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I was wrong about Cambridge

Three years ago I came to Cam thinking I knew what this place was about – now I realise I was a moron


As I write this the sounds of the first bop of term are floating up to my room. Students domestic and international, private schooled and state schooled, from all different backgrounds are enjoying the relief of reaching their first weekend in Cam. It's a heady mix of adrenaline from the constant kicks in the face that come with adjusting to University life, combined with a muffled excitement for the coming term and the desire to use alcohol to wipe away as many looming feelings of terror from the mind as possible.

GCSE English creative writing skills aside, this is the reality of Cam – it is, like any other University, a place full of students with ambition, dreams and concerns. However, this was not at all how I imagined Cam would be three years ago, when I properly visited the city for the first time. Coming to Cam as a student made me realise how hopelessly wrong my perception of the place was and how silly the generally held conceptions of our University are.

As part of English Lit GCSE, my school headed down from the great capital of the North, York (please send any letters of complaint straight to The Tab’s editorial team), to Cam to watch Lord of the Flies. Being from the North, already a trait which comes with a chip on your shoulder so heavy that it basically tears your arm off, I was already prepared to look upon Cambridge with a critical eye. As well as this I'm also a leftist and at the time coming to this city felt like how I would imagine a Tory would feel in the valleys of South Wales or a Lib-Dem in the House of Commons – that is to say incredibly out of place.

Look at all these paved roads, these Southerners don’t know how good they have it, I joked, I won’t possibly end up at this Uni, full of rich Southerners with Volvos and labradors, the stomping ground of the ‘elite’. Despite this impression, fostered helpfully by the coverage of Cambridge in the press and ignoring my own blatant hypocrisy I applied here.

Come the interviews, my first real taste of the Cambridge life, I had envisaged the sorts I would meet when I entered the JCR. I had expected stereotypes of the elite. I presumed I would be sitting with members of the gentry just come back from shooting pheasants for lunch. In fact I encountered a room full of what I had not expected at all.

As I sat down and got to know the people there, I discovered that, in fact, everyone there was normal. I could feel my own inner radical putting down his red flag and realising that in fact he had made a terrible mistake. Throughout the interviews I found people from the North, the South and in-between. There were people from all around the world. Folks who were BME and LGBT.

It was a collection of normal people who just so happened to be given the chance to apply to a famed and more than occasionally maligned university. My preconceptions had been shattered – this wasn’t some bastion of the so-called ‘better class’ but a bunch of students wanting to make their way in the world as best they could, just like everyone else.

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The fateful spot outside King's where a younger me declared his aversion to Cambridge. I hang my head in shame every time I walk past.

My experience of becoming a student here showed me the fundamental truth about Cambridge, in that it is not a place dominated by arrogant toffs, or full of snowflakes, but rather a place for normal people with diverse interests and backgrounds, just like anywhere else. Knowing that has made it far more enjoyable to be here and makes me shudder to think of how close I could have been to not applying, for the sake of a terribly wrong misconception which I hope we can break down for the rest of the world and show them the reality of what being at Cam means. That isn't to say that the University is perfect, because it absolutely isn't, but this is not the Cambridge of the 1950's anymore, even though most people outside of here think it is.

Maybe the moral of this story is to not be dogmatic and to figure out the truth for yourself. Perhaps it’s just to be a little more open-minded about everything and everyone. Or maybe I've realised I was an idiot. I suspect it might be the third option.