Studying at a 659-Year-Old College

In the year 2624, UC Irvine will celebrate its 659th birthday. Though Aldrich Park may remain at the core of the campus and a nuclear reactor may still reside underneath Rowland Hall, one thing is certain: UCI will be Under Construction Indefinitely.
In its relentless quest to provide better resources and classrooms for students and professors, the university will probably always be changing, reconstructing and remodeling.
This is in direct contrast to Pembroke College of the University of Cambridge, where I studied for nine weeks this summer. The college, which is smaller than UCI’s School of Humanities, celebrated 659 years of academic instruction last year.
In stark contrast to UCI, Pembroke College has remained relatively similar visually to the day it opened in 1347.
The constant juxtaposition of old and new in Cambridge was startling. I never thought, for example, that I would be dancing to a live band with random images being projected on a centuries-old chapel designed by the famous seventeenth-century architect Christopher Wren.
The idea of studying and absorbing British culture in a university that has prepared so many generations of students for the ‘real world’ was daunting.
While UCI inspires excellence through its constantly changing and expanding campus, Pembroke College inspires through a rich history and fresh perspectives on subjects such as Shakespeare and the history of British intelligence agencies. There is no better way to study Shakespeare than with a knowledgeable British professor or by seeing a work of Shakespeare performed at the historic Globe Theatre.
Similarly, my interest in a class on British and United States intelligence agencies in the twentieth century was stimulated by a visit to England’s Bletchley Park, where 10,000 of America’s and Britain’s brightest gathered during World War II to crack the German Enigma codes.
Besides activities of historical value, there were plenty of things to do. From trying not to fall in the River Cam while punting to having a tea service at the Orchard to enjoying a Sam Smiley Special sandwich, Cambridge offered a refreshing burst of small town character.
Besides the events that the British student TAs organized, there was little excuse for boredom in Cambridge. If you keep your eyes open, there are always hidden treasures to be found in and around any city.
On the outer edges of Cambridge, I discovered the Snug, offering high quality food and live entertainment. Traditional British food, mixed with alcohol and an incredible pianist and singer named Colin Hazel, made for a rollicking good time every Sunday at 8 p.m.
Just outside of Cambridge was the Maize Maze, a simple but distinctive pleasure in which visitors can get lost in a life-size labyrinth of corn, ride go-karts and enjoy some miniature golfing.
The center of London is a 50-minute newspaper read away on the train. The virtually unlimited entertainment options of the big city include shows, concerts and other distinctive events.
After reluctantly taking the flight back from England, the first wave of Los Angeles-ness was a Hispanic voice making an announcement to all the newly arrived travelers at LAX. As integral to Los Angeles life as the pub is to British life, a Latino presence was utterly lacking during my extended stay in the England.
Studying abroad at Cambridge University in England was one of the best decisions I have ever made, as was choosing to participate in a nine-week program of study and travel. I am sure that I will positively recall the intimate campus and class sizes at Cambridge upon entering one of my 399-student classes at UCI. Still, I can appreciate the great diversity of departments that a public university offers.
More than anything, the rewarding experience of studying at Cambridge has given me a valuable sense of perspective on the international and small college scale.
For more UCI student perspectives on studying abroad in other places, visit