What an year in Cambridge taught me

This year I am not a fresher anymore. One has to admit coming back to Cambridge for second year is still somewhat exciting and with new expectations.

We anticipate what we should expect, what should change and what needs to be worked on still. We are not going into unknown, only a few details change. We organise our free time ourselves and so although to some extent the freshers´ enthusiasm to try everything and get involved is coming back, the main changes come with study. And with ourselves. It´s natural that me coming into the second year is not the same person as appeared here a year ago.

I liked the Cambridge system of teaching from the very beginning. For that of course I decided to go here even when it meant overcoming quite a few problems. In Cambridge (and one realises this most in times when they are not there) they have an amazing philosophy in my opinion. Many universities believe that students should think rather than memorise facts by heart (although sometimes there isn´t any other effective way). Some courses allow students to go more by the way of thinking and understanding, for some others memorising is still the most effective and thus winning strategy how to study.

However I think Cambridge has a little more than just the belief that students should really understand the topic – it has very developed system of teaching which supports and assesses this thinking. Supervisions are the parts of study where it is most prominent. In each subject we have an hour per week with a doctor of a PhD student in a group of 1-3. In these groups we discuss what have we covered during the week, if we have any questions based on it, we practice the essay writing, discuss and get various small tasks broadening the knowledge. For each supervision there are a few hours of preparation needed (both for the student and the supervisor) but they are for me invaluable help with study and I enjoy them. I don´t dare to come unprepared to a supervision (not only) just for the fact I would miss so much.

I think I have been becoming an another person by realising that questions don´t always meet with bewilderment and negative reactions here whether from the side of the asked person or the other students. A good question can be better than an answer. Questions are, of course, not for free – one has to make some effort (the questions like “I just don´t understand it all” are not of much use) and the answer is usually in a form of well targeted questions for the student, alternatively an advice where to find the answer. Nevertheless it´s interesting, motivational and one explores new ways of what all could they want to know to make a good picture about the topic. Suddenly we have somebody to ask and they won´t be angry about us. So one ends up with quite a few questions but also with automatised reaction: “Shouldn´t I actually know the answer?”, because the supervisor would ask that anyway.

An another thing Cambridge can teach people well is the time management. Who doesn´t manage their time well will have worse results and also won´t have anything additional from Cambridge beside their course. From the very beginning we kept meeting older students and teachers saying we should do something outside our course – to relax, to get more experience and skills but most importantly because Cambridge has a lot more to offer than just the course. I mean interesting people, experience with organisation of groups and events, teaching our friends or learning from them. One can try here almost whatever they think of. Also it´s incredibly international environment bringing together lots of different cultures, opinions and experience. Older students often regret they have spent too much of their time here in the library. I think my life here is even more hectic than back at home at high school. One also needs to think about work-life balance – to have happy life and good results as well. It´s important to compare with others a little (the competition motivates) but not overdo it above the healthy volume. Only very few people can be the best ones in their year at one of the best universities in the world.

By this I am getting to another point I wanted to make. I think that British schools are much more oriented on the future and employability. I have seen it first at a high school in Downe House where I spent three months of my high school studies. At the time when I didn´t think about writing my CV at all and all my courses, after-school groups, science camps and internships were springing just from a pure interest and also I liked the people there, the girls at Downe House were planning their Personal Statement (a type of CV required for university applications). Here the effect is even stronger. If students want to apply for PhD they need to have a summer internship and to get it they need to have their CV and to go to some interviews (also a useful experience). We also think more about what do we want to do after university and how to get there. And there is where to seek help – the careers department offers a lot (sometimes we even feel they intrude too much but then we realise how important this help is and that we should keep thinking about the future).

The last topic I want to touch on is what have I learned from the British society. Classical things, which I can more or less support, are for example the conservatism, being very polite or drinking tea with milk (and thinking the whole world naturally does it). What intrigued me however , not only in connection with recent events, is the different in approach to charity and the solidarity between people. There are many charity clubs, which teach their members how to give their money or effort to the most effective charity or send them to volunteering projects. People often organise collections, for example recently for the refugees in Calais. Sometimes I feel as a very selfish person compared with the environment which I wouldn´t probably think in Czech (although I know about many projects getting people involved). Also the reaction on the refugees  was quite different – I don´t know to what extent to British people connect Islamic state with Muslims and refugees in general but they seem to be rather willing to help. Maybe they are not too scared of foreigners when many of their friends and neighbours came from different parts of the world. Or it might be just the case of our “Cambridge Bubble” and the type of people we tend to meet here, but not the whole Britain. Nevertheless it intrigued me and I would like to take an example from my environment in this sense.

There are many directions in which the study abroad can change a person. They get new opinions, get more independent and take the world as a wide range of open opportunities. They change the opinion about how much are they physically bound to some place although they are still very connected with their homeland. And they learn that saying “it won´t work” doesn´t usually make much sense. If we really want there are very little things which really won´t work. I was prepared my university was going to influence me. I was a little afraid it might by in the direction which I didn´t consider right. I was lucky. The university environment and also my friends at home (which influenced me very positively and I am grateful for knowing them) help me to grow up in a direction which I have chosen and despite that some things are a challenge to learn (whether in study or in personality development), I know they make sense.

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