It goes without saying that once you arrive at Cambridge you’ll have to work very hard. FLY, the university’s network for women and non-binary people of colour, think that some advice is also in order.
If you are a self-defining BME woman/NB person and want to hear from other members of FLY online or in meetings, join the Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/359049374186552/.
And… we’re on social media! Follow us on:
A message from Arenike Adebajo, FLY Facilitator (2017-2018):
Welcome and congratulations! We’re sure you have lots of questions about starting out at Cambridge. So we’ve put together the FLY Guide to Cambridge, a collection of advice and tips for navigating life at the university from the women and non-binary people of colour who’ve come before you.
It’s the second edition of a guide I looked to for advice in my first year at Cambridge. I found comfort in everything from the tips about hair care and advice on good club nights to suggestions for where to get familiar food from home. It was a reminder that although many aspects of the university are frustrating and challenging, I was not alone.
As you embark on this journey, I say to you good luck. You will find spaces that fit you, and grow more than you ever thought you could. Look after yourself, and remember that you belong. You can and will thrive here.
From Lola Olufemi, CUSU Women’s Officer (2017-2018):
Hi, I’m Lola, the CUSU Women’s Officer. My job is to represent women and non-binary people across the university on issues ranging from the gender attainment gap to sexual harassment and assault. For me, this role is explicitly political – as a fresher interested in feminism, the Women’s Campaign and FLY were beacons of light for me. They were spaces where I could speak openly and freely about the way I experienced Cambridge as a black queer women and gave me the tools to deconstruct feelings of alienation. They taught be about what it means to take activism and justice work seriously and the necessity of intersectionality. I credit them for the reason my feminism is rooted in liberation. FLY is a space of celebration – a space to laugh and cry and sigh about the experiences you will have at this university. As a student I felt more able to claim ownership of this space because I navigated it alongside other women of colour who understood instinctively, what it means to be here and not be white or straight or a man. I owe my happiness to these two spaces and the people I met in them, who taught me so much more than I learnt in my three years as an English undergrad.
We’ve sorted our advice based on subject here, but the FLY members featured in this Guide have also provided tips on living and studying at Cambridge which you may find useful. (Ctrl or Command + F to find the relevant subject/college/person!)
- Diamond Abdulrahim, 3rd year
- Nnenda Chinda, graduate
- Fiona Paradzai, 2nd year
- Elhan Ali (with Religious Studies), 3rd year
- Mira Manini Tiwari (with MML), 3rd year
- Nomisha Kurian, graduate (now MPhil)
- Mishal Bandukda, 2nd year
- Lola Olufemi, graduate, current CUSU Women’s Officer
- Mariam Ansar, graduate
- Amanda Brown, graduate
- Rianna Croxford, graduate
- Aoife Hayes, graduate
- Hanna Stephens, graduate
- Nandini Mitra, 3rd year
- Alice Davidson, graduate
- Amy Hawkins, graduate
- Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, graduate
- Eva Namusoke, PhD graduate
History of Art
- Christine Pungong, 3rd year
Human, Social, Political Sciences
- Timi Sotire, 2nd year
- Richelle George, 3nd Year
- Jun Pang, 3rd year
- Shynee Hewavidana, 3rd year
- Sana Ali, 3rd year
- Nafis Khan, 3rd graduate
- Lauren Cunningham-Amos, graduate
- Njoki Wamai, Politics and International Relations PhD graduate
- Yukiko Kobayashi Lui, 3rd year
- Waithera Sebatindira, graduate (now MPhil)
- Tamisha L. Tan, 3rd year
- Samara Linton, graduate
Modern & Medieval Languages (MML)
- Jay Kaur, 3rd year
Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS)
- Mira Nadarajah, 3rd year
Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion
- Tiwa Adebayo, 2nd year
Sidney Sussex College
A huge congratulations and a hearty welcome! I hope you go forth and excel from here on and contribute to the incredible legacy of women of colour at Cambridge. Freedom. Love. You!
- Give yourself ample adjustment time, things won’t be perfect right away. You will feel lonely and out of place sometimes but make sure you have a good support structure, whether that’s ringing friends or family back home, or having a chat with your tutor or college nurse. Your well-being should be your priority – never forget that.
- Books are great, but the internet trumps it in my opinion. Reading academic journals, articles, etc. can often equip you with the same knowledge, but options on the internet are up to date and often far more nuanced, too. There are gazillions of libraries in Cambridge, and instead of attempting to find a copy of everything off your reading list (that you probably won’t read) bookmark JSTOR and Google Scholar on your internet browser instead.
- Remember that you are here because you have something to offer. Your thoughts and opinions are valid and need to be heard.
- Cambridge is not limited to the impressive college buildings. No matter how pretty and awe-inspiring (most) of them are, venture out of the centre of town for a well-needed change of scenery. Mill Road is roughly a 15-20 minute walk from the city centre, which is pretty long in Camb terms, but my god is it worth it. Cambridge’s most ‘cosmopolitan’ street boasts everything from a halal meat butcher’s and shisha café to Middle Eastern, South Asian, and European specialist grocery stores where you can buy reasonably priced fruit, veg, and spices for when hall food gets painfully bland and repetitive and Sainsbury’s is just dead. Did I mention there’s also an Amnesty International charity bookshop AND a Chicken Cottage?!
- Go to the Grafton Centre. though it’s often vilified as the poorer, working class cousin of the Grand Arcade. There’s a huge Primark, loads of charity shops (which will become your best friends for all those themed bops/swaps/whatever), and a Poundland. Inside the modestly-sized shopping centre is the cheapest place to get threading done in Cambridge #browsonfleek
- College JCR BME officer 2014-15.
- I rowed for my college (I feel like everyone should tick that off their Cambridge bucket list).
- Did a bit of acting.
- Led sisters’ discussion groups with the Islamic society.
- I, of course, am a very proud FLY girl.
Your time at Cambridge is going to very memorable one way or another, and it does fly (see what I did there!) by so quickly. So make the most out of everyday.
- Perhaps before you arrive it might be a good idea to find out what the city has to offer you. Whether it’s finding where you can buy African/Caribbean/Asian food, or perhaps if it’s a type of Church (every college has a Christian Union) you are looking to be a part of.
- Sign up for things. You don’t have to commit but it’s still good to know what’s going on.
- Classics is a really small course. On the one hand you get to know other Classicists really quickly and find your way around the faculty very easily, as well as establishing good relationships with your professors. On the other, you don’t necessarily get to meet a very diverse range of people. Thus I’d say try and meet people outside your course and be inspired by what others are studying.
- ALWAYS ASK for help when you need it. Classics is demanding at the best of times, and can feel very solitary when you’re locked away reading and translating lots of texts. So don’t hesitate to ask anyone in the year above for help.
- Find ways to make your course exciting. The Fitzwilliam museum (any museum lovers??) houses so many beautiful & important works of art. Additionally taking trips to Classical sites around the country can be eye-opening and fun! And if you’re a rebel like me, find out what The Other Place (Oxford) is organising in terms of classics-related activities, talks, etc. (join their Facebook group). This can be an opportunity to network and share ideas.
- Surround yourself with people that share similar goals with you and will be there to motivate and encourage you when things get tough. Remember there is always some form of help with any issues you may have: racial, emotional, psychological, mental, sexual, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask. Even if you don’t want to go to a College official you can always seek help from friends, CUSU (the Students’ Union), a Chaplain, College Nurse, or just about anyone else you feel comfortable talking to.
- Don’t join a society or sports team to impress anyone because if you don’t enjoy it and you’re finding it demanding that could compromise your studies. Remember at Cambridge nothing is done in halves! It is more important that you do what you love and think you will commit to, as you’ll get the most out of it.
- Rowing, which I did in first year, was demanding and required lots of outings.
- I’ve found the FLY sisterhood has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time here. I couldn’t say enough how supportive and uplifting a group it is. I think having a safe space at University is really important and I’m a very proud FLY member!
- Joining a church community has also had an extremely positive grounding effect on me, it being a community of like-minded people who share my faith and understand me from that point of view. The Cambridge University Catholic chaplaincy (Fisher House) is really a home away from home. Do check it out, even if you’re not of the faith!
At Cambridge it’s all about a balance, try not to get trapped in the bubble.
- There are a lot of lovely and fun people at Cambridge and don’t be afraid to go out and get to know them, venture outside your year group and college.
- Formals are great fun and it’s also good to venture out and find other nice places to go out to eat with friends for a chill break.
- Don’t waste your time on Fez.
- The most important thing is to believe in your own merits, and focus on yourself as it’s about you and your learning. If you know how you learn best, try and work to that.
- The essay papers come with quite a bit of reading so it can be easy to get caught up in this, but remember to find a balance between the papers. Set yourself reasonable targets to get through the workload and try to plan something to work towards in your breaks.
- Perspective is everything. Being happy is so much more important, so if you feel like it’s all coming down on you, take a breather. It’s good to take days off.
- Cambridge is so pretty which makes it a great place to go on walks and runs.
- African Caribbean Society Events Officer 2017-18
- Sign Language Classes
I know it can feel like this place deserves everything from you, but you have to take care of yourself first and foremost.
- If you’re a non-drinker, Colleges are trying to improve events for you! I went to a focus group at my college JCR and spoke to them about making freshers week more inclusive and varied for those who don’t drink and those who choose not to club, too.
- FLY is there for you if you want to talk about any frustrations you have about Cambridge. It’s a great space to talk, but also, to listen.
- Don’t push yourself to the absolute limit; email that supervisor, meet your tutor, and work at your pace. Getting an extension on an essay deadline that just can’t be met that week isn’t a bad thing (!!!)
- Yeah uni doesn’t have specifications which will be really weird for a while. Sometimes you can feel like you don’t really know what you’re doing without the stringent structure that you recognise from school, but this is an opportunity for you to lead your own studies and make of them what you want! Make use of all the online resources you can find; if you’re studying Education, they literally have the most comprehensive online library ever.
- Don’t play yourself – get a bike straight away (which I ended up doing and am eternally grateful for).
- For Muslim students, there is a prayer room at Sidgwick Site which is really convenient.
- Looking back, I had such an amazing year and learnt so so so much about myself. You’ll grow more than you think and you will absolutely get through it all.
- Islamic Society Events Officer 2016-17
- College JCR BME Rep 2015-16
- African and Caribbean Society
- Somali Society
- Pakistan Society
- Bangladesh Society
- Homerton Boat Club Novice
- Homerton Singers
- The Black Cantabs Society
Mira Manini Tiwari
Welcome to Cambridge! There is a different Cambridge experience for every student, so
whether it’s socialising or library hours, do what feels right for you and only you.
- Cambridge can be a place of extremes. Some weeks will be loaded with social activity, friends, and events; others might feel dull, lonely, or overwhelming. Every up and down is normal – don’t generalise, and don’t hesitate to reach out!
It’s a small town, but within that space Cambridge packs a lot. You can go clubbing, go to a museum, attend a talk, pop out for lunch, go for a walk, or be at another college in a few minutes. There is something for everyone, so take the time to explore and find what you enjoy.
- I found I made a lot of friends in Freshers’ week, but I made some of my closest friends over the course of the year and in my free time after exams in Easter term. Be open to new people, test out friendship groups, and don’t worry if friendships seem to change a lot. It’s a busy environment and everyone is as new as you; you’ll find your place(s) in your own time.
- Reach out to your friends (or even just an acquaintance) if they seem like they need help. Far too many people don’t ask for the help they need, and sometimes all it takes is a bit of perceptiveness and a message/conversation/cup of tea to make all the difference.
- It can be easy to put increasing pressure on yourself, and I stick to the belief that more time/work equals better results. Whatever it involves, take care of yourself, because nothing is worth a burnout.
- Some people feel happiest when they are working most of the time, others live at the theatre, need ten hours of sleep, row for the university crew, spend most nights at the Union, or would rather be painting than writing a late-night essay. I cannot stress enough that there is no ‘right’ way of ‘doing’ Cambridge. Make your choices for yourself alone and don’t compare yourself to others, or judge yourself or others.
- Some students struggle with the transition from being top of their class to suddenly being around hundreds of students who were at the tops of their classes, too. Enjoy being around people who challenge and stimulate you, learn from them and share your own knowledge! And most of all, remember that any grading system is flawed and cannot measure your intelligence or worth – take it from an Education student 😉
- You are not supposed to be over-worked to the point that it is negatively affecting you. Ask your supervisor, Director of Studies, College Nurse, or Personal Tutor for extensions or help with making the workload manageable for you. You will not be ‘giving up’, you will be taking care of yourself.
- I Skype my mum almost every morning while I’m having breakfast, and my dad and sister on the weekend. Sometimes it helps draw my mind away from work, or get another opinion on something I’m doing, and it makes home feel less far away.
- Cambridge is a lovely city! Mill Road is full of cool cafes and international supermarkets, the Market Square is perfect for a wander and some shopping or food, there is no shortage of green spaces for sports or quiet time, and between the various faculties and colleges there is always something interesting going on.
- Christ’s W2 rowing
- JCR Female Welfare Officer
- CADS pantomime
- Co-Editor of the Cambridge University International Development Society Magazine, Vision
- Christ’s College Visual Art Society (Art & Chill)
- Christ’s Jazz band
Emmanuel College (graduated in June 2017) and now Homerton
Congratulations on making it to Cambridge! This is a wonderful place to share ideas and as a woman of colour, you have a unique capacity to make a difference. I hope you enjoy your time here
- Take as much time as you need to get used to Cambridge. You may love it instantly or take a while to settle down, especially if you’ve crossed oceans to come here. Go at your own pace!
- Do your best to keep in touch with family and friends from all the different places that might mean home to you. Having strong support networks outside of uni, as well as within it, keeps you connected to diverse cultures and lifestyles (and lets you transcend ‘the Cambridge bubble’ 😛 )
- If you love home food, cooking it is a yummy way to ward off homesickness. So pack spices/herbs/other local ingredients from home! For eating out, Cocum, the Riceboat, Vedanta and Thela are four stellar Indian restaurants close to the city centre. For takeout, Naan ‘n’ Curry, on Regent Street, offers reasonably-priced and tasty South Asian dishes (the student discount means you could get at least two big dishes, that can last you a couple days, for just 10-12 pounds total).
- Take advantage of all the resources Cambridge offers you, which aren’t limited to your course materials: unlimited journal access in any discipline, interesting talks, events, societies, a free pass to any lecture in any field, amazing libraries, museums, access to incredible professors and thinkers, etc. There really is so much going on here, in the best way.
- If you like international-themed events and societies, keep an eye out for international student charities, International Development Society events, MUN, Centre of Governance and Human Rights events at the Allison Richard Building, global events at CRASSH and the annual World Food Festival. If you like international-themed writing, check out the Cambridge Globalist and Vision (the International Development Society magazine). You can also always make a pitch to Varsity/TCS if you want to write about global affairs/a different country.
- International Development Society
- Volunteering at a primary school
- Students Supporting Street Kids
- 80,000 Hours
- International Development Conference
Sidney Sussex College
Welcome to the best and the worst time of your life! Jokes aside, if you trust yourself and stay grounded, navigating Cambridge as a WOC is not only possible but empowering.
- In first term I found myself taking part in a lot of nights out that I was basically attending because I was so adamant to avoid missing out on any ‘uni experiences’. But by the end of the year, I was finally meeting ‘my’ people and realising that there’s more to Cambridge than the try-hard exterior. It takes time to meet the truly amazing people here, but my method was to try everything that was available to me and then stop hanging out with the people I didn’t want to or doing things I wasn’t enjoying. Don’t apologise for having different opinions, experiences and interests than a lot of the people around you. Older students were very helpful in terms of giving me some insight – and attending FLY meetings is, of course, the perfect way to meet the best people here! FLY is there for you if you want to talk about any frustrations you have about Cambridge. It’s a great space to talk, but also, to listen.
- The English Tripos pretty much does everything it can to alienate WOC. It’s a good idea to speak to supervisors about doing essays and readings that are of importance to you, like intersectional feminist or postcolonial readings of texts – even if they aren’t on the ‘reading list’. It is important to make the most of supervisions, but it’s impossible to work through everything the supervisor sets you and self-care comes first. Supervisors usually understand, but even when they don’t, it’s important to put your wellbeing first and make sure you are enjoying your work – not letting it ruin what should be an incredible learning experience. Writing about things you really care about is possible!
- Go to the Grafton Centre for your waxing and threading
- Microaggressions are pretty much a part of life at Cambridge, but rather than exhausting yourself all year trying to school people, there comes a point where a death stare goes a long way
- FLY Blog/Zine Editor
- Notes Publicity Officer
- BME Officer for College JCR
- King’s Femsoc is really good, and there are a lot of forums/panels on at various colleges which I would recommend.
Cambridge is infuriating and wonderful, I’ve never lived anywhere so beautiful. You will learn to love it or at least to speak about it like an annoying Uncle that you know will give you lots of money in future if you exploit him correctly.
- Depending on how many other ethnic minorities there are in your college, there might be times when you feel a little isolated – people asking stupid questions about your hair or making assumptions based on the colour of your skin – small things that can build up and really hurt if you let them. If you ever feel like this (you might not) reach out to FLY Girls or people from similar backgrounds and rant, vent – if you can’t talk to someone, write it all down or throw yourself into extra-curricular things. That is how I made it through first year and I met some really great people because of it.
- BME English students, prepare yourself for a degree consisting of dead old white men. I think most of us have come to terms with this before we get here (I mean dead white guys have written some pretty great stuff) but the Eurocentric curriculum has a tendency to slap you in the face if you don’t re-prepare yourself. Learn to laugh at it. Sometimes, you will feel like you’re studying the most pointless and obscure works (18th century landscape poetry?????) while real things are happening in the world (famine, war, floods, racism, the list is endless). Remember that your degree is important, your existence is this ivory tower is radical.
- Don’t listen to engineers when they tell you that you don’t do “that” much work.
- Don’t let Cambridge steal your love of reading, the world won’t end if you pick up a book for pleasure.
- Don’t be put off if you’re not well versed in the classics or sometimes feel like the way you write or communicate isn’t as sophisticated as your privately educated peers. Write and speak in ways that are familiar, clarity is key.
- EAT WELL. I cannot stress this enough. You need to have the energy to do all the work that you’ll get so make sure you try and get enough sleep (tell me if this actually happens) and eat good food. Good food doesn’t have to be expensive so don’t worry if money is an issue.
- I came here as a political person with strong opinions about race, gender, sexuality, class and those got me into interesting and frustrating conversations with people blinded by privilege. You are under no obligation to educate anyone – that is not your job. Don’t feel guilty if you find it easier to navigate Cambridge by letting the odd comment slide or not passionately defending your point in every argument. You are here to learn and have fun, meet new interesting people and try things you’ve never done before. Protect your happiness and your well-being fiercely – you will find people who agree with your politics, who will grab lunch with you and laugh with you at silly posh boys, do not despair.
- President of Selwyn College’s Gender and Feminism Society.
- I’m the BME Women’s Rep on the Women’s Campaign, so I’ll be holding FLY meetings!
- Selwyn’s BME Officer.
- I wrote some stuff for student newspapers (Writing a column for Varsity this year).
- Did a little bit of acting so I’m a member of the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatics Society.
- Current (2017-2018) CUSU Women’s Officer!
Murray Edwards College
When it comes to stress, this is a place where people act like sleeping at 4am or not sleeping at all to finish an essay is commendable and kinda impressive but, actually, don’t feel like you have to live up to any weird standard. You know how you work.
- Making friendships isn’t limited to Freshers Week: you’ll be making friends and deciding who are your people from the beginning right to the end, so don’t worry if you can’t empathise with others doing your subject or in college.
- Go to relevant cultural/religious societies’ ice-breakers. Just seeing people who look like you can be a huge comfort.
- There will be people who will see the fact that you’re not white or you wear this cloth on your head and make assumptions about you. They’ll think you couldn’t possibly be into said music or said TV show, but you know what? You do you. It’ll be annoying but it’s not your fault.
- You will hate your subject some days. You will love it some other days. The inconsistencies will add up to a very confused you.
- Anyone who claims they’re not finding it difficult, or never did, is a complete liar. Don’t listen to them.
- When it comes to lectures, go to ones you will find useful. It is also cool to go to ones you find interesting but, as I found out, it won’t help you to be in a 10am lecture on The Philosophy Of The Eye when your Milton essay is due tomorrow. Be picky and try to make clear notes. Sometimes it’s hard to stay awake so I’d say find a lecture buddy? Which is a totally primary school concept but I found it was nice to have a friend you could moan to and you guys could go gallivanting in town later and relax a little.
- Pace yourself. There is always goodness and strength in calling people out when they’re being right-wing racists or ridiculously ignorant white liberals but who will become the most exhausted at the end of that debate? Most likely, you.
- This is a new environment and, in a sense, you’ll become a new person – a ‘Cambridge Student’ – but try to retain your gender, racial, religious, or sexual identity, or anything that you feel distinguishes you as a person. Critique things as much as you like but also know that you can use your uniqueness to your advantage.
- Halal meat can be found at Nasreen Dar, which is a shop a little way next to Murray Edwards and the other hill colleges.
- If you wear the hijab, stock up on those hijab pins. I lost a billion.
- FLY – the best group of amazing ladies and amazing conversations, great listening skills, empathy times one trillion.
- CUSU BME Campaign – Secretary, attempting to improve the lives of BME students and hopefully making small differences soon.
- CU Islamic Society – Secretary, Cambridge’s little Muslim community which is super friendly, unified, and very non-judgmental. Friday prayers are my favourite.
- Varsity and The Cambridge Student (TCS) (student newspapers) – writing random things, online and print publications.
- CU Pakistan Society – Pakistani or literally just brown people, eat food at events, play games, be social.
Be unapologetically you!
- I’m more of a *let’s-watch-LOTR-and-have-Domino’s-kind-of-a-gal*, but I’ve had my fair share of sweaty, uncomfortable nights out at Cindies. As many others will tell you, the clubbing scene at Cambridge is not phenomenal (pssst I actually like the Lion King Remix they play).
- Sports clubs are a great way to open up your group of friends, and the swaps are hilarious.
- If you’re into the theatre scene, you’re in luck! The ADC is the place to be, not to mention college-run productions. Be an angry tree, break a leg, and act away!
- Theatre reviewing is also a good shout. It’s free, it’s fun, and you’ll develop your skills as a critic and add another line to that already illustrious-looking CV!
- Cambridge RAG is jokes. Go on a blind date for charity. Escape Cambridge for 36 hours for charity. It’s awesome. Give it a go!
- Don’t fall victim to the inferiority complex. You are not here because someone needed to fill a quota system (once suggested to me by an ignorant High School teacher). You are here because you are bright, self-driven, and brimming with the potential to achieve great things.
- Sometimes, you may feel a little disgruntled if you are an English student. You may feel as if you are paying for a very, very expensive library card and that you’re not getting much ‘bang for your buck’. In a sense this is true. In comparison to STEM subjects, you don’t get a lot of contact time and it may feel even more limited if you don’t learn well by attending many lectures (no, it’s not laziness). BUT. Your resources are limitless. The world really is your oyster, and your access to the best academics, journals, and online resources really does make this the best place to be.
- It’s not worth compromising a healthy mental state for your academic pursuits. Remember to take the time to de-stress and find things to do other than your work!
- You know that time in ‘Clueless’ when Cher attempts to solve Haiti’s immigration crisis by using her Dad’s dinner party? No? You should watch Clueless. But anyway, this is how tenuous your links will be in supervisions. Embrace it. Don’t beat yourself up over one essay, or one supervision that didn’t go to plan. It’s okay, there will be many (many) more for you to improve upon.
- Exercise. Yass girl. You go for a run. You go for a swim (despite the threat to the fleekness of your edges). Give your body those endorphins!
- Enjoy Cambridge. Take time during the day to appreciate how blessed you are to be living and studying in such a beautiful town.
- If you went to church at home. Find a church here! Your spirituality is something that will keep you whole.
- Plan your hairstyles in advance. If you weave, braid, faux loc, crochet braid or anything else we’ve managed to come up with, find a hairdresser and schedule time to get your hair done. Having my hair in check is one of the many things that gives me confidence, and it might help you too!*ALTHOUGH* one of the more comedic aspects about being in Cambridge is that when your weave is literally halfway down your head and your tracks are presenting themselves like trophies, white people will still say ‘but your hair looks fine!
- Don’t feel pressured to drink if you don’t want to. I don’t drink. But my life is crayyy. ❤
- Cambridge Theatre Review Publicity Officer
- Cambridge University Adventist Society (VP)
- Girton Hockey (captain 14-15)
- GADS (Girton Amateur Dramatics Society)
- GCU (Girton Christian Union)
Trinity Hall College
Don’t bother trying to be anything other than yourself. Embrace yourself and your uniqueness. You’re great as you start now, and you’ll be even greater by the time you leave.
- The best dance night by far is Fez on a Sunday for Reggae, R&B, Hip-Hop, etc. Some casual pubs are The Maypole, The Eagle and The Mill. Also, if you can, do try and go to the Junction (some fab gigs) or see a show at the ADC.
- On the whole, there aren’t many BME English students. Be prepared to accept that you’ll most likely be the only one in your college and then don’t give it a second thought – hard, but necessary.
- Really make the most of the UL and English Faculty – get out those secondary texts asap! Amazon is great for the cheap, next-day delivery of primary texts.
- Only go to lectures that are relevant or of interest. ‘This is the one degree that avidly encourages you to form your own ideas and not to regurgitate other people’s!’ I say while still in bed at 11am Monday-Friday.
- I was a mess when I first started: I suffered from perfectionism, had ‘I-took-a-gap-year-and-now-I-can’t-spell’ syndrome and was crap at working to deadlines. No one starts their degree here perfect. If you find yourself stressing out, you’ll soon realise everyone else is too – it doesn’t make you any less capable, but it does encourage you to adapt for your own peace of mind.
- Don’t even think of competing against other people – if you’re going to challenge someone – challenge yourself! And make sure it’s a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) target.
- If you miss a deadline or feel very stressed, just email your supervisors – from my experience, they’ve been really supportive.
- For basic self-care I usually go for long walks/runs in the evening (a nice way to explore), do breathing exercises and remember that there is a bigger, more relevant and more diverse world outside of the Cambridge bubble!
- Since starting at Cambridge I’ve been introduced to, and have embraced, a whole new political and social perspective. I’ve gained a greater awareness of feminism, intersectionality, white privilege, micro-aggressions etc. (thanks mainly to FLY), to name but a few of the concepts you’ll most likely encounter in conversations – feelings and thoughts I couldn’t previously identify – and it’s really helped in navigating through this cobbled jungle.
- Cambridge is extremely limited with regard to ethnic haircare. With the exception of Boots in Market Square which supplies a few suitable products and brands (ORS, etc.), I’d say you’re better off stocking up before you arrive – or ordering products off Amazon (a lifesaver)! Also, if you get braids for the start of term, go on YouTube and learn how to do them yourself if you didn’t know how to before (guilty) so can maintain them yourself (if you can be bothered).
- If your college is in town and you want to shop in Sainsbury’s, go towards the end of the day when perfectly good food is reduced. If you’re based on the outskirts of town, shop in Aldi on Histon Road!
- TCS and The Tit Bit (college-newspaper) – casual contributor to both.
- Worked for Cam FM.
- Helped out at the Cambridge Union and attend talks/debates.
- President of Cambridge University Television Society.
- I also play college netball.
Sidney Sussex College
English is basically self-taught so don’t be afraid to do your own thing or work to your own deadlines (within reason) because you are now a critic and your supervisors are your academic peers.
- It’s not your fault if you don’t enjoy listening to Disney songs in a club (Cindies) or find that hipsters are colonising the dance floor in Fez. NEVER go to Life (Kuda). Find some BME people and hold on to them! Friday night Cindies is Hip Hop and RnB, find the Anglia Ruskin nights, go out on Saturdays contrary to the Sunday-night-Fez rule because you may actually meet some non-Cambridge people! And they might actually be of colour!
- Be as confident with your ideas as your white/public school/male peers are with theirs. Just because they’re speaking with confidence and a posh accent doesn’t necessarily mean what they’re saying is any good.
- Stretch the syllabus: find topics/authors that you’re interested in and pursue them. Just because the dead white guys are compulsory primary reading doesn’t mean you can’t add in some bell hooks/queer theory/postcolonial/feminist criticism.
- Put motivational/self-care/empowering quotes and messages on post-it notes and decorate your mirrors/desks with them.
- Don’t feel like you’re ‘doing uni wrong’ if you’re not going to certain parties, you’ll soon find out they’re boring and full of gross people. Find a couple of cool people and you’ll be fine!
- Replying to microagressions with a smug smile is very satisfying (and unnerving for the receiver).
- Talk to women of colour! They are a great source of solidarity. Go to FLY meetings, post on the group, you are not alone! Remember how radical your presence in Cambridge is and how fly you are!
- There’s a black hair shop in the Grafton.
- I was involved with the Palestinian Society, which hosts events with Palestinian speakers and organises university-wide activism.
- CUSU Women’s Campaign – the university’s feminist group providing a safe space with fortnightly discussion groups as well as a platform for activism.
- African Caribbean Society (ACS) – provides opportunities and events to socialise with other People of Colour (PoC, synonymous with BME people).
- CUSU BME campaign – another group providing solidarity and activisty opportunities for PoC.
- LGBT soc – provides solidarity/ socialising.
WHAT AOIFE IS DOING NOW:
[At the time of writing was] applying for internships (mostly publishing/media-based work) and staying fly.
Going for a cycle to somewhere open and green and drawing or listening to music in my room helped me a lot; it’s important to make some time for yourself.
- I volunteer for FoodCycle (a charity that cooks meals for homeless people out of surplus food). It isn’t too closely associated with the university so you get to meet a wide range of interesting people which takes you out of ‘the Cambridge bubble’, and also puts your work stress into perspective.
- There are a lot of societies and interesting things going on, so I would say explore your options but don’t get deeply involved in too many and spread yourself too thin.
- Geography is amazing!
- If there are whole books on the reading list, don’t read the whole book! Just read the introduction and another chapter that might sound relevant and maybe look up a book review online.
- I like going to Seoul Plaza, which stocks Korean and Japanese food, and Arjuna Wholefoods, which is slightly pricey but sells organic and some locally sourced things.
- I was part of our college’s allotment society where we grew things in the college greenhouse and planted them in a patch of allotment space we have near college.
- I illustrated the Cambridge University International Development Society’s magazine and was able to go for dinner with some of the speakers we invited.
- With FoodCycle I set up a ‘student night’ which aimed to bring students and homeless/elderly people together by sitting everyone down for a meal together.
- I also regularly attend FLY meetings where we discuss racial issues both in real life and events in the media, and it has been a hugely educational and empowering space to be a part of!
Everyone in Cambridge gets imposter syndrome; it’s hard not to feel inferior when you’re comparing yourself to people who appear clever and hardworking and like they have it all. But that combined with the dominance of structures and ideologies that are designed to make you feel like you don’t belong in (white, male) elite spaces is toxic. The worst thing you can do to yourself is believe this. To believe in a false notion of your ‘inferiority’ is to lessen the work of the oppressor by inflicting pain on yourself. Don’t do that. You deserve to be here.
- You may feel like everyone works really long hours, or is working a lot harder than you. The truth is, nobody is working as hard as they appear to be, and you don’t need to work stupid hours every single day for three years straight. It sounds boring, but plan your time well and try to keep to a routine that fits around when you work best. Give yourself work breaks, both during the day and in the week; in first year, I’d give myself one or two days off a week (the day my essay was submitted, and the day after, when I’d have a supervision, if I didn’t have work for my other classes to get done).
- History is the only undergraduate degree where you have full choice of papers from the very beginning; unlike other subjects, where everyone will share teaching for at least one if not more compulsory papers, it’s very possible that none of the historians in your year at college will have made the exact same paper choices as you have. The exception to this is HAP, which is a compulsory paper, but the teaching for that varies by college; King’s first years get weekly HAP classes as a group, other colleges do differently. Because of this, it can be difficult to make friends with other historians in your year because you’ll all be doing different papers, have different supervisors etc. Don’t let this get you down – embrace independent work. Being independent means that you’ll have the space for your mind to thrive.
- Write proper, detailed notes. With page numbers and referencing. Trust me, your second-year self will thank you for this when it comes to Part I exams. (And DON’T fall into the trap of thinking that you’ll “do it later”. I still have notes littered with annotations like ‘come back to this’; ‘make more notes on the emancipation of women!’; ‘this is short! Read more!’. Yeah, I never did.)
- If you haven’t heard it already from the other women and non-binary people in this guide: Go to FLY. Whether you only go to the first couple to get a bearing on Cambridge, or go to every meeting to wrap yourself in the warmth and light FLY gives, just go.
- Get involved in extra-curriculars at both College and University level (FLY can be your uni-wide activity – it’s nice to meet people from other colleges and experience Cambridge from the wider perspective that brings). You’ll be living in College for three years; ideally, you want it to feel as close to home as possible, in all its familiarity and friendliness. Get involved in something you’re interested in, or try something new – first year is the year to do this.
- Make sure to socialise, whether it be through extra-curricular activities, having dinner with friends, or going out clubbing. History is an intense, quite solitary, degree. Having things to do outside of your academics will help you structure your time better, enjoy your degree, and enjoy your time here. Nobody can work all the time, nor should you even try to. Have fun, even if it’s in the sweaty enclave of Fez (and be careful with the stairs of doom in Life! And no, I still don’t know why we call it Life and not Kuda).
- With the accumulative weight of the pressure you put on yourself, the intensity of the workload, and the fact that it seems like everyone is working all the time (again, they’re not), it’s easy to buckle under the strain. Be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that you are more than your work and deserve a full life, so it’s okay to take that day off and have some fun. University is more than academics.
- It may sound boring, but don’t underestimate the importance of getting your nutrients in and taking exercise. Fruit, water and veg are magic – getting as much of them as you can in your diet (five bananas costs 68p in Sainsbury’s!) will help you SO much with your physical and mental health. And take up some form of exercise, even if you’ve never done it before; it’s such a good way to relive stress, switch your mind off from the 24/7 life of Cambridge, and feel stronger mentally, physically and emotionally.
- If you’re feeling for a nice walk or a run, or just want to leave the city/uni bubble, there are lots of villages and countryside bits just a short distance from Cambridge city centre; Grantchester is only about a mile away from King’s College (which is basically the centre point of the city) and is a beautiful place to visit. Also, Mill Road is just off Parker’s Piece and is a treasure trove of products catered for ethnic minorities (Dabur amla hair oil! Huge bags of spices for £1!). It’s a little bubble of reality within the bubble of university. Go out there and breathe!
- You can pick up some great gems quite cheaply if you go to M&S around 3:30-4ish, otherwise known as ‘yellow label hour’. Treat yourself, pick up a cheese and tomato focaccia (basically fancy bread) for 40p. Equally, the market has really lovely fruit, vegetables and cheese you can pick up for relatively cheaper than the supermarkets.
- If you’re an historian, try and get your books from your college library or the UL as much as possible. Don’t play yourself with the Seeley library’s fines.
- BME officer for KCSU: both a political and welfare role, I represented the interests of ethnic minority students to both the wider student body and King’s staff, whilst also organising events, talks and the annual BME Dinner at King’s.
- King’s Femsoc: myself and a friend started our college feminist society, which hosts weekly speaker events, talks and forums for women and non-binary people across the university. I’m really proud of how it’s grown – so many women and nb people in college have said they like how it’s helped them make new friends, and this year we’ve had speakers give talks on topics ranging from honour killings, to women’s involvement in American politics, to the UN and feminism, and women’s football.
- King’s Affair: I was the Entertainment Officer for KA 2017, the annual all-night party King’s holds in May Week as an answer to a May Ball.
- King’s Politics: I’m head of the College’s politics society, which is the largest one of its kind in Cambridge (i.e. free for all to attend, unlike the Cambridge Union). We host speaker events and debates on various social and political issues – I’m trying to change perceptions that doing so is not just the realm of privileged white men. BME women and non-binary people deserve the space to comment on what affects them too.
- Varsity: I wrote a column on identity and parliamentary politics, and occasionally write comment pieces on recent news items.
- Acting: did a play in second year with a group of phenomenal women and non-binary people in whom I found amazing friends and a source of strength; the show was good too! Don’t let the whiteness of the ADC intimidate you – there are people (with more experience than me) working hard to change student theatre.
- FLY: I’m a die-hard FLY girl. I went to the first meeting of fresher term and since then have always loved it. I really hope you will too – we’re so excited to meet you!
I think the most important thing is to not expect too much of yourself, particularly in first term. You meet so many people so quickly and freshers’ week can feel like a whirlwind – terms are so short and so intense that it’s completely normal to feel like you haven’t properly settled even by Christmas.
- With no group labs or seminars, you have to put yourself out there to meet History people from other colleges. On a more positive note, History is a really interesting subject and there are so many different papers to choose from! It can be helpful to choose papers which overlap in some way to make your life easier when it comes to revision, but most importantly pick topics which you enjoy reading about. This is also important for supervisions – I once had a supervisor who started the term with ‘I only do politics, war and religion’, but it’s important to be assertive in which areas of the paper you want to study!
- Have perspective in that it’s not always useful to compare your uni experience with those from home at different unis!
- Utilise subject contacts and college families for support, and also connect with groups such as FLY – I regretfully didn’t become a member until second year, and even if you’re not super political it really helps to know people from similar backgrounds and cultures who can empathise with any struggles you’re having.
- With Cambridge being a ‘catered’ uni, I assumed I would be eating in the buttery all the time, and so brought almost no cooking equipment/utensils/etc. The buttery can be expensive and repetitive (depending on college), so make sure you’ve got the basics to do a bit of cooking yourself.
- Queens’ College History Society.
- I’m a member of the Trampolining Society – there are so many different sports to choose from in Cambridge, but trampolining is fun, casual and you don’t have to have any previous experience. You can be a complete beginner and still have the opportunity to compete at events at different unis across the country, and membership is relatively good value if you commit to the whole year. The society also run taster sessions if you’re not convinced.
When I first arrived, I thought I would never have time to do anything ever, because I was so overwhelmed by the work. Everyone else seemed to have more than me yet I still found my workload so difficult. THIS IS OKAY, IT GETS EASIER.
- Join FLY!! I only joined in my third year, what a waste of the first two.
- History is unbelievably Eurocentric and Anglocentric. There are some great papers on offer, but there are also loads of really boring ones and sometimes they’re compulsory. Cambridge is supposed to be the home of World History, but there’s something like a grand total of 4 non-European papers in Part I, out of a total of 24 (I think). Do what you can, and throw yourself into the stuff you find you love. Both emotionally and strategically for the exams, I really think it’s best to just focus on 3 or 4 interesting topics per paper, and not worry about all the other boring stuff you have to do for supervision essays. Also seek out the new-ish fields. Gender History etc. is pretty common now, but it can still be a struggle to wade through all the dead old white men stuff. But also, if you love that stuff then great! Don’t feel obliged to study anything because of the colour of your skin.
- Take time to do nice things and find out what you love – easier said than done, I know, but if there’s one thing I wish I’d done differently at Cambridge it’s that I should have worked less hard in my first two years (and harder in my third).
- People’s questions about “where you’re from” (especially if you’re mixed race) are normally just innocent curiosity. It’s still tiring, of course, and don’t feel you have to give them the time of day. But also don’t necessarily assume they’re xenophobic bigots (only some are).
- There are so many great dumpling places in Cambridge. My personal favourites are North China dumplings (next to Emmanuel College) or Market Square for cheapness and convenience. Café Oriental at the Grafton Centre is also pretty good and cheap.
- Some college sport.
- Varsity student newspaper – editor.
- JCR Access Officer – EVERYONE DO MORE ACCESS STUFF, IT’S SO IMPORTANT, OTHERWISE CAMBRIDGE WILL BE RICH AND WHITE FOREVER.
WHAT AMY IS DOING NOW:
[At the time of writing was] working for a think-tank in London. Don’t know what I want to do next!!!
As a black or brown girl you may sometimes feel alone in crowded rooms; you are part of the change and you being here today may mean that one day others won’t feel that way.
- You do not have to drink. You do not have to get drunk. You do not even have to go out. There is a student stereotype everyone will try to fit into at first; you might think you’ll miss out if you don’t join in but have a terrible time if you do – if you feel that way, don’t worry. Other people are feeling that way, too. You can have fun and go out without drinking. You can stay in and have fun without drinking. It is also okay if you do not want to have fun tonight, or if your idea of fun is not other people’s idea of fun.
- Go to a FLY meeting. Go soon. Go even if you’re scared of socialising. You don’t even have to talk but I promise it will make you feel better even if you didn’t think you needed to feel better.
- Do as many extra-curriculars as you can to start with. Drop some later. First year is the time to try.
- You do not have to work all day every day. Work in short bursts and productively, don’t run your battery down early on.
- Cambridge weeks and supervisions work out in such a way that Saturday and Sunday may no longer mean rest, but still give yourself a weekend. You need time off.
- The first few essays are overwhelming, here’s my secret essay procedure: start the week with Wikipedia and YouTube – that will give you the best overview with which to start reading dense academic texts. Reading will get easier, and if you are bad at note-taking don’t worry, you will get better.
- Make thorough notes – you won’t remember what you were alluding to at the end of two years when you’re examined on it.
- Remember you have made a big jump, you’ve moved out maybe for the first time, are living alone in a new place with no one that you know – be kind to yourself and don’t expect too much.
- Fresh fruit in the market is cheaper and nicer than from the supermarket.
- Avoid rush-hour shopping for groceries by going before 4/5pm.
- CUSU Women’s Campaign – exciting, radical, and everyone is much friendlier than you’d imagine.
- BME officer on college JCR – provide welfare as well as hosting discussions and workshops on issues of race, privilege, awareness, and contemporary debates.
- Islamic Society – a place for Muslim students; more casual than I had imagined, wish I had gotten involved earlier.
- FLY – a place to share experiences, chat, socialise and be empathetic with other women of colour.
- Speakeasy – fortnightly spoken word event at ADC bar, very casual, fun to watch and easy to get involved in.
Gonville & Caius College
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling. You may feel like you should just be grateful to have gotten into Cambridge, but university shouldn’t break you.
- If you’re into dating, try dating people outside your own college. Avoid anyone who starts sentences with ‘I’m not normally attracted to black women but…’
- Don’t get boxed in by your department. I was an Africanist in the History faculty and had to work hard to find workshops and seminars that were more closely aligned with my academic interests. But it was totally worth it when I found Africanists lurking in all sorts of departments who were just as eager to reach out and connect. You realise just how big and diverse Cambridge academia is when you think outside the departmental box!
- Sign up for a bunch of mailing lists to get a feel for different lectures and seminars happening. You might even stumble across the odd reception with canapés – success.
- Be creative with your secondary reading and essays if you’re an undergrad. If you’re a grad, stick to your guns and know that your contributions are changing the game bit by bit.
- Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Make sure you know about the support network in place early on. Some colleges have Peer2Peer counsellors who are other students with basic counselling training. Get to know your college tutor so they can be your ally, make sure you know who the college nurse is (doubly handy if you ever have to get travel vaccinations or want some help with matters of sexual health) and college chaplains can be great. And the University Counselling Service can be really helpful if you need more professional help. They can also refer you to appropriate NHS services and some colleges can help you get private healthcare.
- You will likely find yourself in many rooms where no one else looks like you. Know that there is a chance someone like you has been in that very room in the past. And besides that, know that your presence paves the way for the next woman like you, and the next.
- Two words: Mill Road. If you ever want a proper watermelon, game-changing bibimbap or to simply remember what life is like outside the Cambridge bubble, head down there.
- Hair in Cambridge is tricky. There are a couple of black hair salons I know of. One on Mill Road and one on Norfolk Street near the new West African restaurant Eko Kitchen (which is great! Eat there!). Both salons are pricey I think but can get the job done if you are desperate for a simple wash and blow-dry. In general I would suggest getting hair done in London or learning the magic of YouTube hair tutorials. Also the Boots black hair section is tiny but growing.
- International students: if you’re opening a UK bank account for the first time, email your college before you get to Cambridge and ask them to prepare a letter for you to take to the bank. That will save you time and fuss.
- Africa Together committee.
- African Society of Cambridge University.
- The Black Cantabs Project.
- Caius MCR.
- I rowed for a hot second and bowed out when it got too cold. But it was really good fun until then.
Remember that your experiences are unique and that, whether it feels like it or not, everything you have to say is something special.
ON YOUR SOCIAL LIFE:
- If you can’t find a club night that plays the music that you want to hear, put one on yourself – it’s not as hard as you would think to organise a night at King’s Bunker.
- Emmanuel and St John’s have the cheapest college bars.
- Go to FLY meetings!!!
ON YOUR ACADEMIC LIFE:
- History of Art is possibly one of the most hideously middle class, elitist, racist departments in the entire university. To make it worse, people will always assume you must have so little work/it must be so easy/you’re not as academic as others because you’re an art historian – this is a lie.
- The Part I tripos is so horribly boring and white-washed and dull but it does cover most of the essentials and give you a good grounding for the rest of the course.
- Even though your weekly essays won’t provide much room for rebelling against the system, you can use your dissertation to write about something that actually interests you.
- Lectures can be boring and unengaging and very often aren’t necessary but seminars and objects classes will prove indispensible when it comes to exams – try to go to all of them.
- Try to photograph or note down the name of every image you’re shown to make notes on it later.
- Form an alliance with the older art historians as well as ones in your year, and ask for their notes if you ever find yourself behind – it’s not as competitive as other subjects can be so usually people are happy to help out.
- You are going into an institution that was not built to include you much less to cater to your needs, and this can feel horribly lonely sometimes. Remember that there is a whole network of ~amazing~ BME women who have gone through and are still going through the exact same experience as you and you can always seek solace in them.
- Don’t be afraid to tell DoS’s, tutors, supervisors etc. exactly what it is you need from them (in fact, rinse them for all they’re worth) – you are paying way too much, both physically and emotionally, to be at this university, you deserve help should you decide you want it.
- Your very existence in Cambridge is radical, and it’s okay if you feel you don’t always have the emotional energy to fight the system, and don’t ever put an essay or revision before your emotional or physical well-being ❤ ❤ ❤
ON EVERYTHING ELSE:
- There’s a shop on Mill Road that sells plantain (roughly 3 for £1) – do with this information what you will.
- Order online from ASDA – it is much cheaper than Sainsbury’s and will deliver literally to the door of your room for £1.
- ACS – fun, friendly, a good way to get in touch with organisations/recruitment agencies like SEO and Rare.
- College JCR BME officer – looking after the well-being of BME students at Newnham, being able to do small intra-college things that make life a little more comfortable for BME students.
Although your first year of university will have many ups and downs, you really will learn a lot about yourself, and will get through it feeling stronger than ever!
• I’d say do anything that interests you, but don’t force yourself to do something that you don’t want to do because everyone else is doing it, it is fine to say no!
• Clubbing isn’t the only social thing to do with friends, I really enjoyed things like meals out, going to bars, theatre, debates, picnics and long cycles – there’s so much more to do
• SAVE MONEY FOR BALLS!! This is one thing I wish I did because the costs for May Week hit me like a train
• Remember that first term is the term to find your footing and see what suits you – I made the mistake of trying to read every single text on my reading list for HSPS which just doesn’t work in the long term, pick around 3-4 texts that interest you and focus on them
• Don’t stress if you can’t complete an essay on time, supervisors are so chill if you ask for an extension
• Always go to lectures on the topics you have essays on, normally the essay questions are set by the lecturer
• Learn how to master iDiscover quickly… I only realised that many texts were available online in second term, something that would have helped me so much earlier on
• Make sure you have friends who have similar experiences to you so that they can be there when things are hard, I didn’t realise how important this was until Easter Term
• If work gets too stressful, take some time off! Maybe have a coffee, watch some TV, take a nap or read for a bit. Honestly in a uni like this your mental health is SO important
- CAM FM
- FLY – I only really started going to meetings in second term and I wish I started going sooner! It’s such a supportive safe space and I’m eternally grateful for it
- ACS – it’s a great way to make friends and they have lots of socials
- Girton College JCR BME Rep
- Musical Ents Officer for Girton Spring Ball
- Project Coordinator for Schools Plus
- Part of Cambridge Volunteers in Nepal Scheme
You’ve already achieved so much, just by being here. Taking up space – joyfully, proudly, fiercely – is a most powerful form of resistance. Be unapologetic with your identity
• Find your people. Try everything, sign up to a million mailing lists in your Freshers’ week and be open-minded. Find some groups/societies that youare genuinely interested in and where you feel at home; it’s important to have those outlets for socialising and relaxing that expand beyond the people on your staircase. BUT, don’t panic – this can take time; keep looking and don’t be afraid to try new things.
• Surround yourself with people who can understand your experiences. This has become such a crucial part of my degree experience and I couldn’t be happier or feel more empowered. FLY is a great way to do this, but there’s also the BME Campaign, Women’s Campaign, College FemSocs, ACS etc etc. Here you’ll find people who can validate your experiences, empathise with the challenges you may face and re-energise you, ready to face whatever Cambridge has in store.
• You’re here because you deserve to be here – your ideas, thoughts and opinions are intelligent and deserve to be heard. The quality of my work improved drastically once I truly believed this about myself; I wrote essays with a more confident tone and spoke up more in supervisions. It’s scary at first, but the knowledge that you deserve to be here just as much as anyone else, and should gain as much from this experience, is great motivation.
• Don’t panic and try to read everything on your reading list – it’s impossible and you’ll end up wasting time. The biggest secret to performing well in Cambridge (that I’ve learned) is revising/working with strategy. Be extremely strategic when it comes to what you read/revise and how you use that information.
• Make use of the support network around you. As wonderful and exciting as Cambridge can be, it can also be a stressful and challenging place. Your welfare, and particularly your mental health, should remain of utmost importance throughout your degree. Always ask for help if you need it, whether from friends (both new ones and ones from home), family, College counsellors/nurses/mental health advisors, Tutors or the University Counselling Service. There are people here to support you, all you need to do is ask.
- President, Trinity College Feminism Society
- BME Officer at Trinity College 2015-16
- BME Officer on Trinity FemSoc 2015-17
- Features Editor for Varsity (Mich 2016)
- FLY Facilitator 2016-17
- Ents Officer on the Trinity May Ball 2016-17
St. John’s College
In Cambridge, you will find a home in the people you meet and the friends that you make. No matter how difficult it gets, no matter how much it feels like the world is crashing down all around you, remember that “the only way out is through”.
• If anyone makes you feel bad for not fitting in, or for not understanding the intricacies of ‘Cambridge etiquette’, that’s their problem, not yours.
• No one at Cambridge is cool. Although you may initially be intimidated by the cult of wavey garms, I can guarantee you that the best people in this university are those who genuinely do not care about what other people think, who dork out about the things that matter to them, who are kind, who care about the world. The others are irrelevant.
• Don’t worry about being socially awkward. As someone who hates crowds and feels like her tongue is perpetually in knots, I promise you will find people you can relate to, people who will appreciate you for you.
• Different departments within the HSPS faculty are working on decolonizing the curriculum. Because you basically get free rein over each week’s essays, don’t be shy to bring in your own readings and perspectives on different topics. Some supervisors will enjoy discussing alternative ideas, and as for those who dismiss what you raise as ‘anachronistic’ or ‘irrelevant’, remember that they are only one voice (no matter how eminent), and you have a right to your own academic integrity.
• Truly and honestly, don’t try to read everything on the reading list. Take notes on the set texts with the knowledge that at the end of the day, you will be expected to produce a one-hour essay on that text during exams, and nothing more. Instead, spend your time exploring topics that actually interest you in preparation for your weekly essays.
• You don’t owe anyone your labour – this is particularly important to remember as a woman of colour, given that people will constantly demand explanations of the world’s injustices from you (oh, the irony). Your existence at Cambridge is radical in itself – do not feel like it is your responsibility to educate people who are willfully ignorant, who are arguing with you simply to prove a point, who are unwilling to change their perspective.
• That being said, try to unpack what privilege you do have and to amplify the voices of those who are more marginalized than you. I came to university so ignorant of my position in the world – the last two years have taught me so much, from being racialized for the first time, to understanding East Asian and Chinese privilege, to realizing the value and nourishment that comes from solidarity with women and non-binary people of colour, to grappling with international student identity.
- Vice-Chair, The Wilberforce Society
- Senior Editor, Notes Magazine
- Blog/Zine Editor, FLY
- Secretary, Women’s Campaign
- Women’s Officer, St. John’s College JCR
- Columnist, Varsity
Cambridge University is the weirdest and most wonderful place on Earth. No other uni experience could really compare – it’s another world. Make the most of your years here, they will go by so quickly. You’ll love it!
- A popular idea is that the friends you meet in university will be your friends for life – it’s not true, so don’t feel disheartened if you don’t encounter your ‘soulmate’ here – friendship wise or romantically.
- The circle of friends you have in first term of Freshers will almost certainly not be the same in second and third year. Try and make friends outside of college! College life can get very small and intense – it’s nice to have connections elsewhere.
- On my first day, I asked my college mother what advice she had for me. She told me that hooking up with other people in college was a bad idea. Of course, I dismissed her advice (so young and naive) but boy do I wish I had listened to her. Granted, this advice might be irrelevant in bigger colleges – Corpus is the second smallest – but if you’re supremely awkward like me and want to avoid bumping into your paramour in the college library…or hall…or postroom…or like, literally everywhere then consider my college mother’s advice. She was a wise woman.
- I actually really rate the clubs in Cam (contrary to popular opinion). Wednesday Cindies is my favourite thing on Earth and I’m honestly really going to miss it. Also – I once saw more POC on a Friday Cindies (Fleek Friday) than I saw in my entire first year.
- Prepare to feel very mediocre. Very quickly. Its small fish/big pond syndrome – you go from being top of your school to living with some of the cleverest people in the country. People here can be horribly competitive and peacock their successes. Ignore them.
- A first doesn’t equate to success. People here act as if you might as well drop out if you get a 2.1 and don’t even mention (gasp) a 2.2. Untrue – a degree is a degree.
- Don’t neglect your health. It’s very easy to become consumed in your work and spend 10+ hours in the library. Find a gym, go for walks and drink some water for goodness sake.
- You will have some of the best and worst times in Cambridge. There are so many lows but also many ridiculous, amazing and wonderful highs. They all balance out somehow.
- Connect with people from the same culture and/or colour as you. Cambridge is overwhelmingly white and you will be faced with an awful amount of whitesplaining. I swear, they read one journal article and suddenly become world-renown experts. Honestly – the amount of people who have told me that internalised racism is the reason why I wear coloured contacts and dye my hair. Like… chill sis. It’s really not that deep.
- Prepare for the posh white boys who fetishise you on the basis of your colour. If I had a penny for every Tom, Ryan or Hugo who wanted a pretty brown girl on their arm to show off like a shiny ornament then, well – I wouldn’t be in £27,000 debt.
- Varsity (Editor and Contributor)
Cambridge as an institution may not have been built with you in mind, but you are brilliant, intelligent and deserve to be here. One of the hardest things about being a WOC in this place is feeling inadequate, so just do you. Trust, love and enjoy yourself; you are capable of everything you want to do.
- It only gets better after Freshers Week. Seriously. Don’t worry if it sucks, you’re part of the 99.9% who also feel that way.
- Just do you!!! Whether you wanna go out and get s*lly or stay in with homemade curry and play scrabble (personally, the latter is preferred), don’t feel pressured to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.
- Sometimes it can be isolating being one of a few BME students in your college, but that’s where places like FLY and its unending love and non-judgemental environment are your best friend.
- You’re not going to go to every lecture and that’s okay. For my course, we had a group chat and google drive for the entire year to share lecture notes, essays and lil revision things. Maybe ask around and see if a similar system has been set up for your course, and if not, why not set it up yourself? Everyone has reasons why they can’t attend lectures or need a few days off to recuperate, and for me, I honestly don’t think I’d graduate without this lil academic fallback when things are Not Too Great.
- Supervisions can be daunting but don’t worry too much about them – that one arrogant person who talks over everyone else and seems to know everything? They don’t. Your opinions and thoughts are valid and most likely very much needed.
- Go to Mill Road. Coming from Manchester, I was so home-sick when I arrived at Cam and Mill Road is the closest thing to getting outside of that ‘Cambridge bubble’ imo. You’ll find a number of international food stores, halal meat and takeaways (!) and g r 9 charity shops.
- I feel like Cambridge’s charity shops need a paragraph on their own – seriously, since I got to Cam 2 years ago I haven’t shopped in anything that isn’t a charity shop, and I don’t see myself ever going back. Mill Road and Burleigh Street charity shops in particular are a dream, and you won’t find many Cambridge students there at all, which is a plus if you need a lil down time.
- Join the CUSU womcam buy/sell group! People often sell (or give away) v cheap clothes, shoes etc, but also everything else. Bikes, furniture, shampoo, books… it is the best. (I live for bargains)
- Queens’ BME Officer 2017-18 – creating a BME community in Queens’
- Student Minds (mental health charity) Head of Events 2016-17 – raising awareness of mental health issues in every size, shape, form and colour.
- Queens’ Women’s Football (super fun and stress relieving!)
- Previously wrote for TCS (Student Newspaper)
Murray Edwards College
The main thing I’d tell myself to remember is the fact that Cambridge as an institution was not created for me and people like me and yeah sometimes this becomes painfully obvious. But what it also means that our presence here is powerful + revolutionary.
- Take some time to check out a few different nights and figure out what suits you. Also trust me when I say if you feel like you aren’t going to enjoy yourself on a night out then chances are you actually won’t so just don’t go. It’s perfectly fine to say no.
- I think my main advice would be to start off with following reading lists but once you’ve got the hang of it definitely read things that interest you + don’t be afraid to put your ideas into your essays. I ended up doing well whenever I was the most creative + passionate.
- FLY is one of my favourite things about Cambridge- the solidarity + warmth you get at the meetings is so so important and I cannot emphasise how good it feels to be around people who get it.
- It is okay to feel stressed and tired and it doesn’t necessarily even have to be about work.
- I was the President of the BME Campaign- it’s a CUSU-affiliated liberation campaign focused on addressing the concerns of BME students in Cambridge. Last year we organised a series of events for Black History Month. We opened up conversations about race + racial oppression in Cambridge + helped focus on access + supported individual BME officers across colleges.
- I’m also currently Vice President of Cambridge University Bangla Society- the society was formally one that focused on social events but this year we are thinking of moving it in a different direction. We are currently setting up links with some Bangladeshi charities with the intention of fundraising for them and are also going to be focusing on access.
Likeminded people are easier to find than expected (as this guide shows).
- Don’t worry/feel like there’s something you’ve missed if you settle in really quickly and love it. I personally count my first/second terms of first year as my best ones so far, and I settled in within a week, so don’t feel like you’ve let down home or have a rose-tinted view (even though things may change which is equally cool) if you do love it!
- Definitely work on time management but also remember (this took me until my second year to realise) each essay is only an essay, so does not correlate with your self-worth or any sense of respect you or anybody else should or does have for you. If you write an essay that is not your best, nothing bad happens at all and not every essay is going to be amazing (or even many essays). Remember you are here for a reason and, intellectually, are on equal footing with everyone else here. It’s really easy to forget that sometimes!
- For me, it helped to call home every day, even just for a small chat, to keep a piece of home with me at all times. I also always just went to my room and watched some TV if I needed to, and always had a person at home and at uni (I was really lucky to have both) to vent to if I needed it.
- I’m BME officer for my college, which means I head am a person for students in my college to go to with minority related issues and I head campaigns and discussions on minority issues (a campaign for BME alumni portraits in formal, a talk on white privilege and one next year on cultural appropriation).
- I play college netball (and, on rare occasions, lacrosse).
- I’m on the college welfare committee.
- I’m a club rep (it does NOT pay well as a warning).
Hang out with people who appreciate you and look for solidarity among women and men who share similar values and who match your level of consciousness.
- A few African events are run monthly like the African band that plays at the Emmanuel Church, opposite Pembroke College every last Friday of the month.
- Lazara, a cocktail bar, has African Nights on every first Thursday of the month but confirm on their website.
- The Freddie Hall band plays Motown classics around Cambridge most weekends.
- If you like dancing salsa, check out the salsa nights in Cambridge. I like the salsa nights at Wolfson College most.
- Don’t feel bad if you meet someone over a drink in one of those freshers orientation events and they pretend they have never seen you when you meet them next on Kings Parade. They most likely know you but choose not to acknowledge you. You will be told that people are just awkward because they are geeky. You are just as geeky (that’s why you are in Cambridge) and your parents taught you good manners, and you should expect the same level of decorum from others who wish to engage with you. LOL.
- It takes time to meet people who are not pretentious for the sake of PR in competitive spaces. Genuine friendships with genuine people take time so don’t stress yourself when you find no one affirms you in conversations.
- Generally in the social sciences be confident about your ideas and thoughts. There is really no wrong answer in this field, so feel confident about your ideas. Read widely beyond the recommended reading for a better grounding of the main debates in a topic and write essays of those issues that concern you most. You are likely to find it easier because you are passionate.
- Join yoga, rowing (we need more women of colour on the boats) and the many other sporting societies to relax.
- There is an African food shop and restaurant called Eko kitchen on 8 Norfolk St, Cambridge CB1 2LD.
- The annual Cambridge African Film Festival (CAFF) featuring African films is a weeklong event at the Arts Picturehouse in early December.
- I co-founded a number of societies:
- the African Students Society (ASCU).
- the Black Cantabs Project – a student-led research society that is interested in documenting the early black scholars at Cambridge.
- the East African society.
- Marxist discussion groups.
- Planning to join rowing at Queens’ this term.
- Mature student groups exist, especially for those living with children, which are normally coordinated by the Graduate Union.
- The Cambridge African Network.
Yukiko Kobayashi Lui
Being your authentic self in Cambridge can feel like a radical act, but you’ll emerge stronger and better because of it.
- Don’t feel pressured to go out or generally do things you don’t want to do! You will meet your best friends doing things that you actually like to do, not pretending to enjoy swaps or rowing.
- Go to as many freshers’ events as possible. This was a great way for me to meet likeminded people.
- Join FLY!
- Studying Law is definitely non-stop and extremely mentally taxing. Remember to take your time so that you can really understand the more complex concepts, take breaks, and know that it’s almost impossible to finish supervision reading lists.
- Go to lectures, if you can. I found my lecture notes were the most helpful when I came to revise for exams.
- There are lots of international students studying Law, so it’s a wonderful subject to meet people from different backgrounds.
- The Law course is quite sterile—you don’t often get to discuss how what you’re studying fits into our wider social, political, or economic contexts. This was something that disappointed me at first, but don’t forget that there is so much more to law than commercial law and magic circle firms. Also, if you’re interested in going into public-interest Law, you will most often be in a minority but don’t lose heart because there are still lots of us out there!
- Law students are some of the most career-oriented students at university, so don’t feel intimidated if everyone else seems to know what they’re doing. Worrying about careers in my second year meant I wasted a lot of valuable time where I could have been enjoying my degree, so try to avoid this!
- FLY meetings are wonderful spaces for solidarity and support.
- You will become unnecessarily and excessively territorial about your favourite desks in the library. Just roll with it—it’s totally normal here.
- The Caffe Nero near Market Square is a great place to work, if you need a change of scenery from your favourite desk at the library (see above).
- Get a loyalty card at the Law Faculty coffee shop (free coffees!).
- President of my college’s Law society
- Editor-in-Chief of the university Law society magazine
- Mooting and judging
- College JCR welfare committee
- Column on culture and politics for Varsity
- Policy paper with The Wilberforce Society
- Did some illustrations for the FLY zine!
Despite what you might have seen/been told, there is no one Cambridge experience you’ll have to assimilate into. If you look for your niche, you’ll find it.
- Always pre-drink with Sainsbury’s Chenin Blanc: it tastes like paint thinner but at £5 with 10.1 units of alcohol it’s the best deal you’ll get if you want to get drunk for cheap.
- Be aware that you’ll need to start planning for May Week as early as Lent Term.
- There will rarely come a point with Law where you’ll have done all the work you can possibly do in preparation for your supervision. Accept that as early as possible so that when you do go out with friends you don’t ruin your fun by feeling guilty.
- You should try to find at least one or two other lawyers in your year and form a mutual alliance for weeks when you just haven’t managed to get all the notes done, etc. Look outside of your college if need be.
- Lecture notes are often just as good as the textbook (usually because it’s your lecturer who wrote it). Save time and go to lectures.
- Read the model exam answers in Per Curiam and on Moodle. What you’ll notice is that the best essays are very assertively written and knowledge of law isn’t simply regurgitated. I personally wasn’t a fan of how aggressive answers needed to be, so decide for yourself what approach you want to take.
- College tutors can be a great help (mine was bae), but you should also know about the Students’ Unions’ Advice Service, which complements the tutorial system. Their Advice Officers can offer support on academic work, mental health, and all the general vicissitudes of life.
- For those still considering applying: if you don’t know which college to apply to, one of the things to consider is the quality of welfare provision that each college provides. The Students’ Union has produced a Welfare Grid that allows you to compare colleges alongside each other.
- The cheapest train tickets between London and Cambridge go to Liverpool Street station. Some returns come in at under £10 (with a rail card).
- International students:
- college storage is v. limited, so when the end of term comes around pack your stuff in there as early as possible before other people fill it up.
- UK immigration policy is constantly changing, which is annoying, but you can use the International Student Team to keep yourself up-to-date.
- be aware that English employers can be hesitant to hire non-EU graduates due to visa sponsorship etc., so if you want to work here after your degree you’ll need to do things to make you stand out from the get-go (Rare and SEO are v. helpful).
- CUSU Women’s Campaign
- CUSU BME Campaign
- Cambridge University Student Advocates International (CUSAI) – they run workshops for people interested in going into human rights advocacy.
- The Cambridge Student – columns editor, great fun.
- College JCR BME Rep.
- Cambridge University Television (CU-TV) – Treasurer.
- Trinity Hall Chapel Council – Junior Treasurer, college chapel services are brill, I got to be friends with the Dean.
- 2016-2017 CUSU Women’s Officer
WHAT AUDREY IS DOING NOW:
MPhil in Gender Studies!
Tamisha Tan Ming Hui
Cambridge is there to serve you – you know best what will make you happy, what your goals are, and what you want to get out of being here: no one else! So put yourself first and make the most of it, time will fly (lol) by! 🙂
- Imposter syndrome can be real socially as well as academically – a lot of the time when I was in a big group of people, I wasn’t sure if I was actually not fitting in well with the majority-white crowd, of if it was just all in my head. I kept second guessing my behaviour, questioning if I was too shy or just not funny or standoffish. What I’ve learnt is that it’s not just me! Tons of my international friends felt the same, and I learnt that I should listen to my own emotions (top self-care tip!) When I found people I was comfortable around, all those doubts went away. There’s so much pressure to ‘fit in’, but what’s most important is to just be you.
- Try new things – I’m still scared every time I start something new because I’ll be ‘bad’ at it, but I just tell myself that I’m not doing it to be the best! Went for one sesh of rugby and swing dancing and I didn’t continue but it was fun anyway. Gonna do roller derby next! (Added benefit of being a non-Uni club, so you meet people outside of the bubble.)
- Also: everyone at Cambridge is a massive nerd. There is no such thing as ‘cool’ – all the wavy English students are pretending otherwise.
- Linguistics has the benefit of having one of the most diverse curriculums by virtue of that fact that one of its fundamental tenets is that all languages are equal and worthy of study.
- That said, we do have a slight glut of people who work on Indo-European and specifically Romance languages, due to cross-over with the MML Department. So although there are tons of cross-linguistic examples in class, they mostly derive from French, German, Italian, and so on. But outside of that, there’s definitely scope to pursue whatever you’d like – past dissertations have been on Bantu, Kurdish, Arabic, Korean, etc. Furthermore, the nature of supervision essays is that you can use data from any language you want – in fact, the more diverse examples you have the more pleased your supervisor will be!
- Also, do not be intimidated by all the posh people who know Latin and Greek and spend every summer abroad in France and have perfect French accents because of it. Being good at Linguistics has absolutely nothing to do with how many languages you speak – some of the best Linguists are monolingual (cf. David Crystal!) In fact, having a STEM background can be insanely useful for when you need to critically analyse data and work things out logically. Linguistics is nothing like MML or English or Literature. No one will have done Linguistics before in school, so don’t be worried about asking questions or speaking up in class; the lectures are tiny enough that you can raise your hand at any time and it won’t be weird.
- Cambridge is surprisingly alright for Asian and other international food supermarkets (Mill Road) and restaurants (towards the station on St Andrew’s/Regent street + Mill Road)! The market also now has authentic Korean, Cantonese, Thai, and Malaysian food; some international and cultural societies offer discounts at these stores for card-carrying members.
- Literally 40%+ of my wardrobe is from charity stores – you can find some amazing things near the Grafton or on Mill Road. They’re also excellent for books (the Amnesty International bookstore!), records, and crockery!
- Polyglossia (MML Faculty Journal and Society 16/17)
- College JCR (Ethnic Minorities Officer 17/18)
- May Ball Committee (Publicity and Design 2016, Ticketing 2017) – This is such a good way to get the ‘May Week’ experience without spending a dime! You get to go to around 3-4 other balls on swaps for free, and make friends across years by being on the committee. In my year we even went to an Oxford Ball for like 30GBP (transport)
- Malaysia and Singapore Association
St. Catherine’s College
Community is extremely important. Good friends in your college are invaluable and, for me, church provided mentors, a home away from home, and an escape from the Cambridge bubble.
- Do try to make the most of the incredible events on at Cambridge. There are always great student plays on, fantastic talks and debates, musical performances etc. Cambridge is more than lectures and exams!
- Medicine can be really demanding and it is not unusual to feel out of your depth. Having friends a year or two years above you is a massive help! Chances are they have had the same supervisors as you, written the same essays and, of course, have sat the exams you will have to. Make the most of their experiences and then be that same resource to the freshers that come after you.
- There are many resources available to those who may be having a rough time. If you don’t find your tutor to be helpful, then try college welfare, the University Counselling Service, see your GP or simply ask your friends for help! I think one of the most dangerous things we can do is deny ourself the help that is available to us.
- If you are willing to cycle (10mins from city centre) Tesco on Newmarket Road has an ethnic food section where you can buy callaloo, ackee, noodles etc.
- College netball.
- College welfare team – BME Rep.
- African Caribbean Society (ACS) – President in my second year.
- Cambridge Inter-collegiate Christian Union (CICCU).
- Polygeia – a global health policy writing student organisation.
WHAT SAMARA IS DOING NOW:
Medicine – 2012-2015, now doing clinical Medicine at UCL (you’ll all have to stay at Cambridge for clinical school). I am also a contributor / writer at Black Ballad (blackballad.co.uk), editor at Polygeia (polygeia.com) and mental health editor at Dream Nation (dreamnation.co.uk).
Remember that your identity isn’t a novelty, it is what has got you here today and you’ll prosper.
- College butteries and bars are great social spaces, don’t eat alone in your room every night!
- Each college tends to have their own typical “nights”, e.g. in Clare we have Clare Ents on a Friday night, so Life on a Friday is the usual motive. Some people can handle going out 4 or 5 times a week, but some can’t, so do whatever you feel like doing, the most important thing is only do things because you enjoy them, otherwise you’ll end up feeling burnt out very quickly.
- One of the things I found hardest was going from a state school where grammar was not taught in technical detail, to a class of students who seem to have had a head start in this area. Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher if you’re struggling with some grammatical terminology, as the classes are very fast-paced and it’s so important to keep up. The MML department is generally great though, and supervisors are very understanding, approachable and willing to help.
- Finding friends on your course is important, as they’ll be back with you in your fourth year after the year abroad.
- The year abroad is honestly one of the best things about my degree, start thinking about what you might want to do early, as it will give you something to look forward to!
- Check your college and department for travel grants, I got £300 from Clare for a departmental trip to Florence – make the most of the time and money you have to travel, it’s the best part about MML!
- Before I got to Cambridge, I was prepared for the lack of cultural and social sensitivity I expected to find, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how much it would get to me. Coming from a single-parent, low-income household, I started to feel a bit isolated when I realised I was surrounded by people who went on three holidays a year, who had gone to top-ranked grammar and private schools, people whose parents had university degrees – some even from Oxbridge. Also, the amount of times I’ve been asked “No, where are you REALLY from?”, or had people surprised at the fact that I’m not getting an arranged marriage, is quite tiring, as well as people trying to explain their gap years in India and their love of bindis to me. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone – as long as YOU are proud of what you’ve achieved and where you’ve come from (as you should be) you can take all of these things with a pinch of salt, hold your head high and remember that your identity isn’t a novelty, it is what has got you here today and you’ll prosper despite these challenges.
- My contribution to this guide is based on my own personal experiences, you’ll have a different Cambridge experience to me and may not find some of the things I’ve said helpful. The main thing to know is that you’re never on your own, and that there’s always someone who feels the same way. My college nurse and my friends were paramount in helping me through the harder times, so always seek help and talk to people when you feel the need.
- ENTS officer for the UNICEF committee, which aims to promote and raise understanding/funding for UNICEF’s work around the world.
- On the Pink Week committee, which runs a fundraising week in February to raise awareness of breast cancer.
Cambridge is a place that can just as easily break you, as provide you with everything you need to thrive. Those two experiences are not mutually exclusive – channel the negativity or struggles you might face into affecting positive change. Sharing your experiences can also prove to be very powerful. ❤
- Don’t fret if Freshers’ Week is not all that you envisioned it to be. People enjoy this first week in Cambridge to varying extents. Some immediately find their flock. Don’t be dismayed if this is not you! You will continue to meet new people and make friends throughout your time in Cambridge.
- As an international student, I felt immense pressure to conform to the social norms and expectations of English drinking culture in order to fit in, especially since I came from a more conservative country. I spent a lot of my first year getting far more drunk than I would’ve liked and not particularly enjoying myself. I was a lot happier in my second year after I learnt how to say no, and spending evenings the way I wanted, even if it meant turning down invitations for nights out. Remember, you’ll be most content when you listen to your instincts and stay true to you!
- The PBS course structure doesn’t provide many opportunities for intermingling or forming relationships with psychology students at other colleges. You really need to put yourself out there and make conscious efforts to make friends from other colleges.
- University will be the first time in your academic life where so much of your educational approach and style is left open, vague, unprescribed. It’s completely natural to feel a little clueless, confused or overwhelmed at times.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or for additional guidance from supervisors. A good way to find out what examiners are looking for, is to try out different approaches with your supervision work – experimentation and intellectual creativities are what these weekly assignments are designed for! Especially with psychology, there is no one “right” approach, and the field is built around competing schools of thought. Have fun with that and argue a number of different perspectives.
- Be open-minded, allow yourself to try things you might not have imagined (or planned) doing; you’d be surprised about what you’re capable of doing!
- It’s very easy to fall into a mindset of constantly comparing yourself to others in terms of the number of hours of work you put in every day, how involved you are in college life, the number of extra-curriculars you have etc. it is important to keep in mind that nobody can have it all – a constructive approach is to figure out what matters to you most/makes you the most happy when you’re in Cambridge and to prioritise those engagements.
- Don’t let anyone make you feel frivolous for investing time and effort into your appearance. If slapping on that red lip or strutting about in that killer outfit fuels your confidence and makes you happy, then hey, you do you!
- Don’t hesitate to ask for provisions that you think will make adjusting to this new environment easier. ethnic food section where you can buy callaloo, ackee, noodles etc.
- I played football for my college’s women’s team in first year – something I had never in a million years fathomed myself doing! Turned out, I wasn’t all that terrible at it, and hey after 12 years of schooling, I finally have a sports medal 😉
- Trinity Hall Feminist Forum (FemFo)
- Trinity Hall JCR International Officer 2016-2017
- Trinity Hall JCR President 2017-1018: A great way to make BME, Women’s and International perspectives known. Also an opportunity to influence positive change in college.
- CUSU WomCam International Rep 2017-2018
- Blueprint Zine Non-Fiction Editor 2016-1017: Blueprint is a mental health magazine. We publish art, creative writing and articles online.
- Cambridge University Malaysia and Singapore Association (CUMSA) Diversity Initiative: Minority Ethnicities Rep
Firstly, huge congratulations on gaining and meeting your offer to Cambridge! This is no small feat and you should be immensely proud of yourself. Hopefully these insights gained during my first year in Cambridge are helpful to you but if you have any more specific questions feel free to add me on Facebook.
- Many people will try and tell you that coming to Cambridge equals the death of your social life but this is 100% NOT true. As well as going out around twice a week to one of the three clubs frequented by Cantabs –, Life (kuda), Cindies (Ballare) or Lola lo’s, I also enjoy many social events specific to Cambridge such as college formals or meals between two different societies known as swaps. Being heavily involved with the athletics club, much of my social life revolves around this as well as the African Caribbean society who hold great events such as Twerk workshops and cookouts.
- Having a healthy work life balance is definitely possible with a bit of planning and I found that I was more than able to flourish academically whilst really making the most of my first year. I would say the trick is to make sure you do some work every day- don’t leave essays to an all-nighter before the due day (trust me I learnt the hard way). If you make sure to do at least 2 hours a day you shouldn’t find yourself stressing out.
- I was given roughly one essay a week as well as having to work on my scriptural language – Biblical Hebrew. At first the weekly reading lists intimidated me until I realised that I needed to be selective in my reading and not attempt to finish every book on the list! Essay writing is a continual process of growth – it’s likely that your first essay will be absolutely terrible – I know mine was, but after the first three you will get the hang of it.
- I’ve always said Cambridge would be super boring if all I did was my degree so I make sure to get involved with extra curricular activities that I am passionate to really gain all I can from my university experience. I would say that you will only really have time to do one or two things really well in addition to your degree so take your time choosing an activity that really matters to you. If you’re like me you will sign up to about 100 different societies at freshers’ fair only to end up spending the rest of the year removing yourself from their mailing lists. Be selective with your time and make sure you have some down time to rest to- self love is extremely important!
- At the end of the day, your degree should be your priority but exploring extra curriculars is also important for your personal development and CV credentials!
- Michaelmas (1st) term will be challenging and exciting. I remember being really anxious about making friends at first but remember that everyone is in the same position. It will probably take you some time to really feel like you’ve found ‘your people’ and these may not even necessarily be the people from your own college. If I could speak to my fresher self I would tell her not to worry and enjoy the experience you will find people you get along with as long as you are yourself.
- Cambridge is a wonderful place filled with wonderful people and at times it can be daunting be surrounded by such intelligence but if ever you feel inadequate just remember that the people who decided to give you a place here are incredibly experienced and if they think you can handle it you certainly can!