"Perhaps someday I’ll remember my time at university as a phase of constantly wanting: of wanting to thrive, and to be loved."Instagram/naomidaviesart

Content Note: This article contains a brief mention of lockdown. 

At the beginning and end of every academic year, there’s cycle of waiting and wanting. I realised that I spend a lot of time waiting for things as I began the slow process of unpacking from university. ‘Slow’ is an understatement; it’s now July, and I’ve yet to empty my suitcase. Perhaps my reluctance to unpack is the part of me that waits for Cambridge in October. I would have laughed if someone told me four months ago that all I’d want was to return for one more term – but that’s the funny thing about hindsight.

Friends from home ask me, “How do you feel about your first year?” I say that it’s tough with the terms being short, and the workload high. I tell them there are moments where I feel like I know either enough, or nothing at all; there’s a learning curve too, that I worry I may not overcome in the three years I’m here. My friends, who will be finalists in October, laugh at my naivety. “You have time,” they assure me.

"Proving myself became a daily ritual, as if to ward off the discovery that I wasn’t meant to be here."

As the summer of my gap year came to a close, and the start of my first year neared, I began to map the character development that would span my degree. I became convinced that if I could flourish, it could only be at Cambridge. Something had to come from the time spent reading and writing – hours of learning, and unlearning. As much as I’d disliked the expression about crafting diamonds from pressure, I wanted to believe there was some semblance of truth in it.

I seized every opportunity to play catch up. Essays became an outlet for me to demonstrate my academic worth. The books I’d read were evidence of cultural capital, as if there was an unspoken quota I was obligated to reach. I believed that the number of Firsts achieved or people kissed were indicators of how well I'd adapted to life at Cambridge.

Eventually, flourishing here became a question of ‘if’, and not ‘when.' I can’t pinpoint the exact moment the proverbial mask began to slip. Keeping up the persona I’d carefully constructed during Michaelmas became exhausting. The self-consciousness I’d temporarily suppressed returned with the start of Lent. The assumption I no longer had to play catch up turned out to be false – if anything, it was worsened by the fact that I now had to sustain the image of getting by socially and academically.

Proving myself became a daily ritual, as if to ward off the discovery that I wasn’t meant to be here.

A friend at Cambridge once told me that there was nowhere else he’d rather be. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy as he said this with conviction I’d only dreamt of having; as if attesting he belonged here was something that hadn’t crossed his mind. Not wanting to appear ungrateful – or worse, incapable of adapting to life at Cambridge – I agreed. This cycle of deception carried on until the end of term: to anyone that asked, I was having the time of my life.

"Perhaps someday I’ll remember my time at university as a phase of constantly wanting: of wanting to thrive, and to be loved."

A few weeks later, I left Cambridge with the contents of my room packed in the back of my dad’s car. He asked me how I found this term during the otherwise quiet drive home. “It was harder this time.” I admitted aloud, and plainly, for what felt like the first time. Too hard, sometimes, I wanted to tell him. 

“Why didn’t you tell us? We were worried about you", my Dad replied frowning. 

A part of me wishes I had, even though at that moment it would have felt like an admission of defeat. Now I think that it would have been a small victory – in the way that being honest with yourself always is.


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 My DoS said to me "Be kind to yourself." In hindsight, this was something I hadn’t done by asking too much of myself too quickly. I realised this in lockdown as I’ve begun to treasure a slower pace of life, forgiving of drawbacks and mistakes, that I hadn’t allowed myself previously. When I return to Cambridge in October, I’ll search for these moments of stillness amidst the looming deadlines. I’ll be kinder to myself in allowing a slow and deliberate growth.

Perhaps someday I’ll remember my time at university as a phase of constantly wanting: of wanting to thrive, and to be loved. When I wonder if three years is realistically enough time for all of this to happen, I tell myself that it may not be–but the rest of a lifetime is.