By Jacob Berger
Term might be almost upon us, so talking happiness may seem like a farce. Students old and new awake daily to the daunting task of the ‘new normal’ and Michaelmas term; what seems like a slow descent into oblivion. Nonetheless, we are students of this generation, so let’s find a degree of happiness and mental well-being, one small step at a time.
Speaking to loved ones on your way here, all they will want is for you to be happy. With university life being the first time many of us have lived for prolonged periods away from home this seems unnerving, nevertheless, it’s important to explore the features that bring about enjoyment. In my attempt to not come across as cliché, here are 5 core principles that us Cambridge students can pursue; regardless of our circumstances.
1) Explore the beautiful city and surrounding landscape.
As Cambridge students we are so fortunate to be in a city with such immense historical narratives and gorgeous scenery in every direction. There is no place better to experience the natural (or artificially created) beauty of the city than in the Botanical Gardens (image courtesy of Karris). Granted it is a long walk from some colleges (I am looking at you, Robinson), but I can assure you it is as wholesome a venue for an afternoon excursion as any you will experience. Further, given as the gardens are free for Cambridge students, you have little excuse not to venture there and see horny squirrels, and yes, I mean horny squirrels. They were rampant on my last visitation. The Gardens are just one example of a multitude of locations all unique in their own regard and awaiting discovery by you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
2) Let’s talk food!!!
There is one thing that has been dominating discussion in my social group, and that is ‘Where to eat next?’. Unfortunately, only in second year have I allowed myself to indulge into my desires. Trust me when I say that it was a year wasted. Granted, college brunch is divinity on a plate after a long week in the department, but don’t restrict yourself. Be that in the market, a restaurant or an ice cream parlour (my personal favourite being Jacks Gelato), Cambridge provides a diverse choice of cuisine experiences. This is forgetting the plethora of choices your own college will provide. Being at Jesus, our Head Chef (Tom) is a force in the kitchen and has already concocted some fun dishes. Your college will do the same if you reach out and are willing to accommodate your culinary favourites. Food is integral to our lives so why not indulge yourselves (within regulation). This is the time to broaden your culinary horizons. The philosophy of ‘Food, Food, Food’ will stead you well in the weeks to come, especially with the luxury of student discounts.
I can hear my school PE teacher in this sentence, but exercise is of paramount importance, and I don’t just mean walking up the 5 flights of stairs to your accommodation on a daily basis. These winter months are going to be difficult for us as a Cambridge community but through exercise we can ensure we are carried through with an aura of positivity. Why not partner your run with a planned route out of Cambridge (I would highly recommend Grantchester) or through Midsummer Common into the great unknown! Whichever direction you go there will be a unique experience and period in which you can reflect on the wonders that you have in life, or even smash that personal best on at times a disorientating, flat landscape, (as someone from Bath, I find it bizarre). Running is not the only form of exercise available to you. Rowing as much as I like to pretend it doesn’t exist is the sport of choice for us students. Some would even go as far to say you haven’t done Cambridge if you haven’t attempted rowing. Each college has its own team; a well-funded and inclusive society. The environment although can dominate your time here does provide the most enjoyable, yet painful moments of bonding. If rowing and running isn’t your thing well, you’re in luck, we have sports on offer here you wouldn’t have heard of, but I can guarantee will become a crux in your life. Regardless of the sport you decide to partake in, all forms of exercise will provide that inch of relaxation and degree of freedom that we all are in need of.
The first few days and weeks will be very hectic. You will no doubt feel out of your depth in this environment. Don’t worry, feel secure in the knowledge that it is natural and easily resolved. Even with the hectic schedule that an institution of ours imposes upon us at times, developing a routine will counteract any troubles. In terms of a routine I like to conceptualise it as a ‘circle of contentment’. In the first few days, informed from my home routine I will identify the aspects of my life integral to my happiness and well-being. Once this is achieved, I can then begin to develop a Cambridge routine that works for me and works for my priorities. For example, let’s take running, eating well and learning as my core values for this term. It can be as many as you desire, but I’m being conservative. I know that when I accomplish these tasks or aspects related to them, I am ‘content’ with life. This is your bubble. It provides the cotton wool of life; a place where you feel secure and happy. Now you can take a step outside your bubble to explore new experiences: meeting new people or going to a society event. Whilst you are enjoying these potentially unnerving periods you have one foot in your bubble. As long as you are aware of the core aspects that make you the best version of you and prioritise these aspects, the bubble will form a protective layer against unexpected damage and stresses that the world provides. By forming a routine that works for you I can assure you it will be a glorious year into which you will be able to develop into becoming the greatest version of you.
5) Socialise in-person and reach out to people
The preceding months for many of us will have been dominated by virtual interactions; be that quizzes or meeting fellow freshers. A personal favourite of Northcourt S is ‘Among Us’, a game that we are adamant has expanded our lateral thinking. Although virtual actions are pivotal to our social and mental wellbeing, it cannot and should not replace ‘face to face’ interaction (COVID guideline approved). Granted we are in a climate where restrictions are being loaded and unloaded onto us on a daily basis, if restrictions provide provisions just do it. Socialise!! Being around people and talking to them provides us with a unique aura; a feeling likable to invincibility. In the first few weeks we are all going to struggle to socialise as before and it will be challenging, but I have no doubt if you seek social interaction people would love to chat to you. We are all in the same boat after all. Reach out, go for a stroll with a fellow staircase inhabitant. If you find you are struggling, talk to the college staff, they are the most important people at the university. Without them we would be floundering, they all have such wonderful personalities and unique stories to tell. Not only have they observed it all before, they know the ins and outs of this place better than any student and can be a great form of social interaction, even just in passing. You do not need to become the Cambridge socialite, just be you, engage and if you see someone who is alone or been in their room for a few days, go and talk to them. I can guarantee that they have a fascinating story to tell. Even if they are shy at first.
Most importantly of all, seek to enjoy every moment you have at Cambridge. The university community will always look out for you and seek to help if you need. You are deserving of every moment of the time to come in the years that you are here. Forming memories to last a lifetime is what this place is best at, along with ensuring you become the greatest version of you. I look forward to bumping into you throughout the term, and always willing to have a chat.