What Makes Cambridge Unique and How it Changed My College Experience
Most of us have heard about Cambridge at some point in our childhood: that it is one of the hardest universities to get in and only the most talented are admitted there. My decision to study abroad for a semester at Cambridge was partly informed by this childhood dream as well as a passion for knowledge and new ways of learning. I am lucky to say that I gained even more than I expected from my semester abroad at Cambridge.
What Makes Cambridge Unique?
Most universities in Europe follow similar practices: Big lecture halls, classes once a week, unrestricted freedom to attend an unlimited number of lectures (if your schedule allows), midterms in the middle and final exams at the end of the semester. Then what is different about Cambridge? What makes it unique? Tutorial-based supervisions. Meeting with a professor once a week, talking through your essay and then submitting it weekly can be a daunting experience. The best part of it is that the essays are not graded, they are only supposed to help you grow academically, and give you time and space to reflect and analyze. Your supervisor might tell you he is not used to grading and enjoys greater flexibility when the student chooses the topic she is passionate about and of course, goes deep enough to make her essay “first class”.
How Challenging is it Though?
Many of you are probably wondering how challenging it is to deliver a piece of writing a professor at Cambridge would like. One thing to keep in mind is that while academics at the same university might share commonalities, I doubt you can ever meet “a Cambridge professor”. They all have different styles, approaches to teaching, degrees of guidance and ‘interference’ that they consider helpful.
On the other hand, experience showed me that most of them expect what they call a “deep cut”: Making some random points here and there, particularly if they are considered ‘established truths’ is something we all do when writing papers. While you might eventually find out that your truth is still ‘truth’ so far, you still need to question, dig deep enough, gather evidence, prove your point. Do you end up with fewer insightful points? Remember it’s about quality, not the quantity.
Freedom and Wandering
We all enter colleges and universities with an unvoiced bias that formal teaching outperforms informal modes of learning. Imagine my reaction when my middle-age professor and one of the most renowned British economists recommended ‘googling’ other than digging into the books to look for answers. And I did begin ‘googling’ more only to find out that the easiness of Google is, in fact, dangerous (but in a good sense). You wander from one paper to another, from one puzzle to another, between the authors citing each other, meanwhile, you read about the things you should not be reading about, and end up knowing too many random facts and theories. But the beauty of googling goes beyond that, you discover it is your curiosity rather than a professor guiding your search, and the research resembles more of a flow rather than a chore. So what exactly was I googling about?
Dissertation: Making Meaning of My Study Abroad
There are a few things I have not told you about myself. I am an international student from Georgia (the country not the state) studying in the United States. Yes, I studied abroad again in the United Kingdom. Being interested in International Relations in general, and particularly in European politics, I wanted to find out more about the European Union’s approach to the South Caucasus, where my home country is located. Instead of just learning about it, I ended up writing a 45-page long dissertation in just two months thanks to the guidance provided by my supervisor.
Coming back to my college in the US, I realized how much I have grown at Cambridge: I am not scared of being academically independent, dare to create my own taxonomies, and have been enrolled in two senior capstones as a junior following my time at Cambridge. I also presented my dissertation “European Union’s Regional Foreign Policy: Demand-Side Perspective” at the Annual Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR) this Spring and plan to use the findings for a senior thesis next year. My experience at Cambridge greatly contributed to my analytical and research skills, and my ability to understand and apply different theoretical approaches to a variety of economic and political issues. It was more like a snapshot of a Ph.D. experience; you are a scholar-beginner working on original research. A wonderful preparation for someone like me who plans to pursue a Ph.D. or Masters in the future.
Are you interested in an academic journey? Do you have a passion for knowledge? Are you considering pursuing a masters or Ph.D. upon graduation from college? Then studying abroad at a UK school such as the University of Cambridge might be an ideal option to consider!
Elene Jalagonia is International Affairs and Economics double major at Lafayette College and studied abroad with IFSA at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge in the UK in the Fall of 2018.