A Cambridge bubble in summer and the healing power of a long journey

Alicia Lethbridge

A lot is said about the existence of the Cambridge bubble. It is discussed in welfare meetings, student articles and daily chats with friends. This ‘bubble’ is what makes us think that our incomplete essay is a life or death situation, that five hours sleep is utterly normal.

It is often assumed that the simple act of leaving Cambridge can burst this bubble, however I think this is a myth. I spent the first half of my summer still caught up in it, finding stress in everyday activities and inventing impending deadlines for needless tasks. In the first week of the summer I took a trip to Spain with some friends. Surely four days on a sunny European beach would firmly boot my brain out of Cambridge mode. Or so I thought. Instead I sat there, sandy and sunburnt, while visions of missed internships and empty CVs flashed past my brain. The occasionally competitive and always fast-paced nature of the last eight weeks had taken a hold of me and would not let go. This pointlessly stressed out mindset permeated into conversations with close friends over supposedly relaxed lunches. How I ever managed to jump from noting the lack of vegetarian options at a restaurant to discussing my lack of work experience is beyond me.

It took a long car journey from London to rural France to finally haul me out of this funk. As the jumbled sound of my dad’s voice and Elton John’s Tiny Dancer lulled me in and out of consciousness, I leant against the car window, letting each of my thoughts float away with the landscape that whizzed past. The constant churning of information and worries in my head calmed, as I watched the trees and bushes converge into a long green blur. As far back as I can remember these yearly journeys have been soothing experiences for me. I can’t count the number of hours I must have spent with my cheek pressed up against a car window, leaving a small round smudge when I peeled myself away. Perhaps the knowledge that I was heading towards the place I had spent countless happy summers in, or the new focus on the simple task of moving furniture also helped me shed the last of my Cambridge mindset. Either way, when I stepped out of the car onto the gravel road, wet from a storm that had followed us throughout our journey, I finally felt relaxed.

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It took me a long time to figure out that my earlier stress was simply a remnant of my attitude over the last term, and that I hadn’t simply undergone an immense personality change from a chilled-out person to a picky panicky mess. While the attitude I adopted during my time in Cambridge may have helped me complete essays and survive the hectic nature of term, it was simply impossible to live with it all year round. Packing the Cambridge bubble in my suitcase for the summer had led me to pointless arguments with parents and friends and the inability to truly recover from a busy year.

This year the bubble will remain firmly in Cambridge. In fact, I also intend to pack it away during term time and escape it even when I am still physically here. My tiring work-obsessed mindset will now only be called upon occasionally, when I need some adrenaline to propel me through an essay crisis or an extremely busy day. Although I do not have any 8-hour car journeys planned soon, I will try my best to get back to that soothing mindless feeling. Maybe by watching someone mow perfect lines into the college lawn from my bedroom window, or by focusing on the sound the rain makes hitting my concrete balcony outside. For me at least, escaping the Cambridge bubble means much more than just escaping Cambridge.

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