Today, Nancy Tupling, one of The Oxbridge Launchpad’s Content Team, hears from Priyanka, a first year HSPS student at Cambridge University, to discuss Pri’s experiences of Oxbridge so far.
Hi I’m Priyanka (she/they). I’m a HSPS student at Queens College. I identify as queer and BME (Indian). I enjoy creating art through poetry and creative writing and I’m also involved in some NGOs.
1. How did your experiences shape your application to Cambridge?
Being from the U.S was definitely a difficult experience in that there was a clear lack of support which I imagine is similar to UK state schools. I was coming from a liberal arts school so I didn’t know many people applying to the same types of Unis I was applying to and I also didn’t know many people wanting to apply through the international system to the UK. I found myself in a quasi-nebulous world because I’m from the U.S but I was born in the UK, so I’ve always known I wanted to study in the UK. I didn’t really have any affirmative ties in the UK so I definitely felt like a voyager in a sense, it was scary. The actual application process to Cambridge was difficult too. There was a massive lack of guidance in each step of the process and I was left to figure out the admissions test (AHAA) myself. I felt very out of the loop in the application process as Cambridge did not offer much guidance or support along the way, making me feel more removed from the process. I really felt like I wasn’t going to get in and that I was wasting my time. Being an international applicant was definitely a challenge and I think the lack of support is a common theme between international students and domestic state school students.
In terms of being an Indian woman, I didn’t really find any of that identity stuff impeding my process to apply but it has definitely been a big factor in my university experience so far.
2. How has life been at university? Is it what you expected?
I think COVID has had a massive impact on my university life which has meant maybe not all my expectations were met. In a normal year there would be a lot more international students and people of different backgrounds at college. But at Queens, especially my year, it was overwhelmingly white, which was jolting. I didn’t really expect it. I had the perception that Cambridge was going to be a lot more diverse than the choices in the US and I was really excited about stuff like the drag society and the Hindu society. I was expecting a really diverse, interesting group of kids like me which I didn’t find a lot of. If COVID wasn’t around I feel as though I’d definitely have found those groups in students from other colleges and other subjects- I felt restricted to a limited number of people in my college which was difficult. I joined the LGBTQ mentorship program and met an amazing guy (Robbie) through that who organises lots of the Drag related stuff and is the LGBTQ officer at the Queens JCR. He helped me a lot in that he told me there was a large gay community at Cambridge and it would be a thing again after COVID.
Chance meetings are impossible with COVID which really sucks because I think I’d have made most of my friends through events, art shows, nights out etc. In spaces like Cambridge I don’t think I’m the typical mould of an expected Cambridge student. I thought that was a cliche- and it is to an extent. But I didn’t meet a lot of the people that I thought I would. I know they’re out there but a COVID first term didn’t give me a chance to meet them.
I love my subject HSPS, and even in conversations I’ve had with white people about race through HSPS, they’re incredibly educated and are in-tune with subversive discourse about race and identity and culture. But I’d love to be having those conversations with more brown people.
3. What would you say to someone like yourself applying for entry this year?
I would say, if you’re applying because you are curious about learning and love learning then you will definitely get all of that from Cambridge. I feel like I’ve learnt so much in the past few months that my brain is about to explode. It’s so exciting because I love learning. You need to make sure you enjoy reading and enjoy (or at least able to write) essays because there is A LOT. It’s a lot of hard work.
For minority groups, it’s super important to have a community and you will find people that you click with. There are groups for LGBTQ+ people, ehtnic minority groups. From what I know from word of mouth about normal Cambridge years, it’s a contemporary place with a fun, open-minded student body. Those people that are like you and want to have conversations with you do exist in Cambridge.
What’s amazing about Cambridge is that you meet so many people from different backgrounds and with different life experiences. You make so many unlikely companions and it challenges you which is cool. It’s important for us, as minorities, to have safe spaces if we need them, but intermingling at Cambridge is so valuable. You can teach others and learn them. You can’t be all high and mighty about your beliefs studying HSPS and so Cambridge as an environment in itself gives you an opportunity to challenge yourself.