Gates Cambridge Weekend

The Gates Cambridge weekend was truly one of a kind. The group of individuals are all dedicated deeply to their work and won’t be satisfied until they make a difference at the end of the day.

If I were to recreate a team building exercise, it would be heavily based off of the formula that the scholars set in motion: Lots of activities, lots of time together, but not tiresome. But, in all fairness, it would be really hard to recreate such an environment for two reasons: (1) we didn’t know each other before Friday and (2) over half of us are from very diverse backgrounds.

We were all strangers on Friday morning. The 90 new scholars plus the 15 returning scholars who made the weekend possible resulted in about 5,350 handshakes, assuming the returning scholars all knew each other and no one shook hands twice (which totally happened — I introduced myself to several people two or three times, even in the same day). Each handshake went a long with an introduction that went something like “Hi, I’m Eric. What’s your name? … Nice to meet you; what are you studying, and are you MPhil or PhD? .. Fantastic, where are you from? … Neat, I’ve never been there before. What college are you in?”  It honestly got a little repetitive to hear yourself speak those words and answer in return, but you were meeting such an interesting and diverse group of people, it was enjoyable. The hardest part was keeping all the names and faces straight…

The diversity of the group of strangers made the ice breakers quite enjoyable. Here’s a list of some of the questions that were used, each question with a different, group of people:

  • How many unique countries has your group lived in?
  • How many unique languages can you speak?
  • How many siblings do you have as a group?

Honestly, these questions would be duds with friends back home. The answer would be one, two, and something irrelevant because I already counted before anyone in the group needed to speak. That honestly is no fun, but with this group, the answers were so unique with people who know ancient Greek and Latin, who know 7 languages, who had families with twelve siblings, all of which you’d never have known just by walking into that room.

The weekend trip to Ambleside was just one giant continuation of our introductions — it was a chance to talk about our projects, our coursework, our backgrounds, etc. in greater detail while doing things like rock climbing, gorge scrambling (trekking through a flowing river), kayaking, and hiking. There were more games, dancing, food, and of course, alcohol. The surprise that was planned for us on Monday night was sure a pleasurable one, and was only made more fun by the fact that it wasn’t revealed, so in turn, it won’t be revealed here.

All in all, the weekend was quite indescribable. A group of strangers were thrown together in small rooms, buses, kayaks, and hostel rooms and came out the other side great friends, close friends. The only bad part about the weekend is that it ended — the holiday of fun and games with 100 friends had to come to an end — and there will be very few times where you’re gonna be with even a quarter of them again.

A somewhat random occurrence was the fact that I got to meet Craig Mathieson, the current “Explorer-in-Residence’ by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and hear all about his life story and the work that he does with the Polar Academy. He seeks out a group of the “forgotten children” — the one’s who are average kids who feel like they can’t accomplish anything great in their lifetime —  as he put it and trains them to run their own polar exploration. It seemed to be a very neat and life changing experience for those who were strong enough to be selected.

All pictures together:

First Arrival

It’s been an exciting couple of days this past week. I’ve officially moved myself and 140lbs of stuff, which I called “important stuff” at my parents house, to my new home in Cambridge!

After accidentally wiping my phone on the way to the airport, I truly have a fresh start, but how obnoxious it was to set up all of my apps again! After waiting in the airport with my parents for a couple hours, having the check-in hostess allow my 51.5 lb bag to pass, and the USO admin allowing me to print my UK bust ticket, I was feeling pretty grateful for all of the good things that have happened, all the “until next time” dinners, all the “last US” phone calls, and all the best wishes.

After bidding my parents farewell at security, I was off to Charlotte Airport and then on to Heathrow! My layover was spent making a couple last minute phone calls to friends I thought I could catch, grabbing a few bites of food, and repacking my bags. Two movies, a two hour nap, two airplane meals, and a nap on the bus later, I arrive in Cambridge City Center and decide to skip the taxi and walk the mile and a half walk to Robinson College to check in… I quickly came to regret this decision due to the weight of the newly deemed “not-so-important stuff.”

Parker's Piece, September 2016
Parker’s Piece, September 2016

I’ve spent the last three days productively — half “adulting” and half socializing. By a stroke of fine luck, I’ve got my bank account set up a week ahead of schedule! After returning to the bank the second morning with the proper paperwork, I was offered an appointment to open my account this past afternoon due to a cancellation instead of one day the following week! I’ve yet to complete my full shopping list due to things like “there’s no outlet in the bathroom to plug my new beard trimmer into” or “even if I had an outlet, there’s no mirror in front of the sink to shave with”… still working on solutions to these issues… extension cords, a cheap mirror, and duct tape seems pretty appealing right now.

On the more fun side, I’ve had dinner with wonderful groups of people each night, celebrated another scholar’s birthday at his rented house, swam in the lake behind said house, have made impressions as a “fire bringer” for starting a fire for s’mores and as a classy man due to a single profile picture (ha),  and ate a pub burger that could stop a grown man’s heart (double cheese burger with pulled pork, pineapple, and jalapeno).

September, 2016
Cambridge Library, September, 2016

Jet lag has hit hard though. Over sleeping the first morning led to a very late night. I made up for it by waking up at 7:30am on less than 4 hours of sleep to make sure I’d go to bed early tonight… and here I am into the deep hours of the night writing this…

Tomorrow marks the start of the Gates Scholars weekend retreat — a trip to the Lake District.  I’m pretty excited to get to take some pictures of everything we do (and force my camera on to somebody to take a few pictures of me *cough* This one’s for you John…)