First Term at Cambridge – 2017
The questions I’ve been asked most often after my first term at Cambridge are ‘Is it as hard as they say it is?’ and ‘Was it like you expected?’. I never really know what to say. I expected it to be hard work, and it is – but it’s also so much more than that.
University is always an overwhelming experience at first; you’re moving out of your home, your school, and thrown into an entirely new environment with brand new people, where you’re expected to survive on your own for the first time. Everyone’s first experience of Downing is freshers’ week, which, because I went to every single event, was the most hectic experience of my life – I barely had time to eat, let alone sleep. It was great, though, because it quite literally forced us to meet new people. Something that helps with the whole transition is that there is no bad accommodation at Downing; all the rooms are lovely, and are cleaned almost every weekday. What I also love about the college is the family system, which is taken seriously at Downing; you have college ‘parents’, which would be two people in the year above, one of whom will do your subject, and you’ll have a couple of college ‘siblings’ in your year. This group of people that you have from the beginning can become very close, and it’s always nice to have those few friendly faces around college while you’re still settling in. It also shows how much we mix between years at Downing; whether you’re a fourth-year medic or a fresher, everyone still talks to each other.
In terms of work, they do throw you in at the deep end, and initially this was really scary. For my first essay, I was given six days to come up with 2500 words to answer an essay question that I didn’t even understand at the time; then, I was expected to talk about it for an hour in a one-to-one session with a renowned academic. But, although the learning curve is steep, you get used to it very quickly. I spent thirteen hours writing my first essay, and many, many hours reading, but now I don’t often spend more than four or five hours writing. Supervisions are not as intimidating as they sound; more often than not, they’re lovely people and the hour just feels like a nice chat about your subject. If you do a humanities subject like History, or English, your work will take as much time as you want it to; because there’s no end to the amount of reading you could do, it’s entirely feasible for someone to work non-stop, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. This isn’t recommended! The way I’ve managed to shape my schedule is to put other things first – extra-curriculars, social events – and then figure out how to fit my work around it. I’ve also learnt not to strive for perfection. No matter how much time you have spent on your essay, there will always be things that you could improve on, and sometimes it’s healthier to accept that some weeks, your essay won’t be a flawless masterpiece. Otherwise, you could spend your entire life in the library.
The stress of work was made a lot easier by how social Downing is as a college. There’s very little academic pressure that I’ve noticed here, with the emphasis being on extra-curricular and social life. Whatever you may have heard about Cambridge students never having nights out is an absolute lie; despite the quality of Cambridge clubs being debatable, we do like our nightlife at Downing. We are also keen on our sport, rowing being particularly popular but also rugby, football, netball, lacrosse and lots more that I can’t remember for the life of me. It’s also a very supportive atmosphere; people are always around for you to talk to if you’re struggling. Some of my best bonding moments have been at times of stress, lying on the library floor with my friends, all of us waiting for our essays to finish themselves.
The result – Cambridge life is never boring. In my first term, I made wonderful friends, went out with my friends regularly, rehearsed for and performed in a week-long run of a musical at the ADC theatre, performed at a bar night, sang twice a week with Downing chapel choir, went to dance classes, and somehow managed to get my work in on time as well. Next term I’m planning to do even more! My first term was mostly a gradual process of me learning how on earth to juggle everything I was doing. It seems impossible at first, but it happens somehow, and it’s an exhausting but entirely rewarding lifestyle I’ve come to love.
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