The Cambridge Experience

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This is a long overdue post on my experience and ending conclusions on the Pembroke-King’s Programme summer school with the University of Cambridge and UCEAP. Here, I’ll give an outline of my opinion of the structure, academics, and other experiences with the program. Some of these things are not program specific so if you are planning on attending a different university in England, feel free to check it out as well!

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge in its entirety contains thirty-one colleges. The two colleges involved in this summer program are Pembroke and King’s College. These two schools, although relatively close to each other, have very different environments, whether it be architectural styles or ambiance. I would say that Pembroke is a lot homier and King’s a lot more grand. There’s a lot of tourists around King’s all the time whereas Pembroke was always peaceful-however, I really enjoyed my stay in King’s, being near the river and all. The university is spread out among the city of Cambridge which is rapidly developing into a technological hub for England. It’s definitely a mix of old and new in Cambridge, with newer buildings coming up around the older city center. It’s a very convenient place to live with two malls, one in city center and the Grafton Centre a little bit further from King’s. Lots of people come and go through Cambridge, making a culturally vibrant place.

Coming from California, and especially Los Angeles, Cambridge was a completely new environment for me. It was a lot smaller than I was used to but I finally got to experience the ‘college town’ life. At first, I was afraid of taking the train to London or traveling out and it felt a little confined, but as I got a handle of things, Cambridge became extremely fun and versatile. It was easy to travel out and it was fun to stay and discover all the unique little stores and restaurants or relax at the parks and gardens.

When in Cambridge, you should definitely take the opportunity to explore as many of the colleges as possible. Being a student of King’s College or Pembroke is definitely a privilege. A large amount of colleges are unwelcome to non-students so unless you are planning on graduate school at Cambridge, make time to visit as many of the other colleges as possible! You won’t regret it! All of them have their own specialty.

Making Friends

From literally first grade to university, I had the same group of friends and people around me. Everyone from the surrounding elementary schools and then middle schools hung out together, and were all placed into the same high school. Coincidentally, a large (I mean really, really large) amount of the students from my high school class ended up at most of the same UCs, which meant that friendships and groups didn’t really deviate or expand. This was at first, a good thing because there was a support system no matter where you went, but coming to Cambridge, I lost that. I had to make friends for the first time in my life since probably first grade. Even the friends I made at UCI were relatives of friends or people already familiar to me.

I was super apprehensive going into Cambridge, afraid that people would not like me. I went into the welcome buffet first night in Cambridge to find everyone sitting awkwardly in a circle-until someone dropped their glass of orange juice, which got everyone laughing. You realize that you’re not the only looking for a friend. At first it may seem awkward or hostile, and you may find yourself reading too much into people, but everyone is in the same boat, and honestly, everyone just want to friends. There were about 250 people in our program, and by the end, literally everyone were friends. You could walk into a restaurant or the dining hall and just kick up a conversation with anyone, even your professor. I eventually found my place and made some of the best memories ever with my new friends.

Program Structure

The PKP program is divided into two halves with a ‘long weekend’ in between where you can go out and travel around the UK or Europe (although everyone just traveled every week). Students are divided into the two colleges, King’s and Pembroke, and given cards that allow them to eat at their specific college. Hostels are separated accordingly to location into the two colleges. All students are required to pay for housing to secure the spot and more than enough dining points are provided for the program. The program runs for eight weeks, starting from late June to mid-August.

Program Activities

The great thing about the PKP program is that they make sure that you will have plenty of opportunities to become well integrated into the local culture and lifestyle. First week, we got to go on a trip to London with transportation provided by the school to familiarize ourselves with the city. There are also weekly activities planned by RAs (usually graduate students). These activities can include punting, cricket, croquet, afternoon teas, hikes, haunt tours, and even Spanish lessons depending on the RAs and their interests. The activities were very engaging and since they are usually free, its a nice way to have fun and meet new people. My favorite one was having afternoon tea in Pembroke. The clotted cream was the best thing in the world and my friends and I just kept on scooping it without scones.

Independently, you have plenty of weekends (or even weekdays) to go out and travel across the country or even fly out to Europe. I had friends flying all the way to Israel even. Cheap tickets were usually bought through Ryanair and everyone usually organized into groups, regardless of friend groups, to go all over. If you ever need a group of people to have fun with, just ask on Facebook!


Oh my gosh. My favorite part of the program was the numerous types of accommodations. It was so fun to go into a friend’s room and find it completely different from any other I had seen. You are given a wide range of options and prices to choose from. I have a post on the accommodations in this blog as well. Coming from California, where almost everything is less than a hundred years old, living in Bodley’s Court was a wondrous experience. The history and presence of the buildings really strike you, and even though some are old and weary, it’s a beautiful experience to live in the Cambridge accommodations. Rooms are usually really large and comfortable and all of them are singles!

Culture and Living/Travel

Culture-wise, if you are coming from America, there is not much of a difference although we did find that besides public transportation, not many things started on time. Be polite, don’t be loud and disrespectful. Take responsibility of your actions and remember that you are a representative of your own country while there. There are many students from all over the world in the program with you and be respectful of others’ cultures and take the opportunity to share experiences and opinions! Make friends!

Living in Cambridge is easy, with Sainsbury and Marks & Spencers only a few steps away from King’s College. There are plenty of restaurants around offering a variety of cuisines and a marketplace with vendors selling all sorts of things. Travel-wise, Cambridge has a train station which conveniently takes you to King’s Cross in London and Stansted Airport for travel. Luton can also be reached via National Express buses. It’s all very convenient and the city itself is walkable.


Information on class selection can be found on this post.

Classes are really small in Cambridge, where in the normal academic year it can literally be one-on-one, but for summer, it is mostly 10-20 people. This means that you will be able to become really close with your classmates and your professor. This was a completely new style of teaching for me, coming from the large UC schools. There are usually discussion sessions that separate the class in two, making it all the more intimate. The teaching really engages you to think and to share your opinions, to discuss with your peers, and to explore outside of the classroom. It may seem daunting at first, but the classes I took in Cambridge were the most rewarding classes I had ever taken.

My choice of classes were European History 1900-2016, Bloomsbury, and the Development of the City. All of them were classes that gave me a perspective of my surroundings that I could not have learned about in America. My European History professor encouraged us to not only look at the history in Europe, but also the history around the world happening at the same time, and how everything has accumulated to our present time. Bloomsbury allowed me to learn about Cambridge, London, and British culture like never before. Development of the City allowed me to explore a topic very different from my major and gave me a new perspective on city living, economics, and all the politics that come into play when a city is built and rebuilt throughout time.

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