MT Week 2: Day 4

Thursday means no interactive sessions, but also marks the beginning of a long-weekend filled with sport, reading, socializing, and sleep.

Truth be told most of my morning passed by in writing a couple of things, after which I went and played tennis. I had a horrid game, losing the only set we played 0:6, and winning a handful of points from unforced errors my friend made. Slowly I’m hoping to gain back some confidence, particularly on my backhand, where I seem to have lost any semblance of technique. I’m a left-handed player with a two-handed backhand (occassionally one, for the flair). The technique for both, as it was taught to me, is quite different, particularly in terms of how far my left foot crosses over to generate power. Owing to a lack of practice, I don’t seem to be able to gauge the distance to the ball on my backhand side, and then I get confused between wanting to play two-handed or one-handed, as a result of which my left foot is completely out of position. Hopefully I can work on that next week. It was good fun though, particularly because we played just after it rained, and got to experience changeable weather conditions at its finest.

The evening brought with it a wonderfully enlightening conversation with a Geographer whose works I’ve admired for a long time. It feels very nice to have this access to information, and hopefully I can do something in the short and long-run that improves that access, making it available to more people. For a start though, I’ve discovered that writing good e-mails really work. In a single conversation, I learned about the bounds of a subject and how to toe time with rigour, and he really spent time answering my queries about his work, his approach to the subaltern and what inspired him to write what he wrote – and what he currently researches. He listened to my ideas patiently, asking questions of me grounded in his own work, and I left the conversation with more to think about, which is always comforting.

Last night I had a wonderful discovery – where I found out you can use a laptop as a second-screen, and Windows 10 has built-in a wonderful projection feature. Now we’ve got that going in the room, so the eyes are less strained, and I have no excuses not to be reading and taking notes simultaneously. The pleasure of learning new technology skills is truly a kick unlike many others. Genuinely, I felt like I was hackerman.

MT Week 2: Day 3

While I tell you about how I’ve scheduled-in time for sleep, it’s equally important that I acknowledge that sometimes all schedules go for a toss. That tends to happen when you realize that there’s something you haven’t penciled in that you have left to do, or that you want to do. Yesterday after my lecture, I realized I hadn’t met my hostel neighbour from college for a week or so. I haven’t met some of my other newfound friends here for a similar period, but we’re catching up on the weekend – which I’m happy about. With this guy though, it’s slightly different. We’ve known each other for five years, but not just known. We were in the same class and spent final year sitting next to each other there, and as a result of being hostel neighbours, we bumped into each other in the washroom atleast once every day, in addition to meeting once daily usually late in the evening just as he was about to go to sleep – when my days in college used to start.

So it was weird realizing that we hadn’t met, and that it hadn’t occurred to either of us that such a long time had passed between meeting each other. Clearing out what we had for the evening, we had dinner, caught up – and owing to the fact that we have no overlapping subjects with each other, tried to gauge what the others’ challenges were. We went for a walk, set-up some IT infrastructure, got some shopping done – and when I returned home, I realized I don’t feel homesick because I often carry pieces of home with me wherever I go. In small ways, for example I’ve had the same alarm clock for the past 12 years of my life, and I’ve carried that everyone.

In Cambridge it appears as though that has happened in a large way: both of us seem to have carried people.

MT Week 1: Day 4

No lectures today, and so ample time to relax and unwind one would think. That is only partly true. The absence of interactive sessions does create a void in one’s life: a 2-hour window (and the 30 minutes prior and 30 minutes after) that is to be filled with an activity of one’s choosing. Yet a morning glance at the Outlook Calendar, my OneNote, and Moodle – with next week’s reading list allays any misconceptions I have. The 2-hours are now filled with more joyous reading, but also a less quick pace of life.

That allowed for random tid-bits, a bit of piano practice, some phone calls to family, some YouTube scrolling, figuring out how to manage relaxation reading alongside University work, and a quick trip to Decathlon. Why? To pick up a mouth-guard, among other things to play Field Hockey. I do have a long essay planned about the sport later on in the week, but today was about ensuring I have the gear with which to play and partake in the game with as little fear as is possible.

I was able to take a nice walk along the river in the evening. Although we consistently experience changeable weather conditions here, the sun was shining bright, which meant rowing teams were out practicing. The crowded river, with the shutters of every boathouse open provided the perfect background for a conversation about Jurisprudence classes from the last week with a fellow batchmate, whose undergraduate education is so different from my own.

My Jurisprudence lectures at the undergraduate level never asked of me to engage with the core texts – nor did they reward or encourage that engagement. Although I read one text, I didn’t have the curiousity while studying my course to read through any of the other core texts or primary material we were critiquing. Over the course of my five years, I spent only my final two semesters reading some more core literature, but never for academic reasons. On the contrary, the batchmate I was speaking to spent five years reading just the core texts per paper. So he’s already read through the stuff here, and is just gaining different perspective.

I don’t blame the system for me not reading the core texts, and I think I could have if I wanted to. My curiousity at that time was directed elsewhere, so I’m quite glad it’s being directed here now. Jurisprudence is often described as the theory or philosophy of Law, and it seems to lay down formal logic that’s applicable to the field; with different authors suggesting different systems of logic that may apply. It’s a ton of fun, really.

That’s where most of the night is going as well – and trust me, I’m a happy camper.

MT Week 1: Day 2

An early morning with a 9AM interactive session meant waking up and completing some reading to be adequately prepared. Thank goodness for that. I’m observing that Faculty here are willing to go out of their way – in terms of time, and in terms of covering material, to ensure that our queries are answered, but also to ensure that we voice our own thoughts on the material we’ve consumed. That’s new for me. I have some opinions on the state of the law, but I haven’t developed a habit of crafting opinions on every sentence I read within academic literature. It’s probably something I did subconsciously but is now something that’s coming to the fore. I left the session with more things to think about and more stuff I wanted to read – alongwith the feeling that I wanted to read through the reading list once more just to develop more opinions about them.

Time unfortunately does not sympathize, and so it was that I made my way to the Squire with a couple of friends to get moving on the readings for tomorrow. A couple of hours later and we were able to have a mini picnic with some pancakes, after which I headed out to meet a friend.

The world is such a small place. This friend of mine was a neighbour for 2 years, after which he moved away and I lost touch with him, only to recently discover he was doing his PhD here at Cambridge. A quick message and it was easy to re-establish contact, and a meet-up later, it felt like all those years had changed us, but not what made it enjoyable to sit across from him. I used to play table tennis at his house really frequently when I was younger, and he was on my bus route as well – so we spoke a lot about a range of things as kids. Some of the things he does now, his research and the Spartan races in particular were incredibly inspiring – and I can only aspire to that level of fitness, I know.

The evening was mellow; more reading, some cooking, and some FIFA, and on I march to my final interactive session of the week.

MT Week 1: Day 1

Today was my first day of lectures. And yes – I’m finally right with it this time, it’s the first week of Michaelmas!

I got up rather early this morning, having had a late night. All of this was self-inflicted because as with other LLMs, we’ve all been very confused about when which interactive session is taking place, and I thought I had one class tomorrow that was today. That + an e-mail meant lots of reading this morning to catch up and be ready for the session. I was grateful to be able to finish in the knick of time, allowing me to catch-up with my best friend before heading to my first interactive session.

I say heading, but my first one of the week was online – so the only preparation I had to do was just check up my audio and clean-up the background a little. I should explain a little more about interactive sessions. Traditionally on the LLM program, teaching happens through a lecture in-person, per subject, each week. We study 4 modules, and so, it follows that you attend 4 lectures a week. Owing to COVID, the faculty has had to adapt, and thus, to ensure we get the benefit of some interaction with faculty, each subject now has a pre-recorded lecture component, and a live interactive component per week. The live component can happen either online, or in-person – depending on the interactive principles the Faculty of Law has laid out. It’s a rather well thought out solution that seems to be working okay for the time being. I’m grateful for how much they’ve communicated to us as they’ve made decisions. There’s a low level of consultation and no consultative process – as this was decided before we came to the University, but it’s been communicated in a timely way, which prepares us per week. As a consequence, to prepare for these interactive sessions, you need to do reading and watch the lectures for them. Then you can go in saying you’ve done the work – but you’ll always leave the interactive session realizing you missed something. At least, I’m prepared to: I’m prepared to leave the session learning more – and finding out fresh perspective my eyes may not have captured.

Today’s were lovely. Global Governance took place online, and the convening lecturer broke the ice quite nicely, allowing for introductions and commenting on our experiences before jumping into asking us questions and moderating a fruitful discussion about the week’s readings. That ended and I immediately had to rush off to the Faculty, about 2 miles away, to reach my Jurisprudence class on time. I say rush off, by which I mean rush down the stairs so I could cycle as slowly as I desired to reach there. I cycle rather slowly, just to be as careful as possible here. Today was the first time I got to enter the Lecture Theatre at the Faculty, and it’s so stunning. It’s just a nice pit-style ampitheater, with the lecturer at the bottom – but with social-distancing and a small crowd spanning the room, it was a geometrical sight to behold. While the Faculty’s building was only constructed in the 1990’s, it’s still incredible to think about the kind of people who have studied – and taught here.

A quick coffee meeting with my batchmates later, I headed back home, spoke to my parents while cooking dinner, and now I’m on my way to do more reading. I have a 9AM online interactive session tomorrow – one I’m really looking forward to, but there’s a 93-page document I have to get through before that. Should be a lovely night and early morning.

MT Week 0: Day 5

Truly, playing a sport after a couple of years in front of a crowd that has played competitively, regularly for the past few years is a humbling experience.

This morning I attended the Cambridge University Badminton Club (CuBaC) trials. I already signed up for the St. Edmund’s Badminton Society, and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the University team, but here’s the thing. University Sports Club Members get this amazing Cambridge Blue Fleece Jacket that I really want. I’m just joking, really. I went to trials because it was a free badminton hour, an opportunity to meet new people, and to force myself to get a badminton racquet. It was a great chance also to see the University Sports Center without feeling like a stranger.

And so it was that I woke up early and cycled to Decathlon at Grafton, bought myself a racquet, and then wore thermal pants under a sports kit and two jackets to cycle the 2 miles to the Sports Center. My body has genuinely just forgotten I am in a cold place. I felt nothing while cycling, and then I got off the cycle and felt my thighs warm up like it was nobody’s business. I was sweating inside and had to get the jackets off pretty rapidly.

Sports over here is organized at multiple levels: there’s the University-grade, the College-grade, and the Social. The University-grade is when you’re bloody good at a sport, and your main objective is to beat Oxford – apart from developing as a sportsperson and doing well at BUCS. You do training at a rigorous level a couple of times a week, in addition to lots of fitness sessions to develop muscle, etc. Depending on the sport, it is not unusual to have a diet regime and things laid out for you. The College-grade is when you play intercollegiate Cuppers. You play with people at your College against other Colleges, and you basically train maybe once or twice a week. Depending on your College, you’re either trying to have fun, beat other colleges, or do both – and that dictates a lot of the environment around the sport at the College-grade. Then there’s the Social-level, where you just play outside of these affiliations for kicks.

I do not think (in my wildest dreams) that I am capable of playing anything at University-grade at the moment. At best, I’m at College-grade in some sports (perhaps badminton & basketball, but not much else). The rest, I shall play socially, or to learn – for example, field hockey is something I’ve wanted to get back into for ages, and there’s finally the opportunity and the facility to do that. There’s also Boat Club to teach me rowing, which I’m super keen about trying.

It’s all very nice. All of this also involved a lengthy discussion with my parents trying to understand whether I’d actually be able to do what I wanted to along with my studying, and more importantly, whether I should. Particularly with contact sports. I’ve gained weight during the lockdown and I’m somebody who does better at sports rather than workout regimes and runs (even though I have been running consistently), so I’m hoping to use them as a vehicle to meet more people and get fit.

Badminton trials were insane fun though. I lost all my games, but I met a bunch of undergraduate freshers (17 year olds) fresh out of school who gawped at me when I told them I was a graduate student. It’s very weird to be considered old when you’re one of the youngest in your batch.

That was the most exciting event today, apart from fun events I did in the afternoon online, and of course, more studying.

MT Week 0: Day 3

I’m laughing at myself because I discovered this afternoon that this was considered Week 0 and not Week 1 of Michaelmas Term. The late discovery has meant renaming each of my posts from this past week, and facing the truth that no matter how many vlogs I watch, and how many bits of information I read about Cambridge and its quirks, I will be underprepared for the experience. This amusing fact kept me going throughout the day – and what a day it has been.

After completing some clerical work with the bank to update some documents, I made my way to the Sidgwick Site to see the Faculty of Law and the Squire Law Library. Last evening I had a conversation with someone who suggested I spend some time there in the morning, which led to a quick reshuffling of plans and booking a slot at the Squire. Owing to COVID, they aren’t operating at full capacity so booking a seat in advance is necessary, but there are no restrictions on the amount of time you can spend there in either the morning slot or the evening slot.

The building is an architectural marvel. Look up the David Williams Building and you will see what I mean. It’s at a right angle, but has a curved glass facade that allows just the right amount of sunlight to creep in and assist people using the library facilities. The lecture theatres are absolutely massive – I can only imagine what being there in a regular term must feel like, it must be swarming with people moving around, and the library itself, mwah. At GNLU, I was very fortunate to have an excellent library collection. I’m not extolling praise for no reason. We had pretty much every book I needed across my five years, particularly in niche subject-areas, but I think the downfall of the library was in it’s organizational structure (or lack thereof). Books here are so neatly compartmentalized, it was super easy to navigate around despite it being my first visit. The librarians are incredibly friendly, and so knowledgeable, I’m actually headed back tomorrow to get some recommendations from them. There’s also so much access online here. Despite these resources, I hope never to become someone supporting the paywall – I hope to continue fighting for open-access.

My morning pretty much went there. I cycled back past the University Library and the bookshops and came back home resolving to spend the day reorganizing and studying. I achieved the first – moving the position of some shelves to make the books I borrowed more easily accessible to me from the table, and I managed to set up some stuff I had put off for a while (my music and Kannada stuff largely). The second has been a real uphill climb.

I spent a while tweaking the system I developed yesterday and unlocking OneNote’s true potential (what an insane tool it is), and then I slowly waded my way through two articles, before realizing I’d done just two, but it was 11pm. I really need to get my mojo back – not in the least because at this pace I’ll be weeks behind my reading before classes kick off. The other downside is that I won’t have the time to do reading I enjoy outside of Law, so its best to get into a rhythm quick. Tonight and tomorrow, I say. I’ve made myself a big mug of tea to keep me company too. Very in-theme.

Slowly and steadily, my Outlook inbox is being flooded with e-mails from the different things I signed myself up for during the Fresher’s Fair. I’m glad I haven’t paid for any memberships as yet, because I don’t think I’d be able to do justice to more than a couple judging by the term cards and mailing lists, but I need to figure out which ones I’m most keen about and sign up to them in the next week or two so I can enjoy them to the fullest. I’ve already had to apologize to Eton Fives for not being able to make their taster session owing to clashing commitments.

Such is life, and life is such. It’s nice to be a busy bee after six months of self-imposed busyness.

MT Week 0: Day 2

As I look over today to recall the mental impressions that today’s events have created in my head, I am left knowing Cambridge is going to give me the opportunity to experience things I had looked forward to, but also things I did not anticipate doing here.

After setting up a bank account I came home to get going on the reading lists for the first lectures of term – and in a recurring theme today, I spent a large amount of time trying to figure out the most optimal strategy for note-taking. We were informed yesterday that exams this year were going to be conducted as 24-hour, online, open-book exams. As a consequence, preparing myself is both a combination of doing readings to stay up-to-speed with things, and preparing quickly-searcheable, well-organized notes. That’s a task and a half. I seem to have, at present, found a system that leads to some level of recall, which is helpful to get started, but I think it’s going to undergo a lot of change as time passes and I learn more about what the expectations are per course.

A few hours later I headed to Eddie’s to complete some errands and then went out for a game of tennis. We don’t have a tennis club at College, so a few of us created a Social Tennis group, which about describes the level of tennis fitness I have at the moment, and the level I’d be committed to playing. Tennis is one of those sports where the fun you have is largely based on how evenly matched two players are, which I think is true of most racquet sports, and this afternoon, it was rather lovely to find somebody about the same skill-level as me. He outplayed me, and I lost 3-6 to be fair, but we’re both figuring out our service game and getting back into the swing of things, which makes for good fun.

Another cycle ride home and I sat to work on more reading. In the evening I attended to the Tolkien Society: a society dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien and exploring all of his works, and some family calls, ate my dinner, and now I’m sitting back to do reading once more.

You’ll notice I’ve said I’m reading multiple times in this post. Being very honest with myself though, I don’t think I’m reading much at all. I still have the same few PDFs I started the day with open, because my brain keeps fluttering away, but I’ve got to get stuck into it and keep trying till I get back into a rhythm. I’m noticing here that each day is going to be very different this first week (till I find a schedule at least), and so, it’s probably best to slot out the number of hours I want to be doing something rather than trying to sort out a specific time I want to be doing an activity.

I’ve also begun to journal – which is weird, given that I run this blog, but that serves a completely different purpose. It’s more writing as well!