Image may contain: Vest, Suit, Overcoat, Coat, Clothing, Walking, Leisure Activities, Person, People, Human

An A to Z to Cambridge for the international fresher

I’m as confused as you are

| UPDATED A to Z British students cambridge freshers cambridge students Freshers Week guide to cambridge international students uni life University of Cambridge

Cambridge university is a difficult enough place for any newcomer to figure out, with its specialised lingo, unspoken rules surrounding swap etiquette and a weird obsession with Bohemian Rhapsody. But for you, the international student, it might as well be another planet. Not only are you navigating your way through the Fresher bubble of second-year sharks and awkward initial interactions with people you will soon dislike, you also have to adapt to British drinking culture, a different currency and figuring out what on earth ‘Peep Show’ is.

Image may contain: Head

Exhausted from all the cultural differences

Luckily the Tab is here to prepare you for uni life in the UK with an A to Z of all the quintessentially British things you may stumble upon, leaving you to think 'why didn’t I just take the free university education my home country offers.' You might be used to a more complex alphabet, but the British language is a simple 25-character one where-in most words can be inserted into the sentence ‘I got so X last night’ to illustrate how smashed/sozzled/spangled they were.

A is for accent: you might think you don’t have one but you’re wrong. After Fresher’s week you will, chameleon-style, slip into the homogeneous Cambridge drawl and, when speaking to your home friends for the first time, be asked: ‘why do you sound like a posh prick?’

B is for Brexit: don’t approach this topic. Yes, the statistics say it was primarily the less educated who voted Leave, but some of your pals will likely have some economically-justified reason for wanting the likes of you out of their country. Don’t take it personally, they don’t necessarily dislike you or your culture, and either way you’ll adjust swiftly and start eating as many Rich Tea biscuits as the average Brit.

C is for chirpse: both a noun and a verb which describes the act of flirtation, usually done badly over a VK in a nightclub (see V for further clarification).

D is for double standards: England should technically be a liberal and equal society but you’ll soon find that even in Cambridge, too much chirpsing will get you a bad name.

Image may contain: Party, Leisure Activities, Dance Pose, Dance, Person, People, Human

Doesn't stop us from pulling everyone in sight

E is for exotic: you are not this. No one cares where you’re from unless it’s Surrey. Everyone is from Surrey.

F is for fees: you are paying ridiculously high ones to subsidise everyone else’s.

G is for gap year (pronounced ‘yaaah’): becoming all the more popular in British culture. Some people may have even spent theirs in your home country, but don’t expect to have a cosy conversation about it. The likelihood is they spent most of their time at hostels with other Brits complaining about how the local food gives them a dodgy tummy.

H is for homesick: you are very far from home and although the British are welcoming and friendly, there will be times when you will long to speak your own language and have conversations that don’t revolve around the weather.

I is for identity: related to the above, you will start to question your own as you begin to enjoy eating gravy on your chips. Fortunately, there are a number of societies to reinforce your original self. And after the first society event you go to you’ll remember exactly why you left that country in the first place.

Image may contain: Crowd, Person, People, Human


J is for Jeremy Corbyn: your knowledge of the politics of your own country is useless now. Have an opinion on this man or be prepared to remain silent during any political conversation.

K is for kiss: kisses do not belong in a British greeting. Learn to shake a hand or do a small nod of the head and save the pecks for sloppy advances in the smoking area of Cindies.

L is for lad culture: related to D, it says a lot that drinking societies are recognised establishments at UK unis.

M is for meal deals: on the surface, a cheap and cheerful approach to a balanced lunch. On a deeper level, a profoundly spiritual comment on your personality. Plain ham sandwich and ready-salted crisps equals psychopath: something all Brits intuitively know and the foreigner will never understand.

N is for North-South divide: this is the only kind of geographical awareness a lot of people you meet will have. ‘Oh, you’re from Sweden? So do you speak Swiss?’

O is for opinions: don’t have any extreme ones, unless they are on whether the perfect brew starts or ends with milk.

Image may contain: Bead, Accessories, Food, Dessert, Chocolate, Balloon, Sphere, Ball, Person, People, Human

At least we all agree ball pits are for adults too

P is for polite: although you might not have guessed it if your most recent interaction with them has been a Brit abroad, Brits pride themselves on good manners, not complaining too often and apologising without necessity. Feel free to not do the same.

Q is for queuing: apparently more Brits died on the Titanic than any other nationality because they were forming an orderly queue for the lifeboats. The same cannot be said for the queue to Life on a Sunday.

R is for responsible drinking: ha.

Image may contain: Art, Suit, Overcoat, Coat, Clothing, Person, People, Human

What is moderation?

S is for Sainsbury's (otherwise known as Sainso’s): this is where you will find some of the cheaper meal deals. But considering F, you’ll be shopping at M&S.

T is for tolerance: to be specific, alcohol tolerance. Brits love to claim to be lightweights, yet pass out after the first few shots. Try to bear in mind that their education on alcohol is very different to yours. You were taught moderation, drinking wine with meals on special occasions. They were taught excess.

U is for understated: in relation to O, Brits fear confrontation and would rather be understated than extreme in their opinions.

V is for VK: the poison of choice on any night out. Stains clothing and tastes like nail varnish remover, and, like the meal deal, your choice of flavour says everything about who you are as a person.

Image may contain: Drink, Beverage, Alcohol, Party, Blackboard, Music, Leisure Activities, Person, People, Human

Plastic cups of poison

W is for WKD: another drink and a point of nostalgia for any Brit, with memories of throwing up bright blue vomit aged-15.

X is for exes: you might be in a happy committed relationship with your high school sweetheart before you leave for your Cambridge adventure, but don’t be naïve and expect it to continue. They won’t be able to keep up with the slang and will never want to visit the UK anyway (especially not considering B).

Y is for years of British TV culture: if you’ve been given a reading list for your course, put it in the bin and get started on decades of cult TV, or all references to Skins and The Inbetweeners will fly past you.

Z is for zoo: sometimes you will feel like you are in one, but that’s mostly due to all of the Chinese and French tourists littered around your college and is a burden you will share with everyone else.