Going to university in my hometown has made me see it in a new light.Rhiannon Warren

Growing up, I had always imagined the step to university as the chance to move elsewhere, explore the world, and magically find myself as a character in some nondescript coming of age movie. However, when thinking about courses, I realised that I loved the idea of studying ASNC. So I applied a little closer to home than I would have initially imagined. A year on I can say that I have discovered a completely new side of Cambridge, so different from the town I knew before. I’ve swapped my old school uniform and sixth form lanyards for the occasional gown and strange Cambridge slang. I’ve also swapped the city’s outskirts for its centre.

“I was not a part of the university, but the way I was viewed by strangers was intrinsically linked to it.”

Cambridge is a city that is so vibrant and full of life. It is also a divided city. Growing up, the town centre, colleges and old buildings were the background to shopping trips on the weekend or a sixth form free period. It was not a place I identified with or really felt a ‘part’ of. The university was just simply there. At fifteen I went to a rock concert in London and got chatting to someone in the line, but when they found out I was from Cambridge their whole attitude shifted. I was left scrambling to reassure them that I was not a part of a university seen as representing excess – “…outside of the bubble it really is like any normal town”. In some ways I resented the university for putting me in this situation. I was not a part of it, but the way I was viewed by strangers was intrinsically linked to it.

The university truly is the beating heart of the city (if you or your family do not work in a college, it is very likely you will know someone who does) but until this year I didn’t see it as ‘my Cambridge’. An upcoming exhibition reported on by Varsity entitled “Places and Spaces: Exploring Cambridge through Town and Gown” at the Museum of Cambridge shows that I was not alone in feeling this; with 73% of survey takers who identified as ‘town’ feeling that parts of the city are inaccessible to them. Growing up I would have agreed with them. ‘My Cambridge’ is a blur of 1930s social housing, the Tesco express, the local chippy, trips to the Abbey Stadium to watch Cambridge United with my Dad on a Saturday, the walk back from my secondary school and the train journey to my sixth form. My Cambridge is the pub on the end of my street (NOT a Greene King) that I introduced my friends to in Easter term – a place that suddenly seems so far away from everything once you are in the heat of term. The streets I walk down as an undergraduate are some of the same that I did as a sixth-former, but the context means they feel so different. I now feel like I ‘belong’.


Mountain View

Coming to Cambridge: salvation or selfishness?

The Cambridge I picture now sees these buildings as an institution I belong to, sees my college as my home. ‘My Cambridge’ now includes the English faculty library, the café Nero on King’s Parade, Sheep’s Green and the beauty of Latham lawn on a hot summers day when I should be revising. ‘My Cambridge’ now includes places I never dreamed of visiting and a community of people from all across the world. However, ‘My Cambridge’ is still the city I grew up in – it’s my next-door neighbours and people who went to my school and acquaintances I stood next to on the platform at the north station every day for two years but never spoke a word to. Going to university in my hometown has made me see it in a new light. I now see both sides of it as my ‘home’ but also recognise how the majority of students will never see the non-university side of Cambridge or explore outside of a set, central area. I also see that this somewhat narrower view of a place would have been my experience of another town if I had gone to university anywhere else.

“I love my course and am proud of my hybrid “townie”/ “gownie” identity.”

I do not regret my decision to stay in Cambridge at all – I love my course and am proud of my hybrid “townie”/ “gownie” identity. To my past self, worrying that going to university in my hometown would mean I missed out on the chance to explore new places and experience firsts, I’d like to reassure you that you had nothing to worry about. I am so thankful that I got to explore this other side of Cambridge, to wake up in a college room to the bells of Great St Mary’s and explore the UL and I wouldn’t change it for the world. However, I also wish that most students would explore Cambridge more holistically and venture outside of the ‘bubble’ a bit more. Go on, there is so much more to this place for you to discover!