It was winter break of this past year, and I had decided more or less on a whim that I wanted to study abroad for the summer. I had no idea where, or what I was going to study, but I knew I wanted to do it.
So here I am, sitting in the computer lab of Pembroke College at Cambridge University at 1 a.m., writing this article.
Having never left the U.S. before, I had zero knowledge of how to prepare or what to expect on such a trip, especially one that would be spanning six weeks (since I’m spending a week in Spain after the summer program at Cambridge ends).
Getting to Cambridge was an interesting experience all in itself. I arrived later than most of the other students participating in the program, so I knew I had to be able to find the place on my own. After landing in Heathrow and taking trains out to Cambridge (two and a half hours later), I began wandering about the city, map in hand, trying to find the entrance to the college.
What I was unaware of, however, was that most of the colleges that form Cambridge University are more or less shut out to the outside world with doors and gates and things, effectively making them mini-fortresses that blend in with the stone walls of the rest of the city. Luckily, after walking around the college for half an hour and trying to find a way in, another student opened up one of the gates for me and I finally got to where I was supposed to be.
Since I’ve been here, the program has taken me from all around Cambridge, to Richmond Castle, to Edinburgh and the highlands of Scotland and Fountains Abbey. In particular, the five-day trip to Scotland has proven to be the most interesting of the trips thus far, mostly because I have family ties and strong Scottish heritage on both sides of my family.
While I was in Edinburgh, I managed to locate a bunch of Douglas clan (the clan in which my dad’s side of the family belongs to) things, from tartan-patterned scarves to little books with Douglas clan history and the like. Even when I was looking through the books in the Scottish War Memorial inside Edinburgh Castle that held names of Scottish soldiers killed in various wars, I was able to find at least a couple Douglases that had been killed in action.
Having a creative writing emphasis and being an aspiring novelist, another memorable place in Edinburgh is The Writers’ Museum, which is a little place dedicated primarily to Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott, the latter of which who also has a memorial in the heart of the city. It’s a great place that holds some relics from three of the finest Scottish authors in history and is something worth seeing if you have the slightest interest in literature.
The city of Cambridge itself has also proven to be quite the place. It’s amazing to me that I’m living and studying in a place that’s centuries older than the United States, and there’s so much history embedded in every stone and brick.
The thing that struck me the most during our initial tours of the city was when one of the program assistants pointed out the window of the room that Sir Isaac Newton used to live in when he studied at Trinity College, and also mentioned that the tree outside of his window is supposedly the tree that he sat under in the famous apple/gravity legend. Whether or not it’s actually true is arguable, but even the possibility that Newton (and Darwin as well, his house is just up the River Cam) lived and did their work there is an amazing concept all in itself.
Next week at Cambridge, we have trips to Stratford-upon-Avon and London planned; in both locations, we’ll be seeing productions of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III.”
Even in my relatively short time here so far, I feel as though it’s been much longer than just two weeks. With the amount of events and trips planned for everyone here, it’s not only a great balance of being able to study and learn at one of the best universities in the world (or perhaps THE best, depending on which list you’re looking at) but also I’m able to get the chance to experience a snippet of what life is like living in Cambridge in England.