21 November 2014

A Day in a Cambridge (Exchange) Student's Life

What is it like to be a Cambridge student? What is it like to study in a world-class university, share classes with brilliant minds, and be taught by the professors who invent and discover groundbreaking things?

It is like...

You are seeing the sun, but you feel like you're still in a dark place. A very dark one.

Why is it different than MIT then? MIT is also a world-class university, the students are really smart, and (some of) the professors even have million-dollar companies.

MIT is amazing, I know that. It's a place where you transform together with people around you to find what your passion is, and do what you love. They also have a strong backbone of support within the university. It is so abundant, that it gets integrated with my whole being without me realizing it.

"Sleep enough, so your brain can function properly."

"Start your problem sets early, so you don't need to pull an all-nighter."

"These cookies are for you. Enjoy your study break!"

But, there is less of this thing in here. I'm missing that, especially in my first few weeks.

Everyone seems to work by themselves and mind their own business. They have a group of friends, and they stick with them. They separate studying from having fun with their friends (which is good).

It's like someone telling me, "You are an adult now, so do what you think is right. Support is only for the ones who really need it."

At MIT, everyone seems to work really hard, which makes me feel bad because I don't work enough. It's the same at Cambridge. Everyone does not seem to work hard but they are doing well. It makes me feel bad because no matter how hard I work, everyone is going to do better than me anyway.

At MIT, people do problem sets together all the time. I try to start on them earlier, and sometimes end up working by myself. But if I need someone to compare answers, they are there for me. At Cambridge, the example papers are really hard (too), but I have no office hour where I can come to. I need to wait until supervision time, which is once every two weeks. By then, I don't even remember how I did most of the questions.

I can sit quietly during recitation/ office hour at MIT, scribble some notes, and ask questions when I need to. Here, the supervisors will throw questions at me, and expect me to answer them. They will go fast over the example papers, which have around ten questions. The office hour at MIT, if the TAs go fast enough, can go over three-four questions at the most. Well, the nature of office hour and supervision is different, though.

Or is it just that people here are in their third year, and they know exactly what to do and how to do it?

Is it just because it's different? Or am I slacking off?

I wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, take shower, and get ready for classes. I cycle down the hill, to go to CUED. At that time, if I'm late, I will hear the church bells ringing. The lectures usually start 5 minutes past the hour.

After the first lecture is done for the day, and I have another lecture in one/ two hour(s), I will go straight to the library and do some example paper questions, particularly the ones which are covered in the lectures.

If it's lunch time, I will go upstairs to the canteen and get a vegetarian baguette. If I cannot find any free seat, I will go to the front of Lecture Theater 1 or 2, where there are some indoor benches. I will eat the food slowly, because the baguette is big.

Then, I go to another lecture. When the day ends, I will cycle back to my college. These days, it gets dark really early, so I need to turn on the bike lights (which I sometimes forget). If there's still time before dinner in dining hall, I will wait for a little bit and work some more.

At dinner, I will see my friends, and talk with them. I am really grateful to find such great friends in a very short period. We will talk about random things, and it is always nice. Sometimes, we also plan on what we are going to do during weekend.

After that, I go back to my room, and continue working. If I get tired, I will check my e-mails or Facebook/ Twitter/ LINE, and see if there is any message there.

When it's late, around 12, then I will go to bed.

On some days, I will cook for myself for dinner/ lunch. Even a fried egg with slices of Thai chili (cabai rawit = cengek) and steamed rice can make me happy. Three times a week, I also need to attend CUER Meeting in the Department. I sometimes go somewhere by myself, just to get away from people and arrange the 'space' within myself. Some people still cannot understand this habit of mine until now. I also still watch some dramas, like Tomorrow Cantabile, and other TV Shows like Avatar Korra. Almost once a week, I attend a formal, which is basically a nice 3-course dinner, where I need to dress up and wear my gown.

There is no equivalence of formal at MIT. Well, there is, but it's still cannot be compared with Formal at Cambridge. I learn a lot about European dinner etiquette just by observing people. I still did some mistakes in my table manner, but I am getting better (I think).

I have a single room instead of being in triple, like in the past two years. It felt empty at first, but now I'm getting used to having my own space and doing whatever I want to with it (like waking up really early to see the sunrise, or having a video call late at night).

I have more freedom in choosing what I want to do with my academics, extracurricular, and social life. I am trying to see what is 'right', or most people do by observing them. But then, I realize that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' choice; the best choice is the one that makes me feel good.

I got myself a railcard, which hopefully will remind me that I need to travel more while I'm here, in the UK. Studying and getting work done are important, but experiencing different things as an exchange student is far more important. It's only a year, and the next time I come to the UK won't be as an exchange student, so it will be different.

I'm still in darkness and I still need to figure things out. One thing that I know for sure, I don't regret my decision to get a bike. It gives me a 10-minute of absent-mind, just like when I read Koran or when I cook. Another way to forget all the worries.

This is how a day is in a Cambridge (exchange) student perspective. I don't know about the others' perspective, though.

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