I was drawn to apply to the University of Cambridge because enough people at school and home seemed to think that I would have a decent chance of getting in. I never really thought that I would end up there. I had only ever heard of geniuses going to Cambridge and I did not think that I stood much of a chance competing with them.
I arrived at Cambridge as a naive fresher, unsure about how I would fit in. I worried that I would not be able to keep up with the boarding school kids and that everyone else would be far more prepared than I was. My mum and I laughed at the traditional, “posh” atmosphere in the college.
I assumed that everybody would be privileged, rich, super-intelligent and work-obsessed. Judging by the reactions I received when people heard that I was going to Cambridge, others thought in the same way that I did. Thankfully, I was wrong about this stereotype.
The beginning was a whirlwind with so many people to meet and so much to do. Luckily, I met many grounded and approachable people and quickly felt at home. The school-like community in my college was so friendly that it made the first few weeks away from home enjoyable.
It was not easy though, I had completely neglected to consider the amount of work that we would be expected to do. I suddenly felt inadequate and surrounded by overachievers. It was hard not to compare myself with other students, a pattern that can damage your self-confidence.
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Cambridge life can be mildly stressful at the best of times and juggling the workload, extracurricular activities and a social life, in addition to trying to look after yourself, is a struggle.
Often I felt as though I was only surviving, just scraping by. It took time to adjust. But slowly I learned how to cope with the balancing act, how to take advantage of the amazing opportunities on offer without becoming overwhelmed, how to live in a state of constant, low-level stress.
However, all the people around you are experiencing the same thing and the intensity of the situation leads to strong friendships. My friends have helped me to manage stress, and through spending time with them and sharing our difficulties, I have learned to prioritise my well-being and to put things into perspective.
Often, a visit from family or a weekend outside the Cambridge bubble may be necessary to provide some context, and remind you that there are other lives that do not revolve around the library.
Once you are used to it, Cambridge can be a wonderful place to study. There are so many fantastic opportunities and taking advantage of them provides a welcome distraction from studying and ensures that you do not get bogged down in your degree.