Cambridge teaches us to be out of touch
Life in Cambridge doesn’t prepare us for the outside world
Being in Cambridge is like taking a long plane journey.
At first it’s exciting, something out-of-the-ordinary that your friends back home are all envious of. Then after a while the weightlessness becomes nauseating, the stench from the nearby toilet fills your nostrils and there is nothing on the TV but some God-awful Michael Bay movie. You realise that there are hundreds of people trapped in an airborne bubble with awful food, moving at speeds no-one was designed for, and that you’re trapped with them.
It’s when you step off the plane that you realise just how unsettlingly grounded the world really is. Leaving the airport, you still have this wobbliness you can’t quite shake off. You tell someone how dreadful the journey was, but they just keep on saying how privileged you are, having those plane tickets, and you realise you don’t really know how to communicate with these normal non-fliers anymore.
Maybe some people’s experiences of Cambridge don’t resemble an extended plane metaphor, but I’m sure we can agree that the University doesn’t exactly try to imitate normal human society. Colleges take every precaution to keep us at a distance from landlords, utility companies and ovens, because, God forbid there comes a day when we need to feed and home ourselves.
Instead, it’s imperative to have hall, formals and bedders, and the Colleges somehow twist this into a vital means of procuring the ultimate end. They strive for the carefree, careless environment that steers us towards the coveted First, free from real life distractions.
And somehow we accept this strange set of standards and subconsciously add our own. If you haven’t developed a taste for wine, and own a complete set of black tie dress by the end of your first Michaelmas, then there’s something very wrong with you. We measure our post exam celebrations, not by how much time we spend with the people we like, but by how many May Balls we going to. Spending £150 on a single evening probably wouldn’t be what someone on the median income of £26,000 considers to be the essential part of ‘fun’.
And it doesn’t end when we leave. We seek high salaries and corporate jobs, if only to maintain the same kind of lifestyle we’ve become used to. I don’t know about you, but before university I didn’t know anyone who said they wanted a career in management consultancy, or started their personal statement by saying they wanted to make a shit load of money.
Politically, we’re out of touch too. According to YouGov, 10% of 18-24 year olds intend to vote for UKIP in May. And, whereas 56% of the people in the UK think immigration is a top issue facing the country, in Cambridge the issue seems to have been settled already and no more can be, or should be, discussed.
We laugh off UKIP voters as bigots and racists, half hoping one day they’ll just disappear. Maybe because of how few of them there are in Cambridge, where our privileged existence is rarely touched by the pressures of Real Life, it’s easier to dismiss them as equals with legitimate concerns.
Cambridge is full of people who lie on the edge of at least one bell curve. You don’t need to be a scientist to realise a person is shaped by their environment. And it doesn’t take much to know nothing good can come from being submerged in this ocean of eccentricity for 3 or more years.
By the end, you come out dazed and your vision is blurry.