Packing chaos Stephanie Webb for Varsity

After the stimulating, immune-system-crippling whirlwind that is the eight-week Cambridge term, it feels odd to just up and leave. You’re left with a strange intermingling of emotions – the satisfaction of having actually survived another term (even though that week five essay was really looking like it was going to end you at the time), but also  a niggling sense of emptiness. All these people you see every day – people you eat with, laugh with and live with, people who have basically become your second family – are not going to be a part of your day-to-day life for the next however many weeks.

Glittering Hong Kong skyline Stephanie Webb for Varsity

It’s a weird situation. It’s a relief to be given some respite from the claustrophobic Cambridge bubble but it’s also melancholic knowing no matter how much you want to capture the last few moments of term, you’ll never return the next term being the exact same person, nor will group dynamics remain identical. This feeling is especially exacerbated by having to adjust to a completely different culture, pace of life, and linguistic environment when travelling home. This is how I found my first year to be: a constant uncertain, adrenaline-pumping, amorphous river of change.

“At the end of the day, this is what growing up is about: change”

For me, that’s the part of university that I find most unnerving, but that I least expected. The emotional distance I feel from my life at Cambridge after moving out is just magnified tenfold by the physicality of leaving the country. Watching the plane I’m in climb higher into the sky and bring me further away from the life that I’ve been building for myself over eight weeks feels symbolic in a way. Just as I had begun to feel settled in, my life is uprooted and it’s time to go home. How would you even define what home is? A secure place to live? A person who brings you comfort? Where your family is? Home almost feels split into two places, each thousands of miles away. So does my identity. It feels like I’m jumping from one version of myself – the version my friends know in Cambridge – to another different side when I’m back in Hong Kong. I’m sure almost everyone experiences this as they start life away from home and move to another place to live: the unfamiliarity and insecurity. For international students, this is coupled by possible cultural dissonance. I remember being embarrassed in Freshers' Week because I didn’t even know what Spoons was or what “bare” meant.


Mountain View

Post-exam activities for when you’re a real person again

I find myself thinking that “everything will be the same when I return” – the place that I’ve loved and called home since birth would stay in a kind of stasis, remaining perfectly still until I return and the main plot continues. The truth is, the world obviously doesn’t revolve around me (however rude this may be), and every time I return, things are slightly different to how I remembered it. To quote a very wise man: “you know it’s not the same as it was” – this applies to everything from interacting with old school friends to even the price of soju (if you know you know), or a beer, for example. Once you start getting accustomed to the new-old environment, it’s time to fly back to University, just for the whole experience to be repeated once again as everyone returns to college feeling more estranged and distanced compared to before. I know I’m definitely not unique in feeling this way, but at the risk of sounding like I suffer from main character syndrome, the best way I can describe this stasis is through comparing my life to the filler episodes of a TV show. I’m just filling in the in-between space while I’m on one side of the world before I hit start and the storyline resumes.

At the end of the day, this is what growing up is about: change. While losing a version of a place or person you cherish is difficult to accept, it also creates refreshing room for improvement and renewal, however clichéd that may sound. Few people even have the opportunity to move to a different place to live or study, and the perspective that you gain from travelling, whether that be domestically or internationally, will be worth it in the long run.