which I have found can break up the gruelling Cambridge routine is scheduling in a few events to go during the week, so you feel like you’re getting more out of your time at Cambridge than just your degree. Whether it be dancing the night away in Cindies, heading to a heated debate at the Union, or engrossing yourself in ADC drama, planning your week around events you’re interested in can be a social opportunity, help get you out of college, and be a major mood-booster. 

Life at Cambridge is stereotyped to revolve around piles of musty books and dusty libraries. Whilst there is truth in this, through carving out some space for myself in my week, I have learnt that it doesn’t have to be this way. At first I felt guilty for doing things not conventionally seen as ‘productive’, but regaining a sense of freedom and excitement by popping the Cambridge bubble, even just for a moment, was more beneficial to me than spending that extra hour or two at my desk. 

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