Two Freshers’ perspectives on Cambridge: Northern Ireland vs. North London

Spoiler alert: they’re very different

Being a fresher arriving in a new place is a daunting experience, regardless of where you might come from. Enter two (slightly less) fresh-faced faces from entirely different backgrounds, here for you to observe their rather contrasting experiences of fresher life in Cambridge.

Subject 1, Genie, is from North London: a hotbed of pushy parents desperate for their children to make it into the hallowed halls of Oxbridge.

Subject 2, Caitlin, has made the daring decision to forgo Queen’s University Belfast in exchange for Queens’ College Cambridge.

You now have the recipe for a strange social experiment, the key ingredient being grand old Cambridge university.

Rumour has it Caitlin only chose Queens' for its green colour scheme

Rumour has it Caitlin only chose Queens' for its green colour scheme

Despite leaving the nest and relocating to Cambridge, Genie has struggled to escape the "bubble" that is North London; a walk to Sainsbury’s becomes a social affair. People you didn’t even know you knew wheedle their way out of the wood-work; a girl from your primary school, a random guy from a 2014 house party.

Our Irish muse, on the other hand, is relatively anonymous. Yet she is not alone here; with an ear acutely attuned to the distinctive Northern Irish vowels, fellow countrymen – though few and far between – have been eagerly tracked down. As she asks after the 'craic', it emerges that Caitlin is distantly related to every other Northern Irish person here. This is both a blessing and a curse, as well as frankly a little disturbing.

We have both been affronted by the notorious Cambridge music scene. Caitlin is working to accept that “Galway Girl” requested at pre's means the playing of Ed Sheeran, and not The High Kings (give it a listen for a good time – trust us). Meanwhile, Genie must come to terms with the fact that she has replaced the naughty London nightlife for sticky Life. Although, she guiltily confesses, a spot of cheesy Cambridge jams does provide a nice sense of respite from the inescapable pounding of Drum and Bass that exudes from the Brixton dungeons.

Seeking refuge from grime in a Cambridge chapel

Seeking refuge from grime in a Cambridge chapel

The experience of arriving in Cambridge has also been something of a geographical education. Caitlin has become acquainted with the infamous North/South English divide, learning that despite its apparent geographical unity, it is “all English people talk about". Genie has had to learn that you cannot simply lump all places together that are not London. As it turns out, you can't adopt a comme si-comme ça attitude when it comes to Dublin and Dundee.

Invariably, the discussion of where you’re from has raised qualms regarding accents. Genie has had to work hard to disguise the ‘posh-ness’ that comes with a private school upbringing, in an attempt to sound a little less like a wannabe contestant on University Challenge or an extra in the Riot Club.

Here, Caitlin has had her own struggles to attend to. Obtaining a "gown" for Matriculation Day proves an issue when you struggle with most vowel sounds. It was painstakingly discovered that the language barrier becomes increasingly impenetrable the drunker Caitlin finds herself.

Caitlin had to work hard to procure this gown

Caitlin had to work hard to procure this gown

Cost of living also became somewhat of a culture shock. Caitlin found herself a depressing £100 poorer, as no self-respecting outlet will bring themselves to accept her Northern Irish “monopoly money”.

Contrastingly, Genie has found it a rather enjoyable experience replacing an £8 glass of ice and sugar, daintily disguised as a cocktail, for a modestly-priced pint in Q Bar. Paying £3 entry, instead of a horrifying £20 entry for a club on a Friday night (I’m not even joking) has also been somewhat of a revelation for the London gal.

When you only have to pay £2 for a pint

When you only have to pay £2 for a pint

Thus our arrival in this quirky little city has certainly been a change. Yet, we are thankful for it too – as two worlds collide, we star-crossed lovers see that only the intensity and oddities of Cambridge could have brought North London and Northern Ireland together in a big blur of common cultural confusion.

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