This is the time of year when anxious students-to-be – and their parents – are contemplating their future. Having established that they have got into University X once A level results are known, they have to work out what the shape of their future life will be. Where will they live? What will their accommodation be like? What will be provided by the institution/landlord and what must they rush out and buy? Maybe it’s mugs, cutlery, duvet, towels and a new laptop, but it may also require some furniture purchases too. Until you know where you’re living these questions can’t begin to be answered.
Other sources of anxiety will be focussed on finding the way around a new campus or town; establishing the precise set of lecture courses that need to be attended, or which the student wishes to select out of a smörgåsbord of choices available; and dealing with the harsh realities of living away from home, such as doing one’s own laundry. But, for many students, there is the additional fear of the unknown when it comes to people. The need to establish a friendship group is often paramount in terms of a support system and contributing to well-being, but fear of failing to do so, or of not ‘fitting in’ may feature high up the list of anxieties at this time. I well remember, as a fresher, feeling that sense that all around me there were these fascinating people but I had no idea how to find the ones with whom I could have a wonderful interaction in the months ahead, and not just get lumbered with bores.
Many of the fears mentioned in the last paragraph – though not the ones about lectures or laundry – feel very close to home for me right now. As I move into my new role as Master of Churchill College (formally I start next month), I am facing similar challenges of a new home, a new dramatis personae list of characters in my life who are going to feature significantly, I hope for a good long while. Additionally, since there is a large fellowship and staff I face the challenge of rapidly needing to remember names and faces. I must master, as it were, the routes around the college and know which room is which. I have been working hard reading biographies of Churchill himself so the names Jock Colville, Cockcroft and Tizard are familiar to me as well as the roles they played in his life, but it doesn’t mean I know where the rooms associated with the names are located.
However, in the immediate short term, my preoccupation is working out where I’ve put things in the Lodge. It is a gorgeous house, refurbished for us by the college and newly released by the contractors so still with a few minor tweaks needed (no blind in one of the bathrooms, for instance, and my keys seem annoyingly temperamental probably because they are new). My study has a wonderful view over the greenery of the Fellows garden and if I peek across the corridor there is what we are terming the ‘bamboo garden’, though sadly lacking a panda. Unlike most students’ accommodation, the Lodge is extensive in size, but equally I have had a lifetime to accumulate stuff that I have to fit in. We are adopting the motto you cannot possibly have enough bookshelves and, with many books still to move across from our old home, we are doing a fine job of filling those provided for us.
New term, new life: for students and for me. The anxieties may have similarities, but one thing that undoubtedly gets easier with age/time is having confidence that you’ve survived difficult situations before and the likelihood is that you’ll survive them again. Not for me the angst that I will use the wrong implements at some fancy meal because, even if in a temporary lapse of concentration (or due to a poor upbringing) I do, I’ll just laugh it off. Ditto (she says hopefully) if I pour a glass of red wine down my white shirt or commit some other social faux pas. My poor memory for names and faces worries me more. I have already introduced myself to at least two people who have pointed out that we’ve met previously during the last week, and that’s before I’ve got to grips with more than a handful of the people who work and live in the college. However understandable my mistakes may be – after all they only have to remember me and my husband, whereas I have well over a hundred, perhaps nearer two hundred, unfamiliar people to get to grips with without even starting on the student population – I still feel it is a sad failing of mine.
Once term starts I am very much looking forward to meeting all the students, undergraduate and postgraduate. It will be the former whom I expect will be the ones who come up to Cambridge full of life, expectation, hopes and fears. It isn’t so hard to remember the excitement I felt when I first arrived at Girton College an unbelievable number of years ago; the feeling that wonderful things might be just around the corner and you never knew when you were going to make a friend for life. And that feeling that you were entering the world of grown-ups and your education was going to make you wise.
Not all of these hopes were of course realised, and wisdom is perhaps relative, but Cambridge has remained close to my heart ever since. To what extent I can keep up with this blog it’s too early to say. I do know that I am greatly looking forward to my new adventure