My first week at the University of Cambridge has passed and it was busy busy busy. I’m definitely still trying to pace my work out and adjusting to the workload but so far so good! After an exciting and fast-paced week, I finally got to sit down and write down some of my experiences and my first impression of the program.
The Program (or Programme if we’re being British)
I’m going to talk a little bit about the set up of the program for this year. PKP has steadily been increasing the number of students participating and for this year (2016) there were about 350 students (as compared to 2013, where there were about 70). Around 120 of those students are from the UC students (hell yeah!) but you definitely meet a lot of other students from other schools as well, not only from American ones but schools like UBC, Nanjing University, AUB, HKU, etc.
Students are separated into the two colleges participating in the program: King’s College and Pembroke College. They’re both located along the same road and are pretty close to each other. Students from both colleges attend class together (this year, classes were mostly held in the Engineering Department which is closer to Pembroke, but it varies) but events like Formal Hall and program activities are delegated by the college they belong in. How is it decided which college you are in? Your housing. Depending on which dorm or hostel you chose in your application, you are put into the closest college to your housing.
With the increase of students in the program, PKP no longer brings their students to Scotland for a weekend trip. However, they now do a one day London trip where students have free reign to do whatever they like in the city. Students are also allowed to stay in the city for the weekend (or forever-just kidding). Scotland is a bus/train ride away so you can always choose to go later on in the program on any of the weekends.
All students are required to take three classes which are divided into Module 1, 2, and the 3. Module 3 lasts for the whole eight weeks of the program while Module 1 and 2 are both four weeks, taking up half of the eight weeks each.
Arrival and First Week Activities
I think the first week of the program may have been more stressful than any of my finals week combined. A lot goes on during the first to ensure the safety of students and that we all know how the colleges run (and most importantly how to feed ourselves).
I arrived on Sunday which was the day of move-in but I know a lot of people either stayed in London for a few days or did a Europe trip before coming to Cambridge. You’re given your keys, a welcome pack (very important, its like your lifeline to everything in the college), and directions to your dorm at the Porter’s Lodge in your respective college. You are given two lanyards and two cards, one for King’s and one for Pembroke. The card that belongs to your college will have your meal points in it.
After moving in, there is a welcome buffet at the dining hall (of your college) where everyone sits together awkwardly because no one knows who the hell anyone else is (aside from your fellow classmates from back home-sadly I missed my school orientation so I didn’t know anyone). We basically sat in giant circles and had awkward conversations, but great place to meet people!
The next day, we had a little tour to the Engineering Department where our classes were to be held and there was also a little introduction to fire safety and how to use IT equipment in your college. There was also a library tour to learn how to check-in/check-out books and how to use the printers and scanners in them (you get around 500 pages with the credit already in your card).
Wednesday was our first formal dinner and it was an amazing experience because my home school does not have good, or even decent food. Everyone was dressed up beautifully and it was hilarious how all of us didn’t know any table etiquette-like why are there so many wine glasses and knives. Great experience and met a lot of people there.
Thursday was like hell-day. Since it was orientation for actual incoming school-year freshmen for Cambridge, we were herded out to the nearby Anglia Rusking University (whose campus in Cambridge is really, really new) to have a full day orientation. We basically went through the information we went over on Tuesday and then separated into groups depending on concentration (ie. Humanities or Science) and there were talks after talks after talks. We actually got a “How to write essays” presentation which was like six years too late because no one was taught how to write an essay in high school, but at least now we know that we weren’t doing everything wrong. After everyone left, UCEAP students stuck around for their own orientation, which went over how to submit our classes to the Study List as well as health insurance coverage.
Friday was the London trip and you’re put into coaches according to either your housing or when you registered for the program (these are guesses, we never asked but just our guess since some of us had similar housing/sign ups). You head into London to Crown Pier where you board a boat with everyone in PKP for a tour down the Thames. Our bus got stuck in traffic and actually crossed Tower Bridge onto the other side of the river (oops) so we got of in the middle of the road (blocking London’s already horrible traffic) and ran across town to the pier. Honestly, the tour was too long (two hours) and you can just go do your own thing instead of going on the boat-that way you’ll have more time to explore within the city and if you want pictures of landmarks, you’ll have plenty more time too. My friend (yay I made a friend) and I had been to London a couple times and really regretted going on the boat because we had to rush through our visits to other parts of town but the tour definitely gives you an layout of the ever expanding city!
For London, it doesn’t hurt to purchase an Oyster Card because it’ll make life easier if you’re ever coming back into the city (which I’m sure you will). There are also railcards available at stations like King’s Cross where you can apply and purchase cheaper tickets if you plan on traveling a lot by train in the UK.
I heard a lot of people saying that they didn’t bring their passport out with them because “it was a waste of space haha” but BRING IT BRING IT. You’re in a foreign country and your passport may be your ticket to safety if anything ever happens. It’s your most legit form of identification and IT’S NOT THAT HEAVY!
So far, I really like my classes. We actually attended classes sessions and seminars first week so keep that in mind. I go to a UC school so classes are always huge (200 and up) so being so close to my professor is definitely a new experience for me. UCs are also really new and living and attending such an old university like Cambridge is amazing. My housing was definitely a shock to me but it has been a fun experience as well. The professors here seem a lot nicer than the professors I’ve had at my school so that’s a plus!
The porters are super nice and always there for you (literally, if you’re in King’s where the Porter’s Lodge is open 24/7).
Since there were a lot of students, it was hard at first to meet people with the same interests (or remember anyone’s names), but after a few days after everyone was settled-in, it was easy to find people to hang out with- in fact, everyone is super welcoming and nice. Don’t be afraid or let down if you don’t find people at first and go out and introduce yourself! Also, take advantage of being able to meet students from all across the globe because many people are closed to that idea (especially America haha). Learn about the different cultures, the different education systems, learn about everything!
Entrance to King’s and Pembroke is extremely strict so when you’re wearing your lanyards and walk in with all the tourists gawking, it’s definitely an experience haha!
I have yet to go to Sainsbury’s or Boots (professor voice: which is much more than a pharmacy) to get any living essentials (RIP me) because I’m a lazy butthole, but these two stores are essential in getting all your daily products and food. Everything is really close by in the small college town of Cambridge (really different from SoCal where you have to drive EVERYWHERE) and there is plenty of choices for everyone.