Trying to make a home out of Cambridge

“Perhaps Cambridge’s key crime is that it will never be home like home is?”: Columnist Scarlet Rowe writes on being homesick and making Cambridge a home in spite of it

Scarlet Rowe

"For anyone who comes from a city, Cambridge will probably strike you as a dolls house town"INSTAGRAM/CAMBRIDGEUNIVERSITY

For anyone who comes from a city, Cambridge will probably strike you as a doll's house town. Or actually, on revision, for anyone who comes from anywhere, Cambridge will strike you as a doll's house town. This is partly what appealed to me about it: when there, it almost feels like you are in a make-believe world which operates on its own plane. Of course, the reality is that it is not, even though it feels like it sometimes. And although the centre is undeniably charming and quaint, maybe it is just a little too quaint? Just a little too polished for comfort?

“I find that Cambridge often feels silent and even lonely”

In Leeds (where I am when not in Cambridge), I get a huge sense of vibrancy and life and real people feeling real things and living real lives. Not that this doesn’t happen in Cambridge obviously, but I find that Cambridge often feels silent and even lonely. The nights in particular are eerily silent and that’s the case even in a non-pandemic world. I think this is partly an architectural thing. For example, although the colleges are undeniably beautiful, they are also deeply intimidating. I feel quite small and irrelevant when walking past King’s Chapel with my frizzy hair and eye bags and tea spilt over my trousers. Or when walking into Caius, I half feel as though I am in the wrong place.

I think (though I can’t confirm just yet) that I Iike Cambridge. As a student, I definitely get the sense that I am part of a university, especially seeing as teenagers and twenty-somethings are at every corner in the centre. I also definitely feel lucky to be there (but maybe not at 3am when I still haven’t finished my essay reading). However, it lacks something for me, though I can’t quite place what it is just yet. Maybe the isolation I sometimes feel roots from the fact that students are everywhere, so if I’m ever alone, I feel acutely aware of my lone-walking status. Or maybe I just don’t feel comfortable enough in my own skin, you choose!

"I think (though I can’t confirm just yet) that I Iike Cambridge"instagram/camdiary

I also vividly remember feeling such a wave of intense relief last Michaelmas term when I left Cambridge for the first time. I went to Canterbury for the weekend via London after a breakup just to get away from everything. I remember walking along the Thames with the lights twinkling in the night and just being absolutely staggered by the skyline. I had completely forgotten that skylines even exist, and I was in complete awe of it. I hadn’t realised how claustrophobic I had felt (sorry to use a cliche) until I was out of Cambridge. I had escaped the ‘bubble’, and oh it felt good! The variety of the buildings impressed me too; one minute I was in Georgian England and the next I was placed firmly in the twenty-first century. I felt a part of something more real and tangible than Cambridge somehow. The pace was quicker, and there was none of that sleepy sense that Cambridge sometimes emanates.

Coming home one weekend early into term (and yes I did last a total of three weeks in Cambridge so far this year), I felt that wonderful feeling of being home. There’s nothing quite like it. Perhaps Cambridge’s key crime is that it will never be home like home is, if that makes sense? Even my room in Cambridge just feels a little lifeless with its plain walls and carpet. I can’t help but get a half restless sense when I’m there. Maybe I also associate Cambridge too much with work. When I am there, I know I will be inundated with essays. It’s not all bad, but it can get overwhelming at points. It just means that whenever I’m home, I can look forward to some peace and quiet (excluding the fact I have 5 siblings and the youngest is 6 years old).

“So now for a shameless promotion of Leeds seeing as the North does not get enough credit in Cambridge...”

So, now for a shameless promotion of Leeds, seeing as the North does not get enough credit in Cambridge (although some people foolishly do not class Leeds as the north, they are wrong). Leeds doesn’t intimidate me in the same way as Cambridge does. It has a more welcoming air somehow. I don’t know, maybe because it’s not home to one of the most selective universities in the world. (I still can’t believe I go to one, it makes no sense at all). But also, I really get the sense that Leeds has been through hard times and survived. And even though I am sure Cambridge has too, it feels less written into the history somehow. It’s like Leeds has a sort of nobility because it has been through a lot and it’s still standing.

It also helps that home is where the heart (my family) is. I am very lucky in that I really love being at home. I’m always surrounded by chaos and love, which I don’t always feel in uni halls. Or I can sense the former, but not always the latter. Home certainly feels more permanent to me, as when I am in Cambridge I always know I will have to move out again in a few weeks. That sense of not being able to settle has definitely pervaded my Cambridge experience. It hasn’t spoilt it at all, but it is always lingering.


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However, please do not let me add misery to your day! I do of course like and appreciate Cambridge quite a bit. I just miss home quite a lot whenever I’m there. Even though homesickness isn’t very cool or in right now (it never has been really), it is definitely normal. So if you’re feeling it, I promise you that you are not alone. I, for one, feel it a lot.