COVID-19 pandemic & social distancing in Cambridge Lucas Maddalena

I did Cambridge! I walked into the lion’s den and came out educated in all things music (more or less). Initially, I had intended to rustle up an entertaining piece of sardonic satire describing my time at university. Instead I found myself reflecting more deeply and realised I am both appreciative and concerned over my time at Cambridge.

Let’s start from the very beginning – a very good place to start. Before coming to Cambridge, I had never written an academic essay in English. Actually, before I came to Cambridge I had never written an academic essay full stop. The curriculum and whole approach to education was rather different in the country where I went to school. Therefore, I spent the whole of my first year at university trying not to fall behind academically while throwing myself into student life. On top of my studies – an average of about a million essays per term – I fell in love with CU Show Choir, joined a bunch of societies and committees, became a Homerton Changemaker, sang in a band, stayed connected with friends and family, kept the flame of romance burning with my long-time boyfriend. My life, just like this last sentence, quickly became overwhelming!

“I was told to “focus on my studies” but also to do more.”

My first two years at Cambridge were unhealthy. I was either loving every minute or crying hysterically. This unhealthy attitude was not only internal; I received so much contradictory information from those around me. I was told to “focus on my studies” but also to do more. At the start of each term I repeatedly became disenchanted with student life. I would burn out so quickly I’d actually look forward to Week 5 Blues just to justify feeling exhausted. I was secretly ashamed of not being able to do more, even though I spent every waking hour doing something. I spent most of my second year pulling all-nighters, trying to normalise this unhealthy behaviour. I had to prove I deserved to be there and survive Cambridge. So I told myself I can write that essay, play that piece, teach that choir, perform that song. I desperately wanted to succeed at Cambridge and remain a bubbly, positive person who never said no when asked to contribute.

However, despite feeling overworked and overwhelmed, I know I’ll look back on those first two years and only remember the good stuff: my amazing experiences and the people I shared them with.

“We learned to value others’ time and, importantly, value our time too.”

My third year was interesting to say the least. The pandemic caused us to make plans and cancel them, and part of me was relieved. I was forced to take time and focus on myself and my future. I learned to acknowledge my limits, resist pushing myself beyond breaking point, and be content with doing my best. True, I didn’t have as many wild stories from nights out but so what? I think we all learned how to keep strong no matter the distance between us – shoutout to Zoom! I believe we grew and matured, perhaps more quickly than we would have otherwise. We learned to value others’ time and, importantly, value our time too.


Mountain View

We must not return to pre-Covid socialising

Still, this time to reflect was challenging. I didn’t see my family, my boyfriend or my friends at home for 11 months, nor did I accomplish everything I had hoped to by the time I finished university. But I’ve grown as a person, my interests have changed, and I’ve learned to focus on trying rather than focus on the outcome. It is only now, after this crazy pandemic year, that I’m truly sad to be leaving Cambridge and am grateful to graduate healthy, happy and surrounded by incredible friends and family. I’m not trying to promote toxic positivity; my time at Cambridge was a rollercoaster, but for me – forgive the music student pun – it ended on a high note.