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The Unique Traditions, Language, and Quirks of Cambridge University

Life at Cambridge

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Cambridge can be a place full of mystery at first. What is matriculation? Why do its students wear gowns when they eat dinner? Why do Cambridge students talk about ‘stash’, the ‘plodge’ and their ‘pidge’? Learning about Cambridge’s unique traditions and student slang can really help a future student gain insight into how university life really works at Cambridge. Although it is hard to cover all of Cambridge’s traditions in one article, as there are so many, this article will answer some of your questions about Cambridge’s most important, and sometimes most obscure, traditions, giving you a glimpse into the weird and wonderful experience of studying there.

WHAT IS MATRICULATION?
Matriculation is the opposite of graduation. You have a graduation ceremony when you finish your degree and finally leave the university, but you also have a matriculation ceremony when you join the university, within your first few days. This usually involves reading some sort of Latin prayer or pledge of allegiance to your college, as well as a matriculation photo with all the students in your year at your college (and a dinner afterwards of course!) This day takes place during freshers’ week, but is held on a different day of the week depending on your college. It is usually your first chance to dress up in formal attire and your gown, and to attend a formal dinner! This is one of Cambridge’s unique quirks, but is a lovely celebration to mark the beginning of your Cambridge career.

WHAT IS A FORMAL DINNER?
A Formal dinner is one of the most unique and enjoyable experiences Cambridge has to offer. These are the three, or four-course dinners where students dress up in black tie and their gown, and enjoy a meal in their college’s dining hall. The offering varies between colleges – some colleges have formal dinners everyday, whilst other colleges, such as King’s College, only serves formal dinner every fortnight (making tickets very difficult to come by!) The best thing about these dinners is that you are given the opportunity to enjoy the delicious food and beautiful surroundings on a student budget – formal dinners cost between around £10-15, which is great value for the amazing experience overall. You can even bring your own wine with you! Formal dinners have given me some of my best Cambridge memories, and any future student should look forward to these.

WHAT IS CAMBRIDGE SLANG LIKE?
There is no shortage of Cambridge slang – everything from the canteen to parties have a special name. You pick up these unique words quite quickly once you start studying there, but it can be useful to know a few of these in advance. ‘Plodge’ and ‘pidge’ refer to the Porter’s Lodge and your pigeon hole respectively. The Porter’s Lodge is where you collect your mail and parcels, receive and return your room keys and generally the first port-of-call when you need help with anything. Each student has their own pigeon hole, a small box where your mail is held, which you can collect at any time.‘Stash’ is a key part of college life – this refers to clothing and accessories branded with either your college crest and name, or a sports team or Cambridge society. Cambridge students love to collect this stash, showing their loyalty to a certain college or their ability in football, rugby, ice-hockey or any of their interests!Finally, one thing to note – the slang at Cambridge can vary widely between colleges. Whilst most colleges refer to their non-formal dinners as ‘hall food’, Downing College calls this ‘slops’. I don’t think there is any historical reason for this, but it is just another quirk of the college experience.

Whilst life at Cambridge can seem confusing, and possibly a little daunting from the outside, I hope that understanding these unique traditions will help you gain more insight into what being a Cambridge student is really like. Although the traditions can be quirky and a little strange, they are open to absolutely everyone and something that all Cambridge students embrace. The unique nature of Cambridge is a real source of bonding for its students, as freshers puzzle through its slang together and make friends at their first formal dinners. Cambridge traditions are not something to be confused by, or scared of – they are what makes studying at Cambridge such an amazing experience, and something to get excited for if you are a prospective student!
Author
About Anna Gelband
Anna is in her third year at Downing College, Cambridge where she is reading English Literature. She has been specializing in American Literature and Renaissance Literature in the final year of her degree, and wrote her dissertation on modern poetry and visual art. She is also on the committee for the Humanities society at Downing College, and is passionate about getting more people involved in the arts. From next year, Anna will be completing a law conversion course, before beginning a career as a solicitor. In her free time, Anna loves netball, music and going on long walks to discover new parts of Cambridge.

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