Cambridge

a(n) (unfair) comparison between Cambridge and Berlin (part 1)

Despite being  unqualified to comment on differences between Berlin and Cambridge, since I’ve only been here for a month, I figure that’s more than a lot of people, so I’m going to go ahead and do it. Also, it may seem unfair comparing a small university town in England to the capital of Germany- but there you go, those are already the first differences.

I was asked yesterday what my favorite part about Cambridge is and after thinking about it for a second answered: how close everything is.

Now, don’t get me wrong- the public transportation in Berlin is amazing and for every point of departure and destination, there are at least 3 options leaving within 5 minutes or so. However, the city is quite large and the commute times can be a bit rough. My brother had an hour long commute for a year and mine to the university are always at least 35 minutes (if the connections are all perfect). In comparison, almost everything within Cambridge is within 1.5 miles and a 10-minute bike ride. I go home a lot more in-between classes, library work, and evening work or activities, which is a nice lifestyle change.

Another thing I really like about Cambridge is how everything feels like it’s designed to take care of as much of the extras of adulting as possible. People who live on campus in the US know this feeling of having meals and some housekeeping taken care of, but in Berlin, this is not a thing. I can have amazing meals in the Mensa (cafeteria) during the day, but on days I don’t go to the office or classes, I’m on my own. Even though I like preparing my own meals, if I didn’t I would still be much better taken care of in Cambridge.

That being said, the prices here take some getting used to. Maybe it’s the conversion that’s just making me anxious,  but after coming from Berlin, I feel like I’m spending twice as much a week on groceries. Thank goodness for Aldi, because that at least balances out 12 pounds spent on the cheapest entree and a beer at any pub around.

At the same time, in Cambridge’s favor (and being a student here), I do appreciate the housekeeping. Initially I thought it would be weird to have someone come in my room once a week to clean- I mean, my mother taught me better! I can do it myself! But now I do appreciate it. I don’t have to think about it and can focus on work- which is the idea, of course. I also am grateful that the communal kitchens are cleaned, because from experience I know that the chore charts only work as long as EVERYONE follows it.

Alright, that last one wasn’t Cambridge proper, mostly just dorm life, but since the life here seems to revolve around students (and tourism), it’s not a far stretch. That’s something I miss about Berlin- the diversity of people and diversity of the things people do. It’s the center of political and cultural life in Germany, and since those are two of my priorities, I feel quite comfortable and always engage in a lot of intellectual conversation there. Here in Cambridge, a lot of people do things other than studenting- there are tons of music and sports groups- but it feels like everyone has to do everything so well and people take themselves too seriously. They tell themselves they don’t take it so seriously, and try to be tongue-in-cheek about it all, but then they do seem ind of disappointed if you didn’t take it seriously. Furthermore, Cambridge gets a lot of credit for being an intellectual hub, but it’s like they only know how to be intellectual in theory. They’re missing some of the practicality of life getting in your face that I’m so used to in Berlin. Still, it seems like Berlin is facing its own challenges with increasing hipsterfication and gentrification, so who knows how long it is before I’m complaining about this in Berlin as well. I will say that for its small size, Cambridge offers more than its share of theater and music.

Let’s see; I’ve covered food costs, student life, intellectual life- I guess what remains to comment on is the feel of the city and its architecture and green spaces.

I can say that right now I appreciate Cambridge and Berlin equally- Berlin has so much innovation in its architecture and the mix of old and new just hits me every time I see it, but there’s something ultra charming about the old English houses and I also just keep stopping and snapping a photo when I see a new angle on one of the old colleges, or go down some new cobbled street. I so often feel like I can’t take a breath that’s not imbued with history. And don’t get me started on the Cam River- how clean everything feels- or the pretty flowers that are appearing everywhere.

it’s beginning to look like Spring. back end of King’s

I guess, as a runner I’m also grateful for the proximity of Cambridge to seemingly endless fields. I say seemingly, because as I discovered during my first runs in Cambridge, there are a lot of private fields and, in general, just a lot of fences in Cambridge. Colleges are closed off from one another with them, streets often end in more fences. It’s a bit frustrating, since even though Berlin is a concrete jungle, I can just keep turning another corner and almost never end up in a dead-end. Furthermore, Berlin has the Grunewald and the Tierpark and various other green spaces. Cambridge’s green is around the city- still very green, but you have to find it first. And it’s not many trees- just a lot of open fields- which is lovely until you’re trying to get across in 25 mph winds.

But I’m not complaining. I’m quite happy here and I’m getting done what I came here to do, so that’s the most important part.

On that note, here’s the lecture hall photo I promised. It doesn’t seem as novel as it did the first time I saw and sat in it, but it’s still pretty cool.

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Cheers, – Dorothea

 

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some London

Well, it’s been over a week since I ended the “week in the life” series and I thought I’d get back with a post much sooner, but now you get to read about three adventures scrunched into one.

But before I do that, let me start off with two notes:

  1. I’ve thought a lot these past days about my choice to come to Cambridge after just two years in Berlin. I have to admit, it’s hard again to be in a new place with new people having to meet with strangers every few days under the guise of networking and socializing. I get really anxious beforehand, get through it alright I guess, and then am anxious about it afterwards. I also wonder if there’s something about me that the first time I’m in the same city for more than a year since undergrad, I find a way to leave again. I know part of it is ambition and wanderlust and seeking out opportunities for academic growth and getting to know new things, but part of me thinks I’m constantly running away from something. I can remember very clearly in high school when my parents were thinking about moving three states north and I was actually excited about the possibility, because I thought it would give me a fresh start. What am I running away from? only I can answer that, and don’t worry, I know here and now is not the time.
  2. on that note, why is it so easy for me to go on for 20-30 minutes writing, but I sit in the same kitchen as a housemate who’s cooking  for the same amount of time and can’t exchange more than five sentences with him? I know it’s not just me, but seriously, I wish I could be as relaxed, cool, and charming as I am in writing (or how I like to believe I am in writing).

But enough of that. Let’s start with the journey to the town centre (don’t kid yourself, Cambridge, you say you have a city centre, but you’re really just a town) where I found the weekly market. It’s a great place with all the typical stalls plus delicious food booths (one offered everything made with Halloumi) in the grace of the Great St. Mary’s Church.

Cambridge City Centre Market

As one can see, the majesty of the buildings and spaces in Cambridge just keep one in awe. But then there are also the small things around town that also make me smile once in a while, like this statue/fountain type thing:

Cat and Mouse fountain

But I have to say, Cambridge very quickly can feel too small. I say it’s only a town in jest; it is a city, but it really does just feel like an overgrown village. A multitude of libraries, churches, and stores do not a city make. To be honest, I was even beginning to miss the sound of 18-wheelers rolling outside my window and so last Wednesday, taking advantage of a return ticket to London I had accidentally purchased on my arrival to Cambridge, I drove to London.

Beyond the fact that it’s just so cool to say “I went to London for a day-trip,” the city, its sights, food, and people, gave me a bit of sanity of which this ancient academic high-pressure-pot had threatened to relieve me.

I did some touristy walking:

And some research exploring:

And some fangirling:

I walked from London Bridge Station to Brick Lane, over Spitalfield, Shoreditch and Finsbury, and through Saint Pancras to King’s Cross. And I generally had a good time, rounded out by some draft Guinness across from the British Library, for which I’m now also a registered Reader. I came back to Cambridge, quite happy with my adventure and three days later made the same journey, though this time with the Hounds and Hares to make it to the Hyde Park relays.

Now let’s not kid ourselves, I was easily the slowest person in a Cambridge jersey, but it was a nice experience all the same. Plus, I got to see a little more of all the cool things just south of Hyde Park that I missed over the summer. 

And I got to see the Royal Albert Hall get dressed up for the 72nd British Academy Film Awards…

Preparing for the BAFTAs at Royal Albert Hall

And? Am I happy about returning to Cambridge at the end of such another day? Of course! Especially since it means I’ll be getting back to work 😉

 

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Tuesday and Wednesday

I really should have tried to post yesterday, because the Wednesday bit deserves its own post (I’m cheating by mentioning what I did last Wednesday, which marked my official matriculation to the University of Cambridge. Why I have to matriculate even though I’m only here for six months, beats me. But I rolled with it.)

But first, Tuesday:

woke up, fast forward through a few hours at the desk, fast forward lecture, fast forward more hours at another desk, fast forward to interval practice with the Hounds and Hares, where I got my pride handed to me on a platter to swallow, once again (and this was a taper workout, since the H & Hs are preparing for BUCS on Saturday). But it’s getting easier each time I go. My expectations now are way down, so after 2 sets of 3′, 2′, 1′, with 30 seconds between each rep and 3 minutes between the two sets, when I was in the middle, and not the end of the pack for the 200s (which goes to show, I’ve got the fitness, just not the speed over short distances), I felt pretty good. I also ran into the professor who is supervising my work while I’m here, and felt a bit guilty for not working until I realized- wait, he was in the gym, too.

But the life of a CU student isn’t all work and running. I happened to walk by the ADC Theatre during my first week and picked up their program list. I saw that the next play they were doing was the Michael Frayn adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Wild Honey, and so I went online, booked the ticket and forgot about it until Monday evening.

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my push pins just happened to be bees.

Wild Honey, also called Platonov after the title character, was Chekhov’s earliest known completed work and this production of the ADC was quite good, and I would have enjoyed it very much had it not decided to rain on my way over to the theater (which was only a mile away, but still) and gotten me soaked. After shivering through until the intermission, I conceded I should probably head home. Good thing too, because in those 1.5 hours the rain had turned into snow. Thankfully, I didn’t wake up with a cold this morning.

Wednesday:

My actual Wednesday today wasn’t exciting at all. As I mentioned, it sprinkled snow overnight, which made my morning run exciting (read: exhausting) and biking to get groceries a bit of an adventure. It also made for a nice view from my spot in the library.

But otherwise, it was a really quiet day. Not like last Wednesday where I was invited to both a Formal Dinner and a Ceilidh.

Random fact, but did you know that the word “blazer” actually originated in Cambridge? Once upon, the Lady Margaret Boat Club (ooh fun fact within a fact: rowing is one of the few sports at which Cambridge students compete at an elite level) had scarlet jackets that they referred to as blazers. Sports clubs in Cambridge continue to distribute blazers (usually blue) to the successful members of their teams.

I learned this when I was looking up the dress code for a Formal Dinner, and this is something I’ve been quite anxious about, already thinking about it in Berlin while packing. Turns out, there are varying degrees of “formal” at Cambridge, and a Formal Dinner is usually just “smart” (basically anything goes except jeans, sneakers, or flip flops) with the wearing of a gown.

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please excuse my very blase look and lame background. I didn’t think I’d share these with anyone except my parents and now I no longer have the gown (rented it), so this will have to do.

A gown, you ask? The men wear them too?

Yup. You didn’t hear the Hogwarts students complaining about their robes, did you? Except maybe Ron Weasley and his dress robes. The gowns are part of the academic dress of Cambridge University and there are a few rules as to who (with what academic degree) wears what gown. And they, for all their pomp and circumstance, are comfortable enough and make one feel wizardly and foolish at the same time. A few of my fellow students and I agreed that probably everyone realizes it’s a bit silly, especially for something like a dinner, so we’re all just participating in this joke of tradition. Or something.

The dinner itself was a three course meal with the three knives and two forks and two spoons and two glasses and just way too much going on. But it was a nice experience, and the professors I ended up sitting next to and across (apart from a debate that hovered dangerously around violent about Brexit) were pleasant and made sure I got up when I was supposed to and kindly looked past the fact that I managed to spill wine all over the crisp, white table cloth (in my defense, I was sitting where two tables were unevenly joined).

After successfully making it through dinner, and post-dinner drinks, there was the ceilidh.

Pronounced more like “kaley,” the ceilidh is another example of spelling not quite matching up with how it’s pronounced. Since being here, I’ve learned that in words that come from Scottish Gaelic,  an “mh” is more like a “w” or “v” sound while the “dh” is a “ch” or “gh” sound. That is why ceilidh is also written ceili and the name Niahm sounds like “Neve”. I still don’t know what to do with “bhfuil”, which is supposed to sound more like “well,” but it’s a good thing I’m not here to learn Gaelic.

Really, though, the ceilidh is a social event that can involve music, storytelling, singing, and dancing. Last Wednesday it was a dancing ceilidh organized and hosted by the MCR, which does this annually. MCR, which stands for “Middle Combination Room” is a collective name for graduate students, fourth-year undergraduates and postdocs at the college– basically a graduate student society. Imagine a barn dance or square dances or any other organized dancing event where someone at the front tells everyone what to do from traditional dances and then everyone just has fun, that’s what this was.

It was a lot of fun, and a pretty good way to end the week.

And thus endeth this mini-series in my life. Now I’ll return to my regularly scheduled programming of random posts and observations.

 

 

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Sunday

CUHH

Cambridge loves its acronyms, and this one stands for the university-wide Cambridge (cross country) running club: The Hounds and Hares. I’d scoped out this group already in April last year when I found out I was coming to Cambridge, and one of the first things on my list since arriving was joining a group run. The captains of the men’s and women’s teams put out weekly running meet-ups and they were quite easy to email with, but the group is incredibly competitive. Last Sunday when I went to meet-up for the group run, I was left behind within the first mile, getting too lost to ever have a hope of catching up to the group. This Sunday, I came with a little more speed and gumption, and the course was more straight-forward along the Cam river, so I managed to not quite stay with the main group (who went out for 12 miles at 7mpm or faster), but I managed to stick to the smaller group that went 8 miles at a more reasonable pace after losing the main group (it was still around 7:40 mpm). Needless to say, being at the back-end of a pack of runners and still doing sub- 7mpm was a huge slice of humble pie. It was a definite character builder these past two weeks.

Brunch

Brunch is a staple of the weekends in all the colleges, but it’s also a post-run tradition- and a nice way to socialize with the others. Each week a different runner hosts it in a different college, and this week it happened to be Trinity which was… woah. It was a surprise. Already waiting for the others at the Great Gate of Trinity College was a treat.

trinity-college-great-gate_cambridge college

Quite the meeting place, huh? (Source)

Here’s a map of the grounds by David Logan from 1690:

trinity_college_cambridge_1690-by-david-loggan

(Source) This will have to do until I make it over back again to take pictures.

But that didn’t even properly prepare me for the dining hall. The founder of Trinity College, Henry the VIII, presided over it and I was getting huge Hogwarts vibes. I could barely contain myself, but I of course had to act cool around the Trinity students and other runners.

trinity-college-dining-hall

Dining hall during the day (Source)

Oh! And because some may find this interesting, brunch in Cambridge can have waffles and/or pancakes, but it also consists of black pudding, eggs, sausage, baked tomatoes, and baked beans. It initially sounds quite odd (and some of the things look a bit off-putting), but you can’t judge it until you’ve tried it! While I didn’t really like the black pudding, I liked the beans. That could become a good, hearty (farty) -ha ha, sorry!- staple.

Having a run at 10 and then brunch at noon means that I didn’t really get started with work until 2 PM, but the nice thing is, if I hadn’t done my shopping yesterday, I would have been able to today- but only until 5 PM. Unlike Germany, England has its stores open on Sundays, but unlike the US, these hours are fairly drastically shortened. On this note, a small comment on the service culture here, which includes all sorts of verbal niceties like “alright there, love?” “cheers.” I still haven’t figured out the appropriate response to “cheers,” so I’ve just been saying it back.

Chapel

 

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After a few hours of laundry and library (I KNOW; my life is so interesting!), I headed over to the College Chapel for an interdenominational church service. Considering that I’ve been baptized and gone through confirmation, my relationship with the Christian religion has been a bit shaky since high school. Part of it was convenience, and while I know that going to church should not necessarily be convenient, having a chapel on campus is really helpful and I think visiting the Sunday evening service could become a habit. I enjoy the singing of the hymns, listening to the sermon and the choir, the organ music, and the shared dinner together afterwards.

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If anything, it’s an hour of introspection and talking to myself, if not to God. Since my college is one of the newer ones, I also hope to make it over to King’s College or Trinity (*swoons*) for a service before leaving here.

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Saturday

So, like any college student, I like to go out on a Friday night and sleep in, at least a little, on Saturday mornings. However, a) I’m a PhD student, so these generalizations don’t really apply. And b) how can I sleep in when there’s a parkrun to go to?

parkrun

parkrun is a really cool event that was initiated by British-Zimbabwean-South African Paul Sinton-Hewitt in 2004 that has spread out from his little local park in London to 1400 locations world-wide. It’s a free 5k timed race that happens every Saturday and while there’s a lot of glory involved (speed, how many you’ve run, how many you’ve volunteered, etc.), it’s not about prizes or being the fastest. It’s meant to be an inclusive event, and I believe it rather is. While it arrived to the US in 2012, no one has tried it yet in the swampy parks of Florida or the finicky forests of Berlin, so I haven’t had the opportunity to join in on the fun-yet. Last week I jogged across the invisible starting line along with nearly 500 others for the first time and had a great time. This week the same. If I don’t get pulled away by other events on a Saturday, the parkrun is definitely going to be a staple.

Another thing to do on a Saturday is take care of some shopping. This can involve a venture into the almost scarily busy city center for groceries and other supplies. Coming from my own personal Hogwarts a mile away, I sometimes think of the center as Hogsmeade (and the associations are not just mine!). I can see the appeal of Cambridge city centre on a mild winter day. There are a lot of great stores, there’s the market, and there are the gorgeous buildings all around to look at. I was tempted to pull out my camera to take a few shots, but I have an annoying self-consciousness of looking like a tourist when in a new area, so now my blog will suffer for it. When I’m no longer such a dork, I’ll take some photos, I promise!

Speaking of groceries: the first weeks after being in a new place, I tend to go overboard with buying food, mainly because I haven’t figured out my go-to shopping list yet (you know, the standards that one needs to have in the cupboard/fridge to get through a week). Some things I have bought over the last week to keep me alive and running are:

Crumpets, scones, Nakd bars, Cadbury chocolates, and the aforementioned microwavable haggis (I cannot emphasize enough that it’s actually quite good. I think it’s the spices that transform it from a weird mix of sheep intestines and oatmeal to something I actually look forward to eating). I’ve heard the expressions “tea and crumpets” or “tea and biscuits” for ages, but I never actually new what a crumpet was. It’s a small griddle cake that tastes great toasted with cheese or almond butter. I’ve already gone through three bags of them, and I could probably live off those for the next five months. The scones are self-explanatory, though I think they’re probably much better in a café than pre-packaged in a grocery store, and the Cadbury chocolates are a treat that I, unfortunately have to keep as far away from me as possible, because they won’t last a day in my possession.

But the Nakd bars are actually a pleasant surprise, because they are a no-sugar added fruit/nut bar that I discovered in Germany, but never wanted to give my arm for, so I never got them after I found them at a health food exhibition once. Here they run for 50 pence, so it’s easy to stuff a bunch in my backpack to have as a sweet snack during the week.

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from eatnakd.com

Once the shopping was taken care of, I spent a very boring, but productive! afternoon/evening in the library. It is a super nice working space and the lighting is much better than in my room. Not the most amazing way to spend a Saturday, but with some plans over the coming weekends, it’s actually okay to have a quieter one getting things done.

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I’d never seen the desks on the stair-cases before. It’s really cool to ‘perch’ at the desk on top. And during the say, the view outside is nice too. 

Now comes the main question. How did you spend your Saturdays while in school? I’ll admit, it’s only the convenience of having a 24/7 library within 5 minutes walking distance that gets me in a library on Saturday. I never did that in Florida (except maybe while living on campus as an undergrad) or in Berlin.

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Friday (Burns Night edition)

A few more lectures. But I forgot to take a picture of one of the unique lecture hall bench rows. Sigh.

As I mentioned yesterday, these lectures are given for 50 minutes, but they often run over that. Yet, after a few days of experiencing this and rushing off to the next lecture, often in another building because I am visiting both MML and English lectures, I have discovered that these times are not strictly held and my commutes between lectures are now much more relaxed.

Again, I had a panini in the Buttery for lunch, which is a new (dangerous) habit, after the two lectures I visited today.

And then, although I did this last Friday and not this one, I’m going to talk about laundry. I don’t know how laundry is done in every College–

–I interrupt myself to make a note about Colleges in Cambridge: Cambridge University is actually just a conglomeration of 31 autonomous colleges, each with their own histories, reputations, and funding. It makes for a strange distribution of resources and I haven’t quite figured out the ethical logic of it all, but oh well. I’m only sticking around for so long, so I guess one can tell me it’s not really my business.–

–but in my College, which has the billy goat as a mascot, one has to buy tokens to use the laundry machines. A washing token costs 2 pounds whereas a drying token costs 40 pence, but one usually needs a least two to get the clothes dry. Washing and drying both take about 40 minutes each, which is quite decent compared to my 3-hour eco wash in Berlin and drying everything in the frigid air out on the balcony.

Besides laundry, there are other, better ways to spend a Friday evening.

As I also mentioned yesterday, the afternoons at Cambridge seem reserved for independent work and supervision sessions- meetings with the people for whom the undergraduates have to write their weekly essays. But these afternoons are also reserved for graduate seminars, which are often meetings for graduate students to present their work to one another, much like the colloquia in Germany. The nicest part about these seminars on Friday, though, is that people tend to go out to a pub or restaurant afterwards and get a few beers and split something like a yard-long pizza.

quay punt

The Punt, which is quayside in Cambridge, serves these pizzas that are a yard long and comfortably feed six people. (image from their website)

Then, there are the musical events at Cambridge, which are composed of by many students who have musical talent, training, and experience. I’ve only ever had somewhat compulsory training myself, but I can appreciate good music. These are a nice thing to go to in the various spaces of the college, and the concert I visited tonight by the CUJO (Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra) was exactly what I needed this second week of figuring out Cambridge and actually, finally getting into serious work again.

cujo

Photo: TrevorLeePhotography.co.uk

But the real bees’ knees on this Friday, 25 January, is that tonight is Burns’ Night. And somehow I missed the memo, but I could have had this for dinner:

haggis

Haggis is made from a mixture of sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs and mixed with oatmeal. It’s usually carried into a hall on a silver platter and with much pomp and circumstance, sometimes bagpipes playing, and a reading of the Burns poem. CREDIT: VISITBRITAIN/BRITAIN ON VIEW/GETTY

Instead, I had the microwavable version on a bed of lettuce, which was also quite nice.

For those not in the know (and I honestly wasn’t until my PhD supervisor brought it up in our graduate seminar a year or two ago), the poet Robert Burns (who would have been 260 today) is a part of the narrative of Scotland, and his “Address to a Haggis” is a favorite. I give you the English translation, since I’m sure the rarest reader of my humble blog will understand the Scottish dialect. (Alright, I’ll leave the first stanza, just to give you a taste)

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

[…]

My favorite line is “great chieftain o the puddin’-race!”

Address to a Haggis Translation

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old head of the table, most like to burst,
‘The grace!’ hums.

Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He’ll make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off
Like the heads of thistles.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!

I know, I know, the poem makes haggis sound absolutely revolting, but the point is that here the myth of the strong, stout warriors of Scotland is created, and they keep their strength because they eat haggis, not some ragout like the French. (sorry if you’re French and were offended. I really do quite like French food and think it has made quite a respectable race… I really don’t know why the English, Scottish, and other British Islers rag on the French so much… it must be the ragout).

– Cheers! Dorothea

 

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Thursday

American pragmatism and opportunism are what happens when you take the sensibilities of the -English, used to taming their lands over millennia and their people over centuries, and throwing them into wilderness and self-governance. At least, that’s one way of summarizing it if one wants to generalize two completely heterogenous groups. But the point is, although the US and the English speak the same language, they are not the same people (and the fact that it’s the same language is also debatable).

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road on the way to King’s College, Cambridge

So, some things I’ve noticed, since being here for a week, range from the very obvious (driving on the left side of the road!) to the subtler and more unique to Cambridge.

Since these first weeks of being here are all so unique and there’s a lot to comment on, I’m going to break it down into daily observations.

Thursday:

The Cambridge University week begins on Thursdays. It’s how they set up their timetables and my guess is that it has something to do with Maundy Thursday in the Christian tradition and the Last Supper. It’s not a off-the-wall guess, seeing as the terms are named after Christian periods: Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter, but I could also be totally wrong.

There are lectures to visit all week, usually in the mornings, and there was one I wanted to visit today on “the creation of Britain and the appearance of “others.” My main take-away: the Brits were interested in religion more than blood-line when it comes to “othering,” though conflating skin color with virtue was starting to happen in the early medieval era. Unlike lectures in the US or Germany, which usually run 80-90 minutes, these are 50-minute lectures and involve, as it seems in the English faculty, a list of quotes that the lecturer incorporates into a general talk about a specific concept. My lecture today had the lecturer incorporate some questions to his students that even I, as the most senior in there, didn’t quite know how to answer.  But it was over quite quickly and I can understand now that this is just the impetus for students to go off and write their weekly essay for their tutor.

So, the afternoons in Cambridge seem blocked off for reading, writing, or for graduate seminars, for which I’m thankfully not signed up for this term. I used some of this “free” afternoon to get my bike looked at.

bike shops in cambridge

For a town as small as Cambridge, there is an unusually high number of bike shops. They range from high-end, bike sport enthusiast shops to the more expensive bike department store type place. And then there are a lot of second-hand bike shops that trade heavily in student bicycles. I had opted to find mine online, on a local Craig’s List type service, but I got my helmet, bike lock, and lights from a second-hand shop. The bike I bought shortly after arriving in Cambridge was put together by a guy who takes second-hand parts and builds his bikes from scratch and I have to say, it’s probably the best deal on a good bike I’ve ever gotten (other than a slight mismatch of the rear-quick release, which he sorted for me today). The frame and tyres (I like how the English write it this way) are excellent quality and I may even attempt a bike tour on them before leaving.

Since the bike fix went so quickly, I had time to meet with a PhD student I’d gotten in contact with while still in Berlin, since we are interested in similar topics. We met in the Buttery, which is a university-run café/cafeteria that can be found on all the college campuses and serves warm paninis (if you get them in time!).

I rounded out the afternoon with a visit to the University Library, which is an impressive building not far from the English and Modern and Medieval Languages Faculties. It’s hard to describe the library. One can tell it was built in the 1930s, but it smells of books and manuscripts much older than that. I really like walking up its narrow staircases and between the rows of books. It feels cozier than most libraries I’ve been to, and I’ve figured out the book-order system they have, which, although they have an online catalogue and requesting system, is still quaintly paper-bound in the physical room of the main reading room, which looks like those libraries you see in movies.

Finally, before heading home to do more work there, I stopped by Aldi. I love getting my groceries at Aldi in Germany, and it’s quite cool that it’s also in several locations in the US now, but it’s really good to have in Cambridge where the pound outweighs my other familiar currencies and I feel like I’m going broke, even though I know it’s just a side-effect of starting somewhere new on a mere 23 kilo of suitcase filler.

And now here I am, sitting in my room in a graduate dorm, having eaten my share of veggies and microwavable haggis (going to have to find the real thing at some point), and trying to figure out how I’m going to read all those books I’ve checked out in the past few days before they’re due back to the library.