CN: episode contains detailed discussion of mental health conditions. 

Switchboard, S7, Ep. 1Matthew Bessant

In this season’s first episode of Switchboard, Isabella and Theola interview a variety of students from across Cambridge to shed light on the differing experiences that people had during the previous term. In a new section for this series, the episode begins with a summary of a few of this week's news items, including updates on Rent Strike Cambridge and the development of a new class of drug to treat acute myeloid leukaemia.


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The episode discussion opens with accounts of both Isabella and Theola’s time during Lent. While Isabella lived at home in Italy, Theola split the term, with some time at home and some time in her college: it’s safe to say that the pair had drastically different terms! Theola recounts how quiet the college seemed, with stories of empty corridors, pitch black buildings, and the struggle to stick to a routine. Nevertheless, she also reflects on the positive aspects of returning to Cambridge, from making pancakes with flatmates to the return of communal studying. Whilst she was at home in Italy, Isabella describes how she found the lack of a university setting difficult, as she had to navigate a very different schedule to that of her family members. 

Next, the hosts interview Ashlan Richards, a second year, who gives an account of her experience in college at Girton during Lent term. Ashlan has come to the conclusion that although the term seemed almost normal at the time, since her household were all back in college, there were differences in retrospect. She describes the college and the city as a “ghost town” in comparison to the usual “bubble of energy and business” that it had previously been. At times, the term was an “eerie” experience for her. However, Ashlan also remembers the highlights of the term, recounting her weekly events with flatmates and the large number of card games that she credits for the stronger bond they all now share. The conversation then moves on to Ashlan’s experience as an Executive officer for RAG. Ashlan discusses the experience of organising virtual blind dates in the wake of the remote term, and her hope for more partnerships with charities in the future. 

Isabella and Theola then have a conversation with Colin, a first year MML student at Homerton. Colin recounts his time at home in rural Scotland, and how he spent his days working alongside his sister, before delving into his experience maintaining a new relationship. Not only were the couple now long-distance, but also virtual, which led to many, many online zoom dates. 

Finally, the hosts interview Zara, a first year History and Politics student who spent Lent term away from college. While her home country (Bahrain) had fewer COVID restrictions, Zara still attempted to return during Lent, only to not be permitted by Homerton college. The hosts and Zara discuss the importance of prioritising mental health and how, by denying student requests to return, they feel this has been particularly lacking. In addition to support for mental illnesses, Zara reflects on her experience of the university support available for ADHD, and that available for other neurodivergent students. The group goes on to discuss how online societies have been helpful in maintaining a sense of separation from work during the virtual term, and the importance of self care through activities such as meditation or therapy. 

The podcast concludes with a discussion of “the little things” which have become so crucial across both the virtual term and the entirety of the pandemic, looking ahead to this Easter term with a little positivity. 

All series are currently available on all major podcasting platforms, including our last episode reflecting on Lent term as it was happening:

Switchboard is Varsity’s flagship podcast. Episodes are broadcast every Friday at 8:30pm on Cam FM, and are available on all major podcasting apps via Anchor. Transcript will be available here soon after the episode’s release.