By Zainab Haider – PBS Graduate

Cambridge had this way of making me feel like I was at constant extremes, sometimes so full of hope and belonging but at other times lonely and stretched beyond my limits. One minute you’re laughing till your stomach aches with friends at formal hall and the next you have 3 back to back deadlines and are lying in bed overwhelmed with homesickness. But then you’ll get some positive feedback on your supervision work or your friend brings you back that *amazing chocolate cake from co-op* and the cycle starts again. This back and forth of my own mental state was often the most exhausting part of my time here and I’d be lying if I said I’m not currently enjoying the stability and lightness graduate life brings.

Graduation has also brought along hindsight. When you’re stuck in this constantly perpetuating cycle of highs and lows, it’s difficult to see anything further than the right-now. Looking back, I realise how much support I had but just wasn’t aware of at the time. ISoc had a special role in providing that, acting as a constant presence throughout my 3 years.

In first year it was in the various events and opportunities to meet people. Before coming to Cambridge, my Muslimness was never something that made me, or others for that matter, stand out. Suddenly I found myself the only hijabi in the room. Suddenly I was starting conversations with people because they were Muslim. By bringing together the Cambridge Muslim community, ISoc is where I eventually found some of my closest friends. This support was crucial as I navigated Cambridge as a minority, from providing outlets to offload about the whiteness I dealt with that week, to making my first Ramadan away from home not as lonely as I thought it would be.

In second year, I had the opportunity to serve as one of the access officer’s for the society. Unbeknownst to me, it was one of the most fulfilling parts of my Cambridge experience. It not only allowed me to give back and support a new generation of future students but allowed for massive self-development. I watched myself grow through the role, from someone terrified of being seen, to finding ease in leading panels, speaking at conferences and even starring in videos on behalf of the University (a little self-plug). That opportunity also helped me come to terms with my own place here. It made me realise that I not only deserved to be here, but it was where I was meant to be.

Third year the support was more nuanced. It was the opportunity to just go to an event and see familiar faces, eat familiar food and hear familiar words (‘sorry guys we’re running a bit behind schedule’). Final year was tough, both academically and personally so I really appreciated the opportunity to learn more about my faith at the range of talks ISoc hosted last year. I also appreciated the random conversations with members about anything other than deadlines. Additionally, even though I didn’t think I would, I was able to make so many new friends in third year. It was honestly so refreshing after having spent the day in the library or the lab. So were the Cambridge highs worth all the lows? I’m still not too sure. But I know I’m endlessly grateful for having experienced it the way I did. I’m grateful for all that ISoc did for me over the 3 years and especially grateful for all the kind and uplifting words its members shared with me.

There are so many faces that I will miss seeing so regularly.

Along with all the opportunities and knockdowns Cambridge provided, it’s clear that it was the people along the way who moulded me into an individual that fresher-me would hardly recognise. The growth and development that comes alongside your time here is something you can’t even anticipate – it just happens so fast. So do make sure to take the time to stop and take it all in. That’s when you can really appreciate everything Cambridge has to offer.