Home sweet roadMartin Addison / Wikimedia Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

Mill Road, Chesterton, Arbury. They all have one main thing in common: they are not the university areas of the city and are all passionate about remaining so. Town/gown divide is still strong centrally; if you are a non-student looking to rent centrally, good luck to you. But I will not be joining you perusing Rightmove (if you even find any listings), as almost every single house and building is owned by a college or a department. It’s only natural, if incredibly unfair, that the non-university residents of the city dominate these less central areas and make them their own. But what of the rare breed: the Cambridge student who does not live in college?

“Living and working with all ages helps me to put my life into perspective a bit and relax”

I might not be so rare after all: the older the student, generally, the more likely they are to live out of college accommodation. Most of my PhD friends live in houses outside the centre with their partners, for example, opting to avoid the haphazard provision of ‘couples accommodation’. One year, though, where it’s ‘rarer’ to live out of college is fourth year – and this is especially unusual if you are a fourth year undergrad (like me!) rather than an MPhil student. So, from someone who has lived on both sides, I thought it would be interesting to sit down and give the college versus private accommodation divide some perspective.

The Pros:

  • The first pro has to be the reason I even thought about living out: having more living space. Despite finally moving into a coveted college-owned house in 3rd year, my friends and I still found it pretty antisocial, albeit slightly better than halls. Despite having a kitchen table (crazy!) it was in the basement far from our rooms, and lacked a cosy feel: not a practical or homely communal space. This year our little kitchen/dining/living space has been revolutionary. It’s impossible to come home feeling down, avoid everyone, and go to bed. And while this would be a nightmare for some, I love coming home every night to my friends on the sofa just chatting, watching trash television, or sharing ice cream while complaining about life.
  • As a keen cook, I was always disappointed by the lack of cooking options provided by my college, as well as the madness of no ovens. This year I’ve actually eaten so much better because I can properly cook for myself: oven bakes are my new easy dinner of choice, as opposed to ravioli on repeat for 7 days. Key life knowledge that is probably obvious to any other university student – cooking repertoire, dealing with landlords, cleaning a house thoroughly, DIY – in college is taken care of with bedders, meals in hall and maintenance staff. Living out and being able to deal with this all myself means that I feel like I’m going into graduate life with more open eyes and less anxiety about the changes.
  • The Mill Road community is my personal and unexpected favourite. Shortly after moving we were added to a WhatsApp group for our street and a couple of surrounding ones. So far there’s been a pumpkin carving competition and some gorgeous advent calendar windows. My personal highlight has to be having local kids come round to trick-or-treat. It was my first time being on the other side (my family doesn’t celebrate Halloween) and being what younger me would consider a ‘real adult’ was so fun, even if it was just for an evening. Having a pub to call my local (The Empress <<<3) and a grocery store with the kindest owner (who helped me carry my pumpkins for Halloween) makes me feel more at home than 300 other undergraduates ever could; living and working with all ages helps me to put my life into perspective a bit and relax.

The Cons:

  • Back when we were Rightmove connoisseurs looking at Google Maps on our phones, the ‘10 minute cycle’ from our house to the city centre seemed hardly worth thinking about. I still didn’t stress about it even after we’d signed the lease, despite eyebrow raises when I told people that I’d be living ‘over the bridge’ on Mill Road. Doing this cycle multiple times a day, however, adds up and in Week 5 I really started to miss a daytime nap. The surprising upside, though, is my increased productivity: once I’m out for the day, I can’t give up mentally or physically. Last term I hit more essay deadlines than ever before, (!) so maybe forcing myself to ‘commute’ into college is having some hidden benefits.
  • Living away from college sometimes does feel strange. Despite the whole new community I’ve gained, the importance of ‘college life’ is sold so heavily to freshers that I sometimes sit at home and wonder if I’m missing something: it’s been less easy to have a spontaneous night out, and I can’t just wander to my friend's room at 2am. Somehow, though, parts of my persistent FOMO have been cured through this: having to choose when to go out means that I appreciate events more than ever. Staying in, rather than going to the bar ‘just because’, means that when I’m resting I do actually get decent rest.


Mountain View

Mead after midnight and clerically-cosplayed pub crawls at ASNC soc

Something which runs through all of these little bits of my life that I love (and even the parts that I don’t) is that this is the first year I’ve been in Cambridge where I feel like I have an identity outside of being a student, and where I finally have a place I can go to relax without feeling the overarching scrutiny of the college environment. Maybe it’s an individual thing, but a living space where I do not feel all consumed by the University has been so positive for my state of mind. Constant little reminders that there is a life beyond my next essay deadline prick away at the stress of Cambridge until eventually it pops and the stress can’t get at me anymore. That day might not have come quite yet, but until then I’ll enjoy the feeling of weight lifting off my shoulders as I cycle over Romsey Bridge.