Under the ‘Bridge March 24, 2009Posted by dolorosa12 in life, university.
Tags: cambridge, life
The two people who read this blog might be wondering why it’s been so long since I’ve written about life in Cambridge. The answer is that until today, I simply couldn’t bear to do so. Lent Term hit me with the full force of a slap in the face, and for the eight weeks of its duration I felt as if I had been thrown into a pit of quicksand, while an army of leprechauns squeezed my heart through a clothes wringer and stamped repeatedly on my face. Florid metaphors aside, Lent Term was a grind.
Old Cambridge hands tell me it is ever thus. You spend Michaelmas Term floating around, in awe at your own cleverness and the old buildings and well-stocked libraries. Then the sun goes away and you realise that you might actually have to do some work if you’re going to survive, and more importantly, get paid to write about obscure medieval texts written in a dead language.
The main piece of assessment in Lent Term for me was two exams, euphemistically termed ‘Written Exercises’. Mine were in Latin (first year) and medieval Irish (second year). Three things you should know about me:
1. I don’t like exams;
2. I hadn’t taken an exam since mid-2005; and
3. I really, really don’t like exams.
For most of the term, although I was revising solidly, I walked around with this stunned, increasingly hysterical look on my face. People in the common room were treated to Attacks of the PanicRonni on an almost weekly basis. The other M.Phil students had to put up with my anxiety-ridden whining every second day.
Oddly enough, though, the exams went okay. I did mix up pluperfect and perfect verbs in the Latin exam, and claim that a dative noun was accusative and a genitive noun was accusative (apparently everything’s accusative) in the Irish exam, but the translations themselves seemed fairly straightforward and I didn’t run out of time in either exam.
I ran into one of my friends in town after the Latin exam, and she said that I was looking happier than I had looked in weeks.
Lent Term also destroyed my confidence in my ability to write. I went into it with very clearly defined goals for my dissertation. I was going to write 1500 words per week, so as to be finished the dissertation by mid-April. What I ended up with were 5000 rather disjointed, badly put together words, most of which I’m too ashamed to show to my supervisor. I spent many an hour convincing myself that I was not cut out to be an academic, and that what I wanted to do in fact was to return home to Australia, work in a dead-end retail job and feed my brain by blogging about books.
I think I’ve mostly got over this self-doubt, thankfully.
When I set out my experiences like this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lent Term was unremittingly bleak. This was not the case. What got me through was the people around me. The longer I stay at Cambridge, the more I appreciate the ASNaCs. Who else would think to build a snow longship on a snowy day? Who else would bring port to the weekly departmental lunch? Where else would you find a common-room full of people able to tell you the tense, person and number of a Latin verb that you’re too lazy to look up for yourself?
It’s the little things that matter the most. Weekly coffee sessions with my fellow M.Phils. Latin study group. The crazy conversations at ASNaC pub. The enthusiastic turn-out at CCASNaC. The fact that my Irish tutor spent a month patiently going through unseen translations with me. Consolatory trips to Borders on Wednesday afternoons.
My non-ASNaC friends are wonderful too. Again, it’s the little things that matter. Watching films at the John’s film nights. Being able to borrow milk, bread or cooking oil when I need it. Late-night, drunken post-Hall conversations in the kitchen. The fact that my American housemate bought me a small jar of Vegemite from the big Sainsbury’s.
Almost every week I have a moment where I think that this is it, I cannot endure being away from home any longer, I’m going to go crazy, this is intolerable. And every week, it is the accumulation of little things such as those I’ve outlined above that make me realise that not only can I endure being here, but that I enjoy it. Coming to Cambridge forced me to grow up, to live outside my own head and to open my eyes to a world beyond my front door. If nothing else, I feel it’s made me a slightly better person, and for that I have my wonderful friends to thank.