Cambridge: Ghost Town of the Past?

Hardly anything can get one ready for that change. Foreign country, city, which one could, despite it is quite small, hardly get to know during the short visit for an interview, foreign faces all around. Foreign faces of students, with whom one will, with a bit of luck, spend the upcoming four years.

And finally the biggest change of all. Independence. Independence in all imaginable forms. Even if a young person thinks that he or she is already independent, doesn’t need anyone (“Am I not an adult?”), it is just a naïve illusion that fades away as soon as one leaves home. With that moment comes the realisation that many of decisions about our preceding life were done by others. Furthermore, this doesn’t come down to personal life only. High school supplies its students with information in a regulated fashion. It spends a lot of time on examples, theory into praxis transfer, leaves the student time to absorb all of the knowledge. The university’s approach is completely different. It buries the student in an avalanche of new material and it is up to him to make sure that the dig out speed is at least of the same order as the speed of the burial.

Cambridge has two among other universities unique mechanisms that help students deal with this challenge. World famous supervisions, individual sessions with an expert from the field, and surprisingly long holidays between terms. Oh, apologise me. I meant to write vacations, as we were assured many times during the first week. Rest is really not their purpose. These month and a half lasting periods without lectures have additionally two interesting consequences. Firstly, unique six day working week. Thanks to this my course Natural Sciences that allows me to study four different scientific subjects in the first year at the same time really is a four year course. The second consequence is a surprising trouble for students that want to play sport at university level. The game day for British university leagues is traditionally for some evil reason Wednesday. Most other universities therefore tend to have a free day then. This is obviously not the case at Cambridge. Athletes therefore have to fight hard to defend at least part of Wednesday’s afternoon from labs and supervisions. Luckily I at the end managed to do so and consequently strengthened not only my health, but also the university’s basketball team.

I have the feeling that Cambridge has a peculiar, almost mystic aura of inaccessibility among many people. As if the university or the city itself were from a different planet. Sure. How many titans that formed our understanding of the world made their greatest discoveries here? What a spectacular history as the centre of the world’s wisdom it has? At the end of the day though, University of Cambridge is just a school. Good and tough, but still nothing more than a school. It is not a ghost town of the past. I won’t deny that it is bewildering to realise that I live in the same block where Crick and Watson announced their discovery of the structure of DNA in The Eagle pub, that I go to the college, which was attended by Allan Turing and that my supervisor refers to Stephen Hawking as Steve. But these thoughts have been soon overcome by the issue of coming up with a menu for the upcoming day, suppressed by a desperate attempt to filter emails of some informational value from the flood of needless announcements of societies, to which an unexperienced fresher provided his email address, or (and most probably) buried by the avalanche of information from the last lecture.

What does Cambridge mean to me? Most importantly opportunity. Opportunity to achieve an expert level in a subject, which, as I have with relief assured myself during the first weeks, truly interests me. Opportunity to get to know more about the world around me. Opportunity to obtain skills necessary to contribute with my little part to solving problems of today’s world. I would like to spread this approach towards this institution among other people in the Czech Republic, so that those who have the capabilities as well as willingness to sacrifice most of their time to their studies know that there is no insurmountable barrier preventing them from following this path. They ought to know that it is an opportunity for them as well and it is solely up to them if they utilize it or not. That is why I joined as a mentor project Experience Cambridge organized by the Czech and Slovak society here at Cambridge ( that spreads exactly this message among Czech high school students.

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