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Sunny Skies In The OC by Cambridge

[by Mirat Shah '08] A new post, and answers to your questions from the last one...

[by Mirat Shah ’08]

Sorry, I will try and write more regularly in the future. The first few weeks of term have been really hectic, mostly because I didn’t do enough work last term…

I think I was more nervous coming back here for Lent term than I was when coming here in September. I was worried I hadn’t made enough friends, wouldn’t have time to travel to all the places I wanted to see, wasn’t taking advantage of being abroad, needed to do more schoolwork, etc. Good thing I was wrong. Everything seems to be falling into place.

My birthday fell in early January while I was away from Cambridge, and so did my friend Matt’s (MIT ’08). Once we were back, we decided to celebrate Cambridge-style which entailed a birthday formal hall at our college (Emmanuel). This is one of those “Harry Potter” dinners I mentioned, where we and about 20 of our friends dress up, wear robes, and have a formal three course dinner together. Usually there are college Fellows present who dine at the head table. This ensures decorum, but after they leave, general immaturity prevails. Everyone sings Happy Birthday at the top of their lungs and gives speeches.


One of my favorite things about MIT is my major (Course 3- Materials Science and Engineering) and how small and close-knit it is (there are about 30 of us.) However, at Cambridge, my major (here it’s Materials Science and Metallurgy) is even smaller and closer. There are only 14 of us, which is very cool. Also, we basically only see each other all day because people only take classes in their one subject. There’s no such thing as HASS (humanities classes outside of your major) like we have at MIT. I’m taking a psychology class to fill a HASS requirement and Cambridge students think it’s the oddest thing.

Some of my friends in materials and I decided to take turns making Friday morning tea/breakfast before 9 am lecture. There was even some discussion of making it Tea and Tie Fridays where we wear ties to lecture as well, or Tea, Tie and Thai Fridays where we also eat Thai food after class. But so far, we’ve stuck to the basic tea. This morning was my turn and so I made French toast, or as it’s known here, egg-y bread. I learned that Brits don’t eat this with maple syrup the way we do. They were definitely missing out. One problem though… I think we started early breakfast to make it to lecture on time. However, today we decided it was imperative that we finish the dozen eggs we had, and so missed our first lecture. Oops.


One of the things I miss most about MIT (besides free printing at Athena stations) is the access to really great live music in Boston and Cambridge. I definitely did not realize how good I had it. Last year, I saw Of Montreal (twice!), Broken Social Scene, MIA, Bloc Party, Belle and Sebastian, and on and on and on, all for about $10-$20. This year, not as many bands come into Cambridge, and London being 45 min. away is not the same as walking across a bridge and being in Boston. Also, it’s so expensive to pay for a concert ticket and a train ticket. Irregardless, my friend Katy and I finally made it to a concert. We saw the electronica band Ratatat in London. (Listen to “17 years” on myspace… so good.) Unfortunately, during the opening act, Ratatat’s lead guitarist was sitting on the bench next to us, and we didn’t even realize until we saw him on stage.


Oh, and I realized I should maybe explain about the college system at Cambridge because it’s an important part of the culture. Students do not apply to Cambridge University as a whole, but instead apply to a specific college, of which they are about 30. Some of the most famous are Trinity, King’s, and St. John’s. Once at Cambridge, your college is probably the most important aspect of your academic and social life. Sorry to draw upon Harry Potter again, but it’s basically like your House. Freshmen are assigned supervision sections (like recitations) with other members of their college in their course. Almost everyone will live at their college for the duration of their undergraduate course. Each college has its own history, culture, grounds, dining hall, bar, common room, library, sports teams, etc. My college, Emmanuel, is especially known because it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and because we have a picturesque pond with many ducks. Also, each college will have specific events liked themed parties only for members of that college.



Oh and sunsets in Cambridge are really pretty.



Some answers…

Again, sorry it took so long. I was so surprised and happy to see all the comments and feedback. I didn’t expect so many people to a. read it, and b. be so interested in the Cambridge exchange. Actually though, when Dean Hastings visited us in Cambridge, one thing people mentioned during our discussion with him was that they had specifically chosen to come to MIT to participate in the exchange. So cool.

Anyway, so answers:

First of all, Cambridge apparently has some of the best weather in England. It does not rain noticeably more than in Boston, and is significantly warmer. And we had a mere inch of snow so far, and it was gone by noon. Actually, that was kind of sad. I want to see proper snow at least once this year.

And yes, American stereotypes can be funny / a bit ridiculous. I was with my friend Cassi (also MIT ’08) when she announced she was from Missouri and explained where in the U.S. it was located. A Cambridge student very seriously asked her if she was racist. When she looked confused/shocked, he continued, “no seriously, you’re from middle America, aren’t you all racist there?” He was completely serious. Meanwhile, she was standing next to me (I’m Indian.) It was completely illogical.

About tuition, as of now, you pay tuition to your home university, but room rent to the university you spend the year at. This is not a very good deal for MIT students because Cambridge students have much cheaper tuition. However, it’s somewhat (oddly) comforting to note that tuition for international students at Cambridge is almost as expensive as MIT tuition, so it wouldn’t be possible for a non UK student to attend Cambridge for any less as a regular student.

As a general rule, it is more competitive for Cambridge students to come to MIT than for us to come here. However, this varies according to your major and how many people within your year in your major want to come to Cambridge. Personally, I had to demonstrate competency in my courses, but was not actually competing against other students. This was not the case for people in other majors.

The system of study is very different here. At MIT, you attend lectures and then recitation section with a TA and about 10 other students for more individual attention and guided practice. If you still need more help, you can go to office hours and meet with your professors or TAs one on one. Also, you have frequent graded assignments like problem sets and have anywhere from 1 to 4 exams a semester, plus a final.

Here in Cambridge, we have lecture too and additionally, have supervisions. These are kind of like a recitation combined with office hours. You and 1 or 2 other students meet with a professor (not the lecturer of the course) and go over essentially a problem set. The problem sets are submitted to the professor prior to your supervision, but are not graded. They are just for practice. Also, there is really no continuous assessment in our courses; we just have a giant exam in June to determine our final grades. (Ahhhhh!!!)

Personally, I prefer the MIT system more, but I will delve into that in a later post.

As to why spend a year away from MIT… studying abroad is amazing. I could do an entire entry on this. I can’t really find a good way to put it, but I think I’ve become a much more confident person since coming here. It’s a real challenge to relate to and befriend people with a completely different set of experiences than your own, from the tv shows they watched growing up, to the foods they eat, and places they’ve been too. Sometimes, my first conversations with people involve modern art preferences, or experiences traveling in India, which doesn’t really happen at home. Also, even the most insignificant aspects of American culture, like Groundhog’s Day and baseball and why we don’t call Jell-O jelly can turn into lengthy discussions on national and personal ideals and the state of the world. However, people here are much more reserved and it takes more persistence to make friends. I feel like in America, if you hang out with someone once, or have a really great conversation with him/her, you are friends. That’s not true here… it takes a couple great conversations and an entire term of hanging out to become friends. And British values can differ quite greatly from American values. (Most of us read Brit-think, Ameri-think by Jane Walmsley before coming here. It is fantastic.) To me, it’s really important to be exposed to those things and be challenged not just academically, but socially.

And also, being abroad allows you to travel to other places which is really fun, and also teaches you a lot. For example, in Turkey, I didn’t speak or read the language. Often, we would have to get from point A to point B using several modes of public transportation and sometimes, we would have to do this in the middle of the night. To top things off, we lost our bags halfway through our trip, traveling to a central region of Turkey. I appreciated how far I was from anything familiar when my friend and I found a Turkish man in the tiny town we were in who couldn’t speak English but could speak German. My friend could speak German too, so she explained to him what had happened, and he called the bus company for us and spoke to them in Turkish. It was surreal. (And we did eventually get our bags back, amazing.) Anyway, after things like that, I am quite unfazed by things I would have found difficult only a couple of months.

And yeah, that’s all for now. By the way, when convincing your parents to let you come abroad, persistence pays off. I started at the end of freshman year, and by mid-sophomore year, they were ok with it. And I loved Istanbul! It was beautiful and very interesting how the secular and religious elements of society combined. Although, I wish I could read Turkish and then follow the papers, because I feel like I was missing everything below the surface.

If I forgot to answer anything, remind me! Sorry this post is enormously long.

11 responses to “Sunny Skies In The OC”

  1. Sean M says:

    Amazing. I have to agree with you, smaller classes are cooler than larger ones. I guess its because everyone is tight-nit and they all know one another.

  2. Reg says:

    Yay!!! Thanks for posting again! For me, the Cambridge/MIT exchange is one of the reasons I’m applying to both universities, so this blog is the best source I have about the program smile

    I just wanted to clarify this, coz my english isn’t the best, but did you mean in your post that for the exchange program getting from Cambridge into MIT is harder than from MIT into Cambridge?

  3. hey, istanbul is amazing! half a year ago, my class went to istanbul and then along the cost-its great there. and definitely warmer than where i live^^

  4. Meara says:

    Yay, Cambridge! I totally want to go to Cambridge if I get into MIT.

    But what’s up with all this Turkey stuff? Is that a part of the Cambridge exchange, or is that some other program you went on?


  5. Hopeful says:

    yeah…I studied in the British school system all my life and I know what you’re talking about when you say that you don’t take classes outside your subjects and have big exams at the end of each year with no evaluations on class work smile I’ve applied to MIT this year and the American education system still confuses me.

  6. bhavik shah says:

    well!!cambridge is quite good.But all this is so different from Indian Education System.Is it so expensive for an international student??

  7. bhavik shah says:

    well!!cambridge is quite good.But all this is so different from Indian Education System.Is it so expensive for an international student??

  8. bhavik shah says:

    well!!cambridge is quite good.But all this is so different from Indian Education System.Is it so expensive for an international student??

  9. Mark Doss says:

    so you liked the electronica in london? i know i would like it. trance music =P

  10. nice work…….. i am looking forward for my masters in information technology tel me d connecting links ,website where i can apply for my masters or u can help me in some other way. thx

  11. Alexander says:

    Great post, Mirat, and a great job. I hope you keep up the good work!