Why I’ve decided to escape the Cambridge bubble in my final year and live outside college

I’m sick of being babied

It is difficult to pin down what exactly the ‘bubble’ is, but we all feel it: a vague sense of being a little cut off from the ‘real world’, stuck in a never-ending wheel of eating, sleeping, studying and drinking. It’s that fast-paced, intensive, highly-charged Cambridge existence which we simultaneously love and hate. The ‘bubble’ is, of course, a fiction, part of a narrative of Oxbridge exceptionalism which sustains perceptions of Cambridge as alienating and exclusive. In my third and final year, I have decided I want out.

I believe this ‘bubble’ encourages a special sort of immaturity among Cambridge students, fortified by the collegiate system. University is supposed to constitute something of a gentle transition between childhood and the adult world of bills and responsibilities and domestic life. Cambridge does not provide an adequate transition.

In my first year, I discovered, to my bemusement and bewilderment, that someone would come into my room every day to make my bed, clean my bathroom and take out my bins. First of all, this felt like an invasion of my privacy; second, being treated like I was living in a hotel made me feel very uncomfortable; and third, I am perfectly capable of doing all that myself, thank you? Of course, I got used to this over time, but I still resented the knock on my door (“housekeeping!”) at 9:30 a.m. on a midweek morning when I was still in bed. Maybe it’s another story at other colleges, but at Downing, I am babied.

I find that Cambridge students also put themselves in something of a spatial bubble. Jokes about Cambridge students’ lives revolving around the triangle between Sainsbury’s, College and Sidgwick site annoy me. I have noticed that people generally don’t make an effort to explore the city of Cambridge outside of their small, rather insular world. Who has seen the beautiful mosque halfway down Mill Road? Who has visited the American Cemetery? Who has taken a stroll down Riverside Walk by the Cam?

I have had plenty of great nights out in Cambridge, but the same pattern of pres in someone’s room, the college bar and then the club once everyone is hammered can get quite repetitive. I have found people are often reluctant to try something new. The De Luca piano bar on Regent Street is such a great live music venue, but I know barely anyone who has even been there because they’re too fixated on sweaty Cindies, week after week.

I hadn’t really considered the possibility of living in private accommodation until lockdown arrived. I became more introspective, did a bit more reflecting. And when I pictured my final year at Cambridge, I didn’t feel as excited as I expected to. I realised I needed a change. The thought of a third year in college accommodation – the equivalent of Halls – does not appeal to me at all. I feel, in a way, like I’ve outgrown college life. I am ready to source somewhere to live myself, manage my own bills and domestic responsibilities, and enjoy some real independence.

Colleges don’t offer the option to rent privately to undergraduates, or at least, they don’t encourage it. It’s not really the ‘done thing.’ Perhaps this is because they want to keep us in the ‘bubble’, because if we are surrounded by other Cambridge students leading the intensive, study-heavy lifestyle we are expected to lead, then we are more likely to work harder and perform better. Bonus points because of the money they rake in from the extortionate rent prices. Or is that too cynical?

I realised, though, that there is no reason why I couldn’t rent privately, and I had every right to. So I terminated my residential agreement with Downing and began a search for somewhere to live. I was glad to have the opportunity to gain experience of finding somewhere to rent; the room ballot doesn’t quite mirror the real experience of finding a suitable tenancy.

Another reason why I wanted to live in private accommodation was cost. The rent for the room I was originally going to live in stands at £168 a week (and that’s one of the lower bands…), and for just a room, not even a house share, this seemed to be a rip off, especially given I still had to pay for it over the holidays. Meanwhile, from my research, the cost of a standard double room in a house-share in central Cambridge averages at around £500-550, including bills.

On a Facebook page called ‘Cambridge UK Accommodation and Flatshare’ (which I would highly recommend if you’re considering living outside college!), I found a room in a 4-person houseshare with some lovely midwifery students from ARU. We have the house from late August until the end of July next year (or I can cancel the tenancy agreement earlier if I want to), which gives me so much more flexibility. And in the event of a second lockdown, I have my own place to stay in. I don’t like the prospect of being ejected from college accommodation and then having no choice but to move back home.

So if you fancy a change, if you find the Cambridge bubble a little suffocating sometimes, if you want some real independence, consider living in private accommodation.

It’s not for everyone, but it is certainly an option – you don’t have to jump on the bandwagon.

Cover images author’s own; Pixabay.