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Throughout the course of our journey to Cambridge, we may have found ourselves excelling at school, and arriving at Cambridge certainly feels like the pinnacle of academic achievement. 

"Cambridge is a different world, a world marked more by its rejections and failures than its success and glamour"

The reality of life in Cambridge is an entirely different story: you find yourself far from being one of the smartest students around, and instead furiously scouring libraries and inhaling coffee in order to finish each assignment. In a sense, Cambridge is a different world, a world marked more by its rejections and failures than its success and glamour, or at least in my experience.

However, despite this gloomy English weather, I found solace and meaning, and even joy, in doing things whilst in Cambridge that I was notoriously bad at in the past. I had been so used to embarking on complicated academic tasks solely for the sense of achievement I associated with them. But coming to Cambridge changed this. I began to find out what I truly enjoyed doing - given the wealth of opportunities here - whether I was commended or not. Achievement goes a long way, but truly enjoying an activity because it’s rewarding in its own way is on another level. I have started to view certain things more as opportunities to learn, and I find myself more willing to try out everything and anything, regardless of my very probable lack of achievement in these pursuits. This is what I've found university life to be about: trying out new things that scare you, thus paving your own direction in life.

In light of my newfound revelation of trying what I had previously feared - with my freshly discovered lack of inhibition - here are some of my proudest moments that I, undeniably, sucked at:

  • Learning a new language

Learning German had always been a dream of mine, because German is a very foreign language where I come from in Singapore. There was no chance to practise with other German speakers, as it was so rare to find one! It was far easier to do so in Cambridge, given the accessibility of language learning. Or so I imagined: it took me two tries to complete even the introductory class in German, but these relentless pursuits were some of my best memories of Cambridge. They have equipped me with a new perspective on life, and showed me how moments of failure should be enjoyed, and are often accompanied by fits of laughter. Anyone for a Pretzel?

  • Cooking

Growing up in Singapore, cooking was not something I encountered in everyday life. Eating out was the status quo, with the sheer variety of delicious hot food on demand at any hour of the day, even well into the night where hawker stores often remained open until 3 or 4am. In Cambridge, I tried to recreate some of the classic dishes from Singapore: Bak Ku Teh, Roti Prata (or Chanai), and an assortment of curries. It’s fair to say that the majority of my attempts actually turned out pretty awfully: overcooked, bland and generally far from the actual dishes themselves. However, I believe that my horrible cooking brought me and my friends closer together, as we all attempted to eat my trial-runs (and actually keep them down). Most importantly, it offered comfort for some of my homesick friends, who were reminded - perhaps by sight rather than by taste - of the Singaporean delicacies they so sorely missed.

  • Application season

The application season is perhaps one of the busiest times for everyone at Cambridge, placing only narrowly behind our beloved Easter Exam Term. To some, it might be the season to celebrate success after getting an offer following their very first application. For many others, including myself, rejection emails and telephone calls became a staple. The cycle of endless optimism followed by disappointment was unyielding, even until today. However, looking back, this taught me to learn from every opportunity that passed me by, and to be resilient to failure. It’s certainly not easy: I am often up at night, unable to ease my imposter syndrome and need for validation, due to past rejections that, admittedly, continue to haunt me. But it was most definitely worthwhile. It made me understand that failure is a part of life, and that realisation has made me more forgiving towards myself. I also take comfort in the fact that many students are in the same boat as me, as we grapple with finding our footing in an institution that is so overwhelming. But I know that, despite what my conscience may try to tell me, I am undoubtedly here for a reason. 

  • Straying beyond our comfort zones

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Perhaps the biggest lesson that Cambridge will teach us is to try things far beyond our comfort zones, to try things even though the odds of failing are stacked against us. I am used to thinking, as we all often are, that we should be strategic about how we utilise time. Days in Cambridge are often ordered, and we designate specific tasks for specific times. We study away, nestled in the corners of our college libraries, shunning activities that we know we’d rather be engaging in. Now, more than ever during the current crisis, we have been afforded the opportunity to try out something new, and reconsider our perception of productivity. Whether it’s reading that book that you always found too challenging, or going for a run, despite wheezing before you reach the 1km mark. Through these (often failed) attempts, we are provided with a better outlook on life and its lack of rigidity, and are able to explore all the possibilities it holds.

The list of things I suck at goes on and on... But, one thing I now understand is that everything made sense in its own, often burnt-smelling way. Looking back, it's all helped make me more  aware of my strengths and weaknesses. Everyoneʼs journey is different, yet worthwhile, as long as we have the patience and positive attitude to learn something new each day and to become better versions of ourselves. That’s the beauty of Cambridge: we may not be the stellar students we once were in school, but we morph into versions of ourselves that are the result of all these new experiences.