Weird and wonderful Cambridge traditions

There is something special about autumn, particularly if you live in Cambridge. It is the time of the year when students return from their long summer holidays or, if they are freshers, start a completely new life in Cambridge, like Nis and I did last year. I almost can’t believe that we have now lived one year in Cambridge. Time flies!

So with the beginning of a new academic year, typical Cambridge traditions come back to life again. Students wear their gowns for formal hall, fellows still walk on the grass in the College courts whereas students are compelled to stick to the paths, and the porters rebuke those who do not follow these rules.

formal hall Darwin
Formal Hall Darwin College

I would like to introduce you to three other Cambridge traditions I have come across during the last year. They mostly relate to the collegiate system that Cambridge is quite famous for. The Colleges in Cambridge are autonomous entities with own statutes and procedures. But if you want to study at the University of Cambridge you have to be a member of one of the 31 Colleges. The College provides accommodation, food, and welfare, students can sign up for various societies for sport, music and other leisure time activities, and socialise with other students in the common rooms and the bar. So most of the social life happens in the Colleges.

College families

It can be tough to move away from home for the first time and to settle into a new town or even a new country or continent where you do not have any family or friends. So to make the new start a bit easier, freshers are being assigned two College parents, who are in their second year and therefore more familiar with the whole Cambridge experience. These two parents can actually get “married” and call each other College husband and wife. They take care of their fresher children and give them advice on how to survive the first few weeks in Cambridge. It is like a mentoring programme, but a lot more informal. Nis is a College father this year and was therefore “married” to Schirin, his College wife. Together they are looking after ten College children.

College parents Nis and Schirin

I wish I would have had some sort of College parents when I was in my first year at uni. It would have made things so much easier, especially while settling in, getting used to a new environment and making new friends.


Another unique Cambridge tradition is the supervision system, which is regarded as one of the best teaching models in the world. A supervision is a small group teaching session for one to three people where undergraduate students revise the subject of lectures and classes together with a postgraduate student or a professor. Students have the opportunity to enhance their knowledge, to ask questions, and to get ready for their final exams in summer.


A bop is Cambridge slang for a College-run party. Usually a bop has a specific theme which is why people dress up according to this theme. The last theme of Gonville & Caius bop was “Under the sea” and some students put a lot of effort into creating their costumes:


If you are not familiar with the Cambridge jargon the first few weeks as a student can be quite confusing. But the longer you live here the more naturally you use these terms without even noticing how odd it might sound for someone “outside the bubble”. Peterhouse has a very helpful glossary of Cambridge jargon on their website, just in case you want to learn more about the weird and wonderful Cambridge terminology.

A lot of coffee was consumed whilst writing this blog post. You can support my work here:

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