What I learned in my first term at Cambridge
A fresher’s reflections on Michaelmas
Michaelmas term is drawing to an end. The cows in King’s College’s fields are getting chilly, the sun gives up at the unreasonable hour of 4pm, and punts are being locked up for winter. Finally, I’ve finished my first term at Cambridge, and am heading back oop North for Christmas. But before I go, some reflection on the term’s two –month blur is due (strokes beard wisely). Gather round, children, and listen to what I have learnt.
As an MMLer, the workload was more than I expected, but it did get more and more manageable as the term progressed. I think I expected an amount equivalent to History/ English – in fact, we get the weekly literature essay and its reading, along with translation/ grammar/ oral class/ linguistics work, and have several contact hours a week, on top of lectures and supervisions.
Whilst it was at first very confusing to have to navigate several classes, eight- ten teachers, and multiple deadlines a week, this timetable made me much more organised, very quickly (diamondsaremadeunderpressure).
I always have 2-3 assignments on the go and any one time, so have to stay focused and motivated for the whole week. At the end of the term, I am proud of myself for having stuck to my deadlines, and am a more efficient and productive person as a result.
Stress and resilience
In the Sixth Form, a particular talent of mine was to waste huge amounts of time procrastinating from, and unnecessarily worrying about, work. A dispensation for perfectionism made me into a procrastinator, as I would fiddle around with words and phrases to make them perfect, rather than completing another, more useful task – or, you know, sleeping. Similarly, I always put off completing work that was messy, or difficult, because I felt unable to work through the unfinished sentences, and incoherent structures, of a work in progress.
Now, I am driven by persistent deadlines, and am able to polish off, rather than panic about, unfinished work. This has been invaluable in saving time, energy, and stress.
A classic piece of Oxbridge Advice often heard flopping around social media and Fresher’s Week is this: ‘Now you’re a tiny tuna in a massive ocean of sharks. You’re not the Big Daddy of Sixth Form anymore. DON’T PANIC BUT YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO BE MR A* EVER AGAIN but don’t let this erode your sense of identity OK….’ To my surprise, this contrast has been liberating for me. In the space of a few weeks, I went from being the only person to go to Oxbridge in my year to being, well, just another person at Oxbridge.
I’m not special anymore, and I love it. My self-expectation has greatly decreased, as has the pressure I would apply to myself to succeed, to be the best; I want to do as well as I can, and have finally learnt that this is enough. Fortunately, I have friendly and supportive supervisors and teachers, and a delightful DoS – I realise that in other, more competitive colleges, expectations of glittering academic brilliance may be higher. Being good, and working hard, is good enough.
Friendship and loneliness
Being in a ‘friendly college’, making friends has been a source of total delight and happiness. You can’t make old friends, but delightful new ones help to bridge the gap. Despite being in almost constant social contact, there has, however, been periods of surprising loneliness.
It can be difficult when you are worrying about work, or feel overwhelmed and tired, but cannot find anyone to take a break with, as everyone else is working too. Usually, this creates a sense of companionship; other times, you end up watching Lonely Netflix, and skyping your dog.
Missing friends from home at other universities has also been unexpectedly tough. The majority of my good friends from home are at universities in the North, relatively close together, and have met up several times this term. Trapped far down South in Cambridge, I worry that Everyone Else is Having Fun Without Me, watching the continued group bonding from afar. I am envious of those who can pop back to London, or the Home counties, to catch up, and go out. For me, the North has felt like the North Pole. Yes, this is a bit dramatic; but when talking about this with a college friend hailing from Australia, we concluded that it isn’t the distance in miles from home that matters, but whether you can go back for the weekend or not. In this new map, anywhere beyond Watford fades away during term time.
It’s been a fantastic term, and I’ll miss Cambridge hugely when I leave for Christmas.