First Visit to Cambridge

This is at the end of a week of an amazing opportunity. As I had never been to Cambridge or the UK, the South Carolina Honors College offered to support a trip to see what I got myself into… I came here with a few objectives: (1) meet my lab group (2) figure out the Robinson College graduate housing (3) learn about the University and its history (4) figure out miscellaneous living questions and (5) take a picture for mom so she can do the graduation announcement like she wants it.

After a typical overnight flight – a few moments of sleep, abysmal food, battling the temperature – I arrived in Heathrow and began my journey to Cambridge through the tube (metro) and the train system. All of this was much easier in English than it was in German my first time arriving in Germany. I picked up a SIM card and plugged it into my phone, which mean I have been connected to the web like every other college student around and have no trouble looking things up to get myself figured out in a bind – a big comfort and makes wandering around a new place a little easier.

I checked into Sidney Sussex College where I’m spending the week and spent the rest of the day exploring the town, watching punts (flat bottom boats on the Cam River) collide, being startled by traffic passing me on the other side of the road and seeing little kids in the driver’s (left) seat as they passed, and meandered my way out to look at Robinson College. Unsure if the college was actually open to the public, I left the exploration for Sunday.

Since I was fed prisoner’s food for breakfast, and was on the train during lunch, I held out as long as I could for an early dinner at… Nando’s. I think I confused the girl bringing the food when I ordered a half chicken with two sides for just me. Hey – it was only 1500 calories in one sitting but basically all I ate that day.

After experiencing a traditional English breakfast in Sidney Sussex’s castle of a dining hall, the ceiling of which is decorated in ornate gold leaf artwork, I spent the morning reading in Jesus Gardens by the river and made my way to Robinson College to have a look around for real. Although the architecture is not the “castle” and “gothic” style like St. John’s or Trinity, I think it’s more fitting for me. Robinson College is the newest college in Cambridge, immediately allowing women membership upon opening; the people that I talked to around the college seemed more open and kind than I expected – quite similar to the “Southern Hospitality” feel.

Monday I decided to drop in, unannounced, to the Gates Cambridge offices to say hello and ask a couple questions. They were surprised to see me, but happy to spend some time chatting with me before their meeting. The rest of Monday was spent with Dr. Kevin Lewis from USC. He took the time to show me around and tell me stories of when he was here, the history of some of the buildings, walk me through the churches of St. John’s and Trinity, share a pint with me, host me at dinner at Wolfson College, and spend the evening with me. It was an absolutely pleasant time and really began to give Cambridge a sense of ‘home’ by meeting people and spending time with a group of people.

Similar to how I did the Gates’ office, I dropped in on Robinson College as well to answer my questions about housing. They were kind enough to show me around the common areas of the graduate housing as well as take me through the college to show me around. I spent some time walking around the city center again, stopping in shops to begin purchasing Cambridge things – both for myself as well as family and friends. I also decided to participate in the local food of “Fish and Chips” at one of the more recommended restaurants.  After a minor hiccup of being the only table in the downstairs seating and thus was forgotten about, my meal was delicious and I look forward to eating there again, just not downstairs.

I also decided to go to the movies here, Arts Picturehouse, and see the movie “Stalker”, a Russian film with English subtitles. For a film with so many questions and so few answers, it is strikingly impactful. The visual elements create a reason to dive deeply, in thought, into the movie in a way that I have not experienced in another movie.

Wednesday was left for more exploring and meeting a current Gates Scholar, Ian. As it turns out, we lived in the same neighborhood, just down the street from each other in Gig Harbor, WA. I was in preschool at the time and he was in elementary school, so there was little reason for us to have met at the time before I moved away… but what are the odds. It only took 17 years, both of us wining a Gates Scholarship, and coming to Cambridge for us to meet; what a small world it is…

I think the last point to mention is the weather and how it’s not that bad – at least right now. The days seem to follow a pretty consistent cycle: cold mornings with drizzling rain and dark clouds, clears up around mid to late morning, cloudy afternoon – maybe a sprinkle of rain, ending the day with evening that gets cool. It honestly hasn’t been bad weather, a good windbreaker and an umbrella would do you well.

Today, I set out to answer my complete my final objective – meeting my lab group. With everything else I have encountered, and learned, this week – I can tell that I will be in the exact environment I sought out: an interdisciplinary, intellectually stimulating environment filled with opportunities to travel and experience a wide variety of cultural experiences that I would not have if not for being here. I cannot wait to be back.

My next question to answer… Why are they called punts? No one I’ve asked yet has known.