“Embrace it” – Ciara Mayers (History 2019) has a simple message to anyone pondering whether the University of Cambridge and Gonville & Caius College is for them.
Ciara grew up in Sale, south of Manchester, and had the ‘Cambridge stereotype’ in mind, until she decided to apply, and see what might happen.
She says: “It’s so far away it almost feels like a different world. I just thought it was more of a southern thing and that people from the north went to universities like Leeds and Liverpool and Newcastle, which is where a lot of people I know went.
“It was almost unfair that I was led to think that Cambridge wasn’t for people like me, because I can see there’s so much potential and other people who would fit in, but they wouldn’t consider it unless they were pushed to apply.”
Ciara recently returned to her secondary school, Loreto Grammar School in Altrincham, to take part in a question-and-answer session with pupils in the lower sixth.
“They asked what one thing I wish I’d known when applying,” she says.
“And I said it was not to be nervous about feeling that I wouldn’t have any friends or fit in, because Cambridge is full of people who are likeminded and who I do get on with.
“I shouldn’t have doubted myself or let that trivial or silly reason be a reason why I was reluctant to apply.”
Ciara’s school history teacher asked her if she was considering applying to Cambridge or Oxford, but even a subsequent trip to a college (not Caius) did not convince her. It was only after attending the July 2018 University-wide open day that she saw the city and had friendly interactions.
“It was a much better experience. From there I started thinking I’d apply to Cambridge and just give it a shot,” she adds.
Uncertain which college to apply for, she received support from a friend’s older brother, who took her on a whistle-stop tour of the colleges and told her not to worry about the application statistics. The message was: you have got to be in it to win it. He also talked up his college – Caius.
Caius is known for communal dining, and Ciara can understand why some might hesitate when it comes to the traditions and idiosyncrasies of Cambridge colleges.
“The traditions were a bit of a culture shock at times, and I could understand that for someone who comes from more central Manchester they would definitely feel a slight sense of shock,” she adds.
“But it’s something only a very small number of people across the whole population will get to do, so if you’ve been chosen to do it you might as well experience it.
“Embrace it. It’s a great way to meet people and it’s really fun. Grace in Latin and wearing gowns is just a nice tradition to be part of; it's special. The point of eating together is to bring people together, to meet new people and talk about new things.”
Ciara has embraced being part of the community, as Gonville & Caius Student Union Women’s and Non-binary officer, co-captain of the Caius netball team, and taking part in the college music society. Becoming involved has helped her to make friends and feel part of the community.
She has also embraced supervisions, the small group teaching which makes Cambridge special.
She adds: “At first I found them intimidating and didn’t contribute as much as I should’ve. It took me a while but then I realised by saying something, even if it was wrong, I’d get more out of it.
“A lot of my supervisions were one on one, which was intense, but I learned so much in an hour.”