After the bell rings

The end of the academic year at Cambridge is something that takes up a lot of energy and time but not much is there to be written about it. The third semester is accurately called exam term since students start revising during the Easter break and after returning to Cambridge they get the last set of lectures and supervisions out of the way before the communication with professors is mainly based on individual questions and needs of every single student. More than ever is this the time to try out those dozens and dozens of available libraries as the period right before exams is extremely intense at Cambridge and a change of study environment is always more than welcome.

Once the exams are over, however, one has many rewards in the form of balls and garden parties to look forward to. The best of such happenings this year was St John's College May Ball, the theme this time being 'Extravaganza', which I have stayed in Cambridge for until the end of June. It was an event that started at 8 pm and lasted until 7am. The guests could choose from a wide selection of food, drinks, music genres and miscellaneous party locations including bumper cars, casino or stand up comedy. After the clock struck 7 however, the ones still standing posed for a survivors photo and after the ball we all run in different directions, everyone with different summer plans.

So what do those summer plans usually include? Older students have their schedule filled with internships and research trips but 1st year students are trying to develop themselves and their CVs in various ways. Personally, I spent a significant part of my summer at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, where I continued in my study of Korean. This experience was made possible by the summer grants and bursaries awarded by my college, St John's College, to students who wish to develop their skills even outside of their subject.

I started studying Korean mainly because of the growing cultural, political and economic influence of South Korea and also because of how unique Korean is in reflecting its culture. For example, the word 우리 or 'we' is often used instead of the word for 'me' which safely points to the more collectivist character of Korean society. Furthermore, Korean has a complex system of honorific speech, showing the omnipresent hierarchy that still survives among Koreans.

The classes took place every workday in the morning until 1pm. The teachers, all native speakers, talked to us exclusively in Korean which gave me the opportunity to use the language in more natural situations even in class. Yonsei also gave us a chance to get involved in the day to day workings of the university outside of class, which I took full advantage of. I took part in the Language Exchange Program where I got paired with a local Yonsei student who wanted to practice English and together we not only talked in Seoul's many cafes but also visited tourist locations such as the Korean National Museum and Palace Gyeongbokgung. Moreover, I joined the local net of volunteers and with a group of other volunteers we practiced English songs with mentally disabled students. Yonsei also organised a trip to the DMZ (demilitarised zone), where we could, for example, visit the secret tunnels created by North Korean soldiers that could theoretically pose a threat even to the capital.

Overall, I'm going to miss Seoul and what it offers: a great number of restaurants, shops, karaoke places and arcades. Nothing closes before 10pm and many places never do, making Seoul one of the cities that never sleep. On that note I would like to return to the question of what is the perfect summer plan. A specific answer is hard to find but just like in exam term, it is crucial to keep learning something new.


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