Today, Nancy Tupling, one of The Oxbridge Launchpad’s Content Team, hears from Nourhan, a first year HSPS student at Cambridge University, to discuss Nourhan’s experiences of Oxbridge so far.
Hey! I’m Nourhan(she/her) and I’m a first year HSPS student in Murray Edwards. I’m North African, Muslim and working class! I was recently elected Class ACT officer in my JCR, yay.
1. How did your experiences shape your application to Cambridge?
I was initially (understandably!) hesitant to apply and ultimately study in what is unarguably a white, middle-class space. My application journey was quite difficult, and I definitely faced more obstacles than some of my peers. Some teachers were amazing and incredibly supportive, but this wasn’t a consistent experience for me. In terms of the actual application itself I found that it was very much guided by my background, I spoke largely about the colonial presence in Algeria in my personal statement and my interview experience was much more comfortable when I could talk about my identities.
2. How has life been at university? Is it what you expected?
Cambridge has been a pleasant surprise. I didn’t think I would make so many friends that really felt like home. I think without them my experience would not have been the same. Whilst Cambridge makes claims to have progressed and be more inclusive, the reality is far different. I think the Cambridge experience can be somewhat inaccessible to people of low-income background and the institution has a long way to go in addressing the fact that navigating a space like Cambridge is a lot harder when you come from difficult financial circumstances. For example, it can be quite difficult to ask for and receive financial help (which varies across colleges). The university isn’t always fully equipped for people who don’t match the backgrounds of their traditional target market. Aside from this, HSPS has been incredible and I didn’t think I would be able to access the works of so many women of colour and even Muslim women in my course although the curriculum is yet to be decolonised! So, in that respect Cambridge has exceeded my expectations.
3. What would you say to someone like yourself applying for entry this year?
Be ready for the workload, they weren’t lying about it!! Just know wherever you’re from and whoever you are there will be a community in Cambridge for you. It’s also fine to have difficulties adapting and experience imposter syndrome, over time you’ll work through this. When you do work through it you’ll realise you made the right decision and YOU WILL FLOURISH. When you do arrive, get involved with as much as you can and talk to as many people. Also, make the most of all the university’s money, apply for every bursary you qualify for and don’t be afraid to ask for financial help when you need it. Speak to the older years because they will have a lot of advice and experience to offer and it will save your life and make Cambridge a far more enjoyable experience. Regardless of how difficult you find the work and how much you think you don’t belong in Cambridge you have to understand that you are there for a reason and you have earned your place!
Most importantly, ask for help and especially mental health support when you need it, please put yourself before everything you are more important than your deadlines and know when to stop and take a break.