The Journal

Inside the Cambridge Bubble

When you say ‘Cambridge’, you may feel tempted to follow it with ‘University’. We wouldn’t blame you - every term, around 25,000 students come back to this historic city, making up the ‘Cambridge B...

By Liv Bonsall

Posted on 07 Oct 2022 10:40

Inside the Cambridge Bubble - The Cambridge Satchel Company EU Store

When you say ‘Cambridge’, you may feel tempted to follow it with ‘University’. We wouldn’t blame you - every term, around 25,000 students come back to this historic city, making up the ‘Cambridge Bubble’. Known for its famous scholars, its relentless workload and its sheer beauty, the university and its students have earned reputations - some good, some bad - since the university’s beginnings in 1209.

King's Parade, where King's College is situated.

Well, we’re here to delve into the Cambridge Bubble, the term referring to everything about student life in Cambridge. As each term totals 8 weeks in length, every minute in Cambridge is precious, and life is intense. So much so that it’s like entering a different world; when you leave, it’s like culture shock! Let’s explore some Cambridge University oddities, understand the slang and debunk some myths, with the hindsight of a Cambridge graduate.

Firstly, before understanding Cambridge students, you must understand the collegiate system. When someone applies to Cambridge, they do not apply to the university itself. They apply to one of its 31 colleges, the most famous of which is King’s. Students sleep, eat, and socialise within their college, but their study can take place in multiple areas in the city. The college is also a support system; it’s like living in halls, but with a little extra welfare and academic guidance. Often, the college provides meals and cleaning services.

Gonville and Caius College.

The colleges are one of many things that cause many to see Cambridge as a spellbinding Harry Potter-esque world, full of candlelit dinners, gowns, wise professors and potion-making. Bar the last one, this is all true to an extent. There is even allegedly a secret society named The Apostles, compiled of 12 of the most brilliant minds in the country, sworn to secret in their membership! But while there are times when you’re cycling past King’s College on cobblestones to your next lecture and thinking ‘How on earth did I make it here?’, there are other times which are much less romanticised. When you’re competing with your peers - some of the smartest students in the country - the work is tough and plentiful. While the academic challenge is engaging for most students, that ‘eureka’ moment being oh-so-satisyfing, they also claim that they have never felt so exhausted than at the end of a term!

Students are there for work, and work they do, but a misconception of the Cambridge experience is that students do absolutely nothing else. For most, there is time for at least one extra-curricular, plus socialising. Whether rowing, music, acting, debating, or tiddlywinks society (yes, it exists, and they compete nationally), students have many talents, and some even end up using them in their future careers.

Studying hard at Fitzwilliam College.

Other much stranger and less career-oriented activities include annual events such as the Cardboard Boat Race, where teams of students create a boat made entirely out of cardboard, and race others down the river Cam. This is one of many events that form part of the Cambridge calendar. Most opt for Christmas Formals and May Balls (annual balls that actually take place in June - don’t ask) over sinking in the Cam!

It’s these experiences that truly make Cambridge really worthwhile. From formal dinners with some of the world’s most renowned academics, to punting along the River Cam as a memorable birthday treat, from watching the fireworks on Midsummer Common from a college boathouse with a mince pie in hand, to watching the snow fall over the mathematical bridge, from matriculating with strangers to graduating with friends for life. Knowing you can always come back and find a place you called - or still call - home, is so comforting to so many Cambridge students.

Snow falling over the Mathematical Bridge, Queens' College.

Before I finish this article, one more thing must be addressed. Now that I’m beyond the bubble, I can see just how ridiculous and alienating Cambridge University slang can be. We learn it so quickly in our very first week in Cambridge, to the point where it has become completely natural when we use it around our confused parents when returning home. So, here is a guide to students’ most common slang terms.

Our favourite part of Cambridge... not biased at all!


Cambridge Christmas, which, due to term ending at the end of November, takes place on 25 November. Picture Christmas dinners, festive events, presents, and mince pies with friends all in the month of November - only to start again in December with family.


The name given to a college canteen. Meals are usually provided twice a day (lunch and dinner) as well as brunch on weekends.

College Family

Quite an odd concept that is specific to Oxford and Cambridge. All students belong to a ‘college family’ which are there as a support network during their time at university. When joining, you are introduced to two ‘college parents’, one of which usually studies your subject. You will also usually have a college sibling in your year. In your first year, you may choose to ‘marry’ another student in your year, and you can choose to be assigned ‘children’ in your 2nd or 3rd year. Some students are able to trace their family trees back for years and years!


Short for ‘Director of Studies’, pronounced ‘doss’. Everyone has a DoS, who observes your study and makes sure you’re on track academically.


The main Sainsbury’s in the city - source of weekly shops and last-minute nourishment, and a great place to bump into friends.


Short for pigeon-hole. Every student has one of these; they are where their mail gets delivered, and friends can also choose to surprise them with little notes or treats.


Short for Porter’s Lodge. They usually sit at the front of the college and act as a sort of information desk/security. Visitors will head there when entering the college, and students will collect room keys and parcels from there. It is also where students sign in and out at the end of a term.


Porters man the Plodge. They have a series of administrative and security roles within college. When you lock yourself out of your room, you also have to shamefully visit the Porter for a temporary key…


Short for ‘supervision’. Supervisions are one of Cambridge’s best academic assets. A few times a week, students will meet with a supervisor (an academic in their field), usually with one other student, and discuss an essay or a problem question. The one-on-one or one-on-two sessions allow for interesting intellectual arguments to emerge and strengthen the student’s reasoning.

By Liv Bonsall

Posted on 07 Oct 2022 10:40

Made in England

Sustainably Sourced. Exquisitely Crafted. Redefine Your Style Responsibly with Premium Leather Satchels.

Repairs Service

Sustainably Sourced. Exquisitely Crafted. Redefine Your Style Responsibly with Premium Leather Satchels.

Sustainably sourced leather

Sustainably Sourced. Exquisitely Crafted. Redefine Your Style Responsibly with Premium Leather Satchels.