This is a title almost too much of a cliché to actually write about in this day and age, isn’t it? Well, I wish. Unfortunately for now this sentence will have to be enough to stress that there is little value in explicitly discrediting other people’s self-identification by telling them they’re just confused. Even when the phrase "it's just a phase" isn't used, life naturally divides into phase: this can be confusing to navigate. Particularly, for undergraduates at Cambridge where life is so starkly split into three full-on nine-week phases of “here” with weeks of “there” in between. Coming to Cambridge is a new beginning in many ways – a new degree, new people, new hobbies, and, in a way, a new identity that you can build for yourself in this new setting that can feel very liberating.
However, Cambridge really is just a phase. Nine weeks of “here”, and now we’re approaching the next few weeks when many will go back “there”, to the places many of us call home. For me, that means going back to my friends and family and moving back into the room where I spent all my childhood before leaving for university. Sheltered and privileged in many ways, but always feeling like there was something I couldn’t quite force into that life without shocking the system (in case you hadn’t guessed from its title, this piece hinges on being queer, obviously).
That was one phase, this is another, except neither of them ever really stops for the other to continue. Going back to friends and family also means going back to the ideas they have of who I am and what my life is like. It also means entering the lives they have been living for the nine weeks that I’ve been away. A phase? Not really, because it keeps going.
Moving between home and Cambridge is a uniquely strange experience because much more than geography separates the two places. I feel as if I have to pick up the strands of the idea of me I left behind. Things that form Cambridge life feel wrong at home.
Geeky conversations about the symbolic meaning of Rome and its “eternity” around the dinner table? Come on. Pointing out to people how their assumptions are all too often mired in patriarchal, heterosexist, racialised (etc.) assumptions? Sensible in principle, but often doesn’t go down well. Even just reading a book? Out of place.
So in a way, being here is “just a phase”, a respite from assumptions made and expectations upheld. Except what happens here, the new self that we can try and build for ourselves, comes with us when we leave. Cambridge is a place of growth and change. For some people that means finding new hobbies. Some realise that the course or university they chose is not actually for them and change or drop out. Others come out; for the first time or in a new way on their own terms: this is all part of the process. All of this forms who we are, not just here in this “phase”. We can move somewhere else and act differently, side-line some parts to make navigating our life outside Cambridge more easy, but nonetheless, it stays with us.