Nostalgia Lent 2018
CONTENTS A Conversation with Stephen Halliday 4 Pembroke Plants 8 Nostalgia 10 An Interview with Chris Smith 12 Cambridgeâ€™s Best Clocks 16 A Year Abroad 18
welcome to issue 8 Our Nostalgia Issue Every year, as January rolls around, there is tendency for society to stress this idea that we can only move forward, only think about the future - the future of our bodies, of our health, of our finances. But New Year is perhaps also the best time to take a moment to look back with gentle nostalgia, and remind oneself about all that the past has offered you. This issue is primarily an attempt to promote this act of reminiscing, particularly in relation to the past of Pembroke, so that we might value that which we once had and that which we continue to gain. It has been exciting and enlightening to guest edit this issue of Pembroke Street, and has certainly made me appreciate all of the work that Charlotte has done to keep it alive and well. Though it is only a short issue, I hope that you enjoy the fantastic contributions that have been made. Thanks toâ€Ś The Lord Chris Smith for humouring me so graciously as I stumbled through my first ever professional interview; to Stephen Halliday, for his kind words of encouragement and for always being willing to impart more wisdom; to our contributors, Natasha May, Andrew Jameson, and Anki Deo for their wonderful work; to Phoebe Flatau, for always moulding Pembroke Street into its gorgeous final product; and to Charlotte Araya Moreland, for all of her support and encouragement as I found my footing.
A Conversation with
Stephen Halliday Emily Fish sat down with Stephen Halliday - Pembroke alumnus,
lecturer and author - to discuss how Pembroke has changed since his time as an undergraduate. From the colour of the buildings, to the first admissions of women, it is amazing how Pembroke is continually adapting and yet still retains its character.
Emily: Pembroke nowadays has a fairly high reputation for its appearance - was it the same in the 1960s? Stephen: Well, from 1800, until the 1950s, any town or city of any size would have been covered for most of the year, but particularly winter, with a thick black smoke produced by coal fires. People heated their houses with coal, factories were powered by coal, water was heated by coal, and coal created smoke. If you hung your washing out, it was likely to come back dirtier than before you washed it. And Pembroke, like everything else, was filthy. You couldn’t tell, for example, that the Old Library was made of brick and New Court was made of stone - they were both just black. So it was a very unattractive college.
E: And how about the gardens - were they as prolific as they are now? S: Well, when I was an undergraduate the dean was a man named Meredith Dewey, and he was a scientist as well as a clergyman. Now he used to spend the long vacation travelling to exotic destinations and collecting rocks which they now have in the library, very important geological artefacts, but also plants: cuttings, and seeds, which he brought back in his sandwiches to keep them moist - and away from customs men. But his dog collar probably helped there. E: So we have him to thank for the exciting specimens that you see in the Pembroke gardens? S: He was, initially, in charge of just the rockery, outside the JP. But since then there has been an enormous amount done for the plants - you know about the banana plant? E: We here at Pembroke Street love the banana plant. S: Did you know that we also have pomegranates? If you walk along the path next to library lawn, there is a pomegranate tree, and you can see little pomegranates. You won’t find them anywhere else in Cambridge. We also have plumbago plants, one near the catering office and one just outside the JP, and they are subtropical. I was once giving a man from Texas a tour and he remarked, “they grow like weeds in Texas but I’ve never seen them in England!” - in September they have lots of blue and white foliage. Nick Firman, the gardener, is fantastic. He joined Pembroke a few weeks after I graduated in 1964, so he has been here for almost 54 years. E: Pembroke definitely wouldn’t be the same without him. S: Certainly, now the buildings and the gardens are an attractive a combination as you will see anywhere. The conditions of the gardens and the buildings is far superior to when I was here.Those I take on tours comment that King’s feels like a cathedral; Trinity and St. John’s feel like stately homes; but Pembroke, they say, feels like a college. Because you see students amidst all the history.
“ Did you know that we also have pomegranates? If you walk along the path next to library lawn, there is a pomegranate tree, and you can see little pomegranates. “ E: I think people would be quite surprised to hear that. S: Yes - then in the 70s and 80s, the whole place was cleaned. And gradually, it was as if you had drawn back a curtain. When I came back to visit, in the 80s, I walked into Old Court and thought, ‘actually, this is quite an attractive place’. That has made all the difference. I’m a Cambridge City Guide, and we bring more visitors to Pembroke than to any other college. E: Even places like King’s? S: Oh yes; but that is largely because when we take visitors on pre-booked tours they want to visit a college but they don’t want to pay, and Pembroke is the only central college that doesn’t charge. And when we bring them in, they walk past the Porter’s lodge and they stop and say “wow, what a beautiful place this is”. That was much less obvious in the 1960s.
The People E: I do think quite a few people believe that Pembroke is a very friendly place. S: Indeed, it’s always had a reputation for being friendly, and that begins with the porters. Several people have commented that they chose the college because the porters were nice and the gardens were lovely. But that wasn’t always the case. There was a rumour about a porter from when I was a student, Bert, who supposedly had a part-time job. E: I would think that being a porter takes up enough time… S: Well he didn’t have to work very often: he was thought to be a hangman. Sometimes, he would go away for a few days, and come back, and we could only guess where he’d been. This was only a rumour, but no-one ever denied it.
“ There was a rumour about a porter from when I was a student, Bert, who supposedly had a part-time job… Well he didn’t have to work very often: he was thought to be a hangman." E: Well we might always have had a reputation as a friendly college, but a remarkably significant change in the population of Pembroke since the 60s is that now there are women! S: Yes, Pembroke was one of the last to make the change. When I began my degree, the colleges were all-male and all-female, but by the time I left a few had started making the change. The delay in Pembroke’s part in the process was largely to do with the master in the 1970s, who for some reason was very much opposed to it; I think he just liked things the way they were. When Lord Adrian replaced him he started making the necessary arrangements immediately.
“Pembroke was quite relaxed the master used to leave his garage open so people could come and go. But some colleges took this very seriously, and Jesus college in particular used to have revolving spikes on its walls so if you tried to climb over them they would revolve and impale you.."
The Hijinks E: Do you think the college experience changed for male students when they started accepting women? S: In the 1960s there was a certain strictness that was not there as much by the 80s. It wasn’t until 1970 that England changed the law so that the age of majority was 18 and not 21; when I was an undergraduate we were still seen as infants in the eyes of the law. The college was locked at 11pm, and after that you had to come in over the back wall. Pembroke was quite relaxed - the master used to leave his garage open so people could come and go. But some colleges took this very seriously, and Jesus college in particular used to have revolving spikes on its walls so if you tried to climb over them they would revolve and impale you. When women were first admitted, there were talks of sectioning them off into one building, perhaps Orchard Building, but I think the college accepted that if things were going to happen between students, putting them in different buildings wouldn’t make any difference.
“ Everyone knew who was head of the river; everyone knew who won cuppers; but no-one knew which colleges were doing well and which were doing badly. There was a vague feeling, but no-one really seemed to care. I think nowadays you are under much more pressure to perform well, to do a lot more work. In the 1960s Pembroke College was probably what I’d call a middle-ranking college now it is really one of the stars. “
The Teaching E: The last component of the college that we should talk about is the academics. How much do you think they have changed in the past 50 years or so? Do students measure up? S: In my day there was no such thing as the Tompkins Table, so no-one knew how everyone else was doing. Everyone knew who was head of the river; everyone knew who won cuppers; but no-one knew which colleges were doing well and which were doing badly. There was a vague feeling, but no-one really seemed to care. I think nowadays you are under much more pressure to perform well, to do a lot more work. In the 1960s Pembroke College was probably what I’d call a middle-ranking college - now it is really one of the stars. It is one of the most difficult to get into. It’s in what I like to call a Champion’s League position; it’s great for everything. E: That’s a very positive advertisement for the college! S: I do always tell students that are thinking about applying to Cambridge to visit the colleges and see which one they feel is right for them. Considering all of its great qualities, it seems unsurprising that so many students end up applying here.
Pembroke Plants Part III:
Bringing Nature Indoors Pembroke Street’s resident plant professional, Anki Deo, brings us the third instalment of Pembroke Plants which considers how adding a little green to your home can help to stem your nostalgia for brighter days. The final throes of winter really seem to trudge past in the hungover afterglow of the holiday period, provoking a yearning for the sunnier and greener days of summer. Plants are essential to survival at this gloomy time of year - the life of verdure acts as a welcome reminder that spring is on its way and soon enough the days will begin to lengthen out again. There is clear evidence that plants have positive effects on mental health, and the Pembroke gardens, with all their luscious wealth of detail, never cease to be a great pick-me-up. When green is scarce on the exterior, introducing some indoor foliage is a sure-fire route to reinvigoration. However, not everyone is blessed with the natural talent or discipline to sustain every form of plant life. Fear not, afflicted readers, for there are plenty of accessible ways to fill your environment with greenery.
1. House Plants Acquiring a house plant is the obvious choice to inject some verdancy into the environment, the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) stands out as a top pick. It adds a serene elegance to any room, and also conveniently removes many common household chemicals from the air. It doesn’t require watering too often and can survive in low lighting – perfect for those with windows that don’t quite catch as much sun as one would like. Venus fly traps (Dionaea muscipula) are a bit trickier to tend to, but are a brilliant talking point and flushed with red for extra colour. My personal favourite is Monstera Deliciosa, AKA the Swiss Cheese or Hurricane Plant. The leaves are a wonderful shape, and each specimen has its own personality – Matisse had a jungle of Monstera in his atelier in Nice, and its influence can be seen in his later work. Like the Peace Lily, it is a low maintenance plant, requiring only indirect sunlight and watering a few times a week. The easiest places to acquire houseplants (aside from garden centres, obviously) are IKEA and the Waitrose Garden website.
2. Printed Pots Fun printed pots for your plants are not essential but make plants feel like a piece of art for your room! This Way To The Circus makes wonderful abstract, art deco and Memphis-style pots to house your new beauties.
3. Cacti & Succulents Cacti and succulents are similar to house plants in that they provide the presence of actual life, though their contribution to the room is primarily ornamental. Aloe Vera is the most multi-tasking plant, as its soothing gel can be harvested. However, it does grow best in direct sunlight, and preferably outdoors, so student rooms are not its ideal home. The real strength of arid and alpine plants for our purposes is that they are low maintenance, needing watering so rarely that they can withstand a bit of irresponsible parenting. The key to a great cacti display is choosing a good variety of shapes and textures. Etsy has a great array to choose from, including coloured options of flowering cacti. There is also a stall in Cambridge market for those who are concerned about carrying fragile plants in transit.
4. Herbs Planting herbs for cooking is a practical way to kick start your life in the new year, as it encourages the honing of both your culinary and horticultural skills. Chives are forgiving to plant and amp up omelettes, and mint is perfect for cocktail making (it also dominates when planted outside, so keeping it indoors is good for biodiversity!). Basil and coriander are harder to keep alive, so start with easy ones – thrifty gardeners can easily plant rosemary in the winter from a cutting from an existing bush which is free and cheerful (just ask first!). Fresh herb pots are available from Sainsbury’s, but are better quality from a garden centre or specialist plant shop.
5. The Next Best Thing Finally, for those with a touch of death when it comes to horticulture, paintings of greenery are not to be underestimated. The mood-changing effect that they can have is remarkable. Monet’s waterlilies and Renoir’s sumptuous roses are soothing, if a little tried and tested. The jungle vegetation in Rousseau and Kahlo paintings gives a sense of escape and is packed with dense detail you can easily get lost in. Hockney’s Californian paintings add so much brightness that you can almost feel sunshine pouring into your room – perfect for a February pick me up – but the scenes of the Yorkshire dales may also provide a touch of nostalgia for those from the countryside. Matisse’s cut-outs of acanthuses and other leafy, frondy forms fill a room with colour and simple joy.
Tasha May recalls some of her fond childhood memories of the simple things. A vampire awakens from several centuries of buried imprisonment, and walking through the forests of modern Maine, he espies through the midnight fog a vast, glowing, yellow “M” and whispers under his breath, “Mephistopheles.” The reaction of Johnny Depp’s character in the movie Dark Shadows to McDonald’s golden arches as the symbol of the devil is one shared by many. As such, when I am reminiscing with others about childhood memories, I am reticent to mention Happy Meals and the nostalgia I hold for them and what they contained. Many people will proudly profess that their parents never let them eat McDonald’s as a kid. But my parents did, and Happy Meals did indeed, as their name suggests, constitute a happy part of my childhood. I remember the tiny packets of fries; the limited-time offer of Shrek-shaped, green ravioli; and the playgrounds attached to the restaurants. But perhaps my favourite thing were the Happy Meal toys. I recall my excitement over possessing a plastic treehouse from Tarzan, as well as the disappointment when the dog translator from Cats and Dogs only played a bark instead of translating – as I dreamed – the secret languages between animals. One of my earliest memories of all is when I refused to go to preschool, and my mother procured a McDonald’s plush toy Flying Ace (one of the various guises Snoopy assumes) from behind her back with the promise that if I went on my merry way to school that day I would receive it as a reward. Over the Christmas holidays I had to clear the attic in my house and, in doing so, was confronted with these toys. With my now sage eyes (at the ripe and wise age of 20), I was amazed to see how cheap and ill-made they were. And yet, despite this, I nevertheless felt an irrational sadness at having to toss out these worthless knick-knacks. McDonald’s represents everything wrong with our culture that is fast paced, rapacious and disposable. But somehow my McDonald’s happy meal toys stand apart from that association. The power of nostalgia, the fact of having once valued something, is such that it transforms even the most useless of junk into something that makes you hesitate and feel a pang of melancholy before letting it go.
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photo by Phoebe Flatau
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An Interview with
Chris Smith by Emily Fish
Chris Smith, former Culture Secretary, member of the House of Lords, and Chair of the Art Fund, is an esteemed politician and greatly accomplished man. But he was also, once, simply a Pembroke College undergraduate like us, and he remembers this fondly. I met with him to discuss his student years, his favourite things about Pembroke, and what he sees for the future of the college. I wander into K staircase, previously unexplored territory, on an overcast Monday morning and make my way towards the Master’s office. His PA, Jeanette Ferguson, welcomes me warmly and offers me a cup of tea while I wait for Smith to join us. He is only a few moments behind, apologising for being late though he is perfectly on time, and excitedly asks if that’s the kettle he can hear boiling; he jokes that he couldn’t possibly answer any questions before he has a cup of coffee in hand. I relax. Smith is invariably courteous and soft-spoken, gesturing for me to sit down and make myself at home. When I ask him to give me an idea of the general feel of Pembroke in his undergraduate years, he jumps right in.
“Well I matriculated in 1969, so I grew up in the 1960s. It was a wonderful time of liberation and change and there was a sense of optimism around the world. There was a sense of the fact that you could change things by democratic decision making and action and campaigning – so I came up to Cambridge and Pembroke in that sort of spirit.”
As he recalls these memories, his demeanour grows warmer and there is a fond nostalgia in his words. Perhaps most crucially, he suggests, Pembroke gave him “a group of very good friends who have remained friends to this day. I remember long and intense and furious political and intellectual discussions; after dinner we would gather in one or other of our rooms and over coffee we would talk for hours about everything.” I ask him if he thinks this informed, in a roundabout way, his decision to go into politics, and he nods in agreement. “My university years were certainly formative. Pembroke gave me a bit of a foothold in things like the Labour Club and the Union that I got very strongly involved in – that, I suppose, led eventually to what became a political career. There was a rather good base from which to throw myself into all sorts of things all around the university.”
” I remember long and intense and furious political and intellectual discussions; after dinner we would gather in one or other of our rooms and over coffee we would talk for hours about everything “ Smith is incredibly proud, therefore, that there seems to be have been an increase in the availability of these informative and successful opportunities to students: “The strength of activity in drama and politics and sport and music at college level is much greater than it
“ In my day, it was all men. The students, the fellows. Not only did we lose out on quite a lot of intellectual brain power by excluding women from the college, we also made ourselves a much less rich and embracing community.”
was when I was student. For a lot of that you had to look to university-wide bodies to get involved. One of the fabulous things about Pembroke at the moment is there is real strength across a great range of different activities which students can throw themselves into.” I question whether he has seen these kinds of changes happen across the board in the time between his years of study, when he returned as an Honorary Fellow in 2004, and when he was appointed as Master in 2015. “Coming back as Master, you’re in a very different role and position, but I have to say I was very struck by how much had changed but also by how little had changed.” I ask
how big of a contributing factor was the decision to admit women, beginning in 1984, to these changes. “The biggest change, as you rightly suggest, is that now, for 33 years, Pembroke has admitted women. In my day, it was all men. The students, the fellows. Not only did we lose out on quite a lot of intellectual brain power by excluding women from the college, we also made ourselves a much less rich and embracing community. Having women in the college has made a huge difference, for the better. Now, of course, the student body is 50/50, though the fellowship is still skewed a little towards men; over time, this will be worked through, I’m sure.”
“ There’s a real sense that this is a place that wants you to feel part of it, and to feel supported and embraced. It’s an open arms place.”
Smith leans forward a little and laughs, before adding, “The other big change, I would say, is that the food is enormously better. The variety, the quality, is just in a different league.” Though I’m not sure the Master is treated to the daily pasta from trough, it’s nice to know that even our gracious leader appreciates the little things. But I am equally as intrigued by those qualities that Pembroke has retained over the past 30 years. I mention another interview that I have recently conducted with Pembroke alumnus Stephen Halliday, who drew attention to the consistency of Nick Firman’s work on the gardens, as well as the friendliness that visitors have always noted when they spend time at the college. “The gardens are just as beautiful as they were, and what you describe as the friendliness of the college is certainly still absolutely what it was. There’s a real sense that this is a place that wants you to feel part of it, and to feel supported and embraced. It’s an open arms place.”
“ Pembroke doesn’t stand on its dignity. When I was a student you could wander around anywhere in the university, you could go into any college. But Pembroke is sort of the only place where that atmosphere still exists, certainly we as a fellowship hope to keep that atmosphere alive. “ We speak briefly about the rise of tourism in Cambridge, and how this has caused some insulation within the University. Smith seems pleased when I admit that I was drawn to Pembroke by its atmosphere as a college, as opposed to the stately home that St John’s can appear to be, or the cathedral feel of King’s. “Pembroke doesn’t stand on its dignity. When I was a student you could wander around anywhere in the university, you could go into any college. But Pembroke is sort of the only place where that atmosphere still exists, certainly we as a fellowship hope to keep that atmosphere alive. And when we build the new site across the road, on Mill Lane, we will want that to have the same feel.”
During the time when he was composing his PhD thesis, Smith spent a year as a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard; I ask how this time measures up Cambridge, and whether there is truth in the idea that the Cambridge experience is very different to most universities. “Harvard was very, very different,” he replies emphatically. “The two things that are most distinct about the Cambridge system is the college, where your social time is largely spent with those you are part of a community with. The college system is important for that. The other major unique thing is the supervision, its very close teaching. At Harvard, even though it was sort of modelled on the college system, it had a very different feel to it. Most of the teaching that was done in very big lectures with many people.” He smiles and hesitates a moment before adding, “Was the intellectual standard as good at Harvard as it is here? Almost, I think, would be my answer.”
“ One of the things I really like about the fact that Pembroke welcomes a range of international students is that it enhances the experience for British students, who get to meet people from very different backgrounds and cultures – and that in itself is a very educational experience.” We begin to discuss the success of Pembroke’s various international programmes, and Smith is notably excited about the recent arrival of the American semester students. “I met quite a number of [the American exchange students] at the welcome drinks, and there are some really, really interesting people among them. One of the things I really like about the fact that Pembroke welcomes a range of international students is that it enhances the experience for British students, who get to meet people from very different backgrounds and cultures – and that in itself is a very educational experience.”
I ask about how he sees Pembroke moving forward amidst Brexit, the rise of new and important political movements, and the rapid advancements of technology. “Whether or not Brexit happens, things will change. That’s all I’ll say on that. And the advances of technology over the past twenty years have been huge. When I was here there were no mobile phones, no social media; if you wanted to get a message to someone you wrote a note and left it in their pigeon hole. If you wanted to phone home you went down the road to a phone box. It was a much less communication-filled world, so already we have seen enormous changes – some of which have brought problems. I do fear some of the consequences of the impact of social media on student life; the fact that anything that happens might be magnified across hundreds of people. You hope that gradually each person will learn how to protect a degree of private feeling in their life while sharing so much with others. I think there will be substantial revolutions in the way teaching happens over the next twenty years, and one of the things we’re thinking about in relation to the Mill Lane development is how we can create the very best, groundbreaking, state of the art teaching facilities. Rooms where each wall can become a screen and be used interactively by speech as opposed to buttons. All those sort of opportunities. We need to try as we develop across the road to keep at the front of the wave rather than run behind it.” As a tentative end to our discussion, somewhat removed from our main line of conversation, I ask him if he has any words of wisdom for the study of the literature of the eighteenth century – the period on which Smith wrote his PhD, and the period which I am now studying. He immediately offers some book titles which he admires and suspects will be helpful, and expresses an interest in the ideas that I am exploring this term. As I leave, I am grateful to be led by a man with such compassion and investment in this college and its students.
“ I think there will be substantial revolutions in the way teaching happens over the next twenty years, and one of the things we’re thinking about in relation to the Mill Lane development is how we can create the very best, groundbreaking, state of the art teaching facilities. Rooms where each wall can become a screen and be used interactively by speech as opposed to buttons. All those sort of opportunities …”
First on the list is a strong entry from Emmanuel. The clock, which can be found in the Front Court, sits in a central position – a clock’s rightful place – surrounded by ornate stonework. It has a clear design which manages to make an impact without straying too far into extravagance. If I had one small complaint however, and I accept this may just be me being picky, but the blue is quite dull and a touch more colour would be appreciated. Aside from that, it makes for a very pleasing time consultation.
Clock Rating: 8.6 / Runs like clockwork
Cambridge’s Best Clocks Andrew Jameson offers the next instalment of his candid reviews with a consideration of Cambridge’s clocks. After the hard-hitting exposé on Cambridge’s bridges in the last issue, you’re probably wondering what will follow. What’s gripping, what’s relevant, what’s dramatic enough to come back after such a shining example of investigative journalism? Well, I have one word for you: clocks. Yes. That’s right. In a vague attempt to justify this article’s place in a magazine about nostalgia, I present a review of Cambridge’s best clocks. It’s the review you didn’t think you needed. And, to be honest, probably still won’t by the end. But despite that, I haven’t wasted a second in searching Cambridge for the very best and worst of clock-kind – which was definitely a good use of my time and not just procrastination that’s getting out of hand … or out of clock hands… Let’s just get started.
Ah Queens’, one day you’ll come out favourably in these reviews but I’m sad to report this is not that day. Queens’ seem to have opted for two clocks in their Old Court and I know what you’re saying, “But, Andrew, surely, two clocks are better than one!” Indeed, that is exactly what I thought in the early days of clock reviewing but, alas, it is not the case. I have two particular problems (concerning the clocks that is, I probably have more than that generally as this article may attest): firstly, is that they are positioned one above the other. It’s just unnecessary – you only need one clock to tell the time so placing two next to each other is only going to confuse matters. That being said, it is probably quite useful considering that one of them is completely incomprehensible – my second problem. You may disagree, but personally I feel that when a clock has an entire webpage dedicated purely to explaining how to read it, your clock is probably too complex. Also, the clock you can actually decipher is just pretty boring.
Clock Rating: 2.1 / Incomprehensible chronological queries Of course, this would hardly be a clock review if I didn’t include Pembroke’s own clock tower and, I mean, it is objectively the best. Not much more needs to be said. But, in the same vein as the rest of this article, I will say something nonetheless. Pembroke’s clock is a masterpiece of design and workmanship which complements the library, the college and (I don’t feel that this an understatement to add) our lives. Its glorious spotlight means that, unlike your average clock, it is never restricted by the boundary of day and night. It’s always a shining beacon, even in the darkness of week 5 – ah, such relatable content. In fact, it’s so magnificent that I never use any other timepiece. Almost unbelievable isn’t it…
“You may disagree, but personally I feel that when a clock has an entire webpage dedicated purely to explaining how to read it, your clock’s probably too complex. “ I hesitated upon including this clock in the review as you probably haven’t heard of it (because it’s not like any tourists stop to take photos of it in the middle of the road despite it being a monstrosity and everything I despise about design) – but there’s also a clock near Corpus.
Clock Rating: 11 / Dramatic clock nightlife Clock Rating: 0 / Some glorified bug* (*Apparently some people call it Rosalind which, to be honest, just makes it worse.)
And that’s time to wind it up as another thing has been successfully reviewed – for better or worse – but there’s no need for alarm as this isn’t the end. Join me next time to see what new and exciting item will be reviewed and to find out how long it takes before this initially eccentric formula becomes slightly too tiresome.
The Year Abroad by Isabel Husband
When you begin to plan your year abroad, or meet those who have recently returned from their own, the words you often hear are “it will be the best year of your life”. However, as my own departure date drew closer, I began to doubt this sentiment. The administration I had already encountered was proving to be relentless and slow, and the stress of further paperwork and bureaucracy was beginning to dawn on me alongside the concerns of separation and culture shock. As I left for my first semester in Kazan, Russia, I was very nervous; but by the time I arrived in St Petersburg for my second semester, I felt truly excited and a lot more selfassured. I had already conquered 4 months of bureaucracy, strangeness,
In contrast, St Petersburg was a breeze: the administration was fundamentally betterorganised and my academic timetable was tailored to my interests. Besides, on the year abroad, academics play a relatively unimportant role in your time (but don’t tell my supervisors I said that). I swanned into lectures about the history of the Russian revolution and the Soviet, as well as lectures on Akhmatova and Sociology, while also taking up an internship at a clothing company. Between lectures and my job, I enjoyed an active social life. St Petersburg lived up to its reputation as the cultural capital of Russia: every weekend a new exhibition opened at a gallery or in a ‘loft project’, and free festivals and concerts often popped up around town. Never before had my life been so full of spontaneity and excitement, and free of responsibilities. As saccharine as this may sound, I will remember those 5 months in Piter as some of the best of my life, and I’m immensely grateful for the time I spent there – but I’m well aware that my current situation feeds my nostalgic perspective on the past.
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a fundamental shift in my approach to al life: every social encounter in Cambridge must be icro- managed and slotted into a perfectly organised timetable. â€œ
Coming home was bittersweet. Despite the brilliant memories, I had missed my friends and my homeland. At first, I was glad to revisit Cambridge, but readjusting to the Cambridge lifestyle was a huge shock to the system. Having barely done any academic work for 12 months, the workload now seemed almost insurmountable. More than anything, there has been a fundamental shift in my approach to my social life: every social encounter in Cambridge must be micro-managed and slotted into a perfectly organised timetable. All spontaneity is erased. The freedom afforded to you in the year abroad vanishes, and all sense of adventure diminishes to nil. My entire first term of 4th year I mourned the end of my year abroad, to the point where nostalgia almost kept me from the present. However, the constant flurry of questions that finalists are affronted with, questions about jobs and careers, applications and psychometric tests, forced me to re-evaluate my perspective. Living abroad means living on a day-to-day basis. My nostalgia is pure escapism – and if it takes living abroad to escape the incessant “so what are your plans for after you graduate?”, then I’d do it all again.
â€Ś nostalgia almost kept me from
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Edited by Emily Fish and designed by Phoebe Flatau. Articles by Emily Fish, Tasha May, Anki Deo, Andrew Jameson and Isabel Husband. Addition...
Published on Feb 10, 2018
Edited by Emily Fish and designed by Phoebe Flatau. Articles by Emily Fish, Tasha May, Anki Deo, Andrew Jameson and Isabel Husband. Addition...