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 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 4

I woke up this morning and had a lovely, open and frank discussion with members of my school management about the alumni association that we are looking to set up. One of my batchmates actually said things best when we were on call when he explained that we didn’t understand the value of an alumni association till we grew old enough to recognize how easy things become when you have an established network in place to assist you with queries. More critically, we’ve reached an age where we’ve all come to realize how fortunate we were and how much we can use the alumni association to mobilize resources to help other people, and that’s something we’re eager to do. Hoepfully things go smoothly here on out because we’re slightly enthusiastic at the moment – and we need to capitalize on that.

Then I met up with a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law to understand how his start of term has been compared to my own, but honestly – just to hang. This place provides such good avenues to speak to people about the ideas they’re exploring, and it’s a useful way to remind yourself how littler you’re reading (even though the reading lists make you feel like you’re doing a lot). It’s helpful to know that there’s so much out there that is worthy of human exploration, and so many people capitalizing on it. Genuinely, I believe that moves humanity forward in a lot of ways. I also activated my subscription to Pret A Manger, which gives me 5 free drinks of my choice a day for the first month, which is unbelievable. This month will be filled with a lot of oat-milk hot chocolate. Yum.

In the evening I went to the Eagle Pub, right across from Corpus Christi, where Watson & Crick regularly hung out. The entire place had a lot history inside, with photos of rowing teams adorning the walls and dim lighting that gave it a very old feeling.

I returned home to get cracking on my reading. Interactive sessions begin next week by which time I’m expected to have finished the reading and watched the initial lecture for the classes I’m taking: a fair amount of work given that I need to really assimilate what I’ve read and not merely memorize it to reproduce in an exam. Some gobi I made in the evening really helped that process along. I can’t believe it’s Friday already – and the weekend when I wake up.

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!

MT Week 0: Day 1

So this is it? Michaelmas Term has commenced.

I’m done with my first official, official day at the University of Cambridge. Two officials are necessary since I’ve been here a while now, I’ve matriculated on a different day, the academic session started a week ago, but today, things felt like they meant more.

This morning I finally had the chance to meet my buddy at St. Edmund’s, who is on the fast-track 2-year Tripos Law program. Most Colleges create College families for freshers, but as a mature College, Eddie’s offers buddies to help us adjust to life here and ask questions we may otherwise feel like holding in. Very helpful. As both of us are Law students we attended a meeting with our DoS, Dr Sean Butler – as well as our Fellow, Ms Catherine Dobson. Apart from offering up free sandwiches, both of them were super encouraging. Coming here this year, amidst how uncertain everything is, and how imminent another lockdown appears was a risk, and it’s very gratifying to know that some faculty and staff recognize that. I think the struggle with everything moving online is making the most of all the social events Cambridge has to offer and the experience that it is; but every one is really working toward providing a safe atmosphere in which we can enjoy them. I think the only issue with that is the level of responsibility thrust upon every individual, and I can only hope everyone takes it seriously.

Post-that we had our LLM induction – which felt like it stretched on a little, but was essential for the Faculty to carry out, to provide us with all the information we need before we get into the reading. Finals this year are set to be carried out all online – as 24-hour, open-book exams. I have very mixed feelings about that decision, but I know I’ll have to now account for this method of examination while doing my readings and preparing notes per course as well, so I’m appreciative of their decision to announce this policy so early on in the year.

In the evening I cooked myself some pasta, attended a theological study group, and was able to reflect on everything this past week brought as I edited the podcast. It’s been surreal. My plans for tonight are to figure out how to actually allocate pieces of my time to reading – and to reply to my messages, because I feel friendships from afar slipping away slightly as my replies delay beyond 24 hours.

Another side-thing happening at the moment is that we’re trying to mobilize my school’s alumni association. So if you’re an Inventurer reading this, please reach out – we need the support.

Pre-Term: Day #8

Today’s the last day before Term actually begins, and this becomes a #Camblog for a short period of time. I can’t think of how this day could have been better. I woke up this morning and recorded a lovely episode of the podcast with my mother, which gave me a chance to think about how I dealt with some things before I came to University. You can listen to that tomorrow if you’d like. While eating breakfast I managed to catch-up with my childhood best friend after a week or so, which felt very strange especially given how we were speaking every day for nearly five months – and I went off to the Cambridge Union.

I debated during my undergraduate degree, and I enjoyed the activity. It gave me the opportunity to improve logical reasoning skills and make new friends, but it also brought back my reading habit. I don’t think I was the best debater at University, not by a long shot – but I had fun with it. When we were there, I remember discovering the debate clips from the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union. Close friends of mine studied at Oxford and I was able to ask them what the Union there was like. I never asked friends at Cambridge about it, and I’m glad I hadn’t. This morning, I had my breath taken away from me. The Union is stunning. The building itself is just wonderful to look at, but the history – and the way it’s preserved is delightful. I was taken by the Chamber, and taken by the fact that the bicentennial debate was This House is not what it used to be.

How else to mark changing times?

They were kind enough to sponsor free ice-cream after the tour, a double-chocolate cone at Jack’s Gelato was my pick. A walk to Eddie’s to collect goodies & check my pidge, a quick stop at Sainsbury’s for some groceries, and I cycled back home to eat my lunch and finish some meetings.

The evening was actually when things really kicked off. I went to Wilko’s and picked up a kettle and some colourful pens I needed, cycled around Cambridge with a friend from Bangalore, and cycled up to Eddie’s once again – using a new route I discovered on Google Maps that makes the hill climb bearable. We played table tennis out in the rain; and I haven’t found a sport more thrilling, particularly because the wind made it seem like I had some incredible top-spin ability.

I’ve been back home for a while, and was able to catch-up with my household. Living with a family is really nice because you always come home to people – and it’s always pleasant to talk about new experiences you’re having with locals, to whom all of the foreign-ness I am experiencing must sound absurd.

Like I said earlier though – tomorrow is when Michaelmas Term begins.

From the Statutes and Ordinances of the University of Cambridge
The Michaelmas Term shall begin on 1 October and shall consist of eighty days, ending on 19 December. The Lent Term shall begin on 5 January and shall consist of eighty days, ending on 25 March or in any leap year on 24 March. The Easter Term shall begin on 10 April and shall consist of seventy days ending on 18 June, provided that in any year in which full Easter Term begins on or after 22 April the Easter Term shall begin on 17 April and end on 25 June.

To quip in Hindi, feel aata hai. These small bits of tradition give me joy – and I’m pretty eager to see how much my days change now that the University is in full-swing. I already know, for example, that tomorrow is packed with inductions and introductions, yet somehow, I need to attend a Virtual Fresher’s Fair to get to know about the Societies I want to join – and sign up to as many e-mail lists as I can. I’m also hopeful there will be free merchandise, but we shall see.

Pre-Term: Day #7

Today has been a very amusing day.

This morning I woke up and ran in the rain, which was a first for me. It’s taking some acclimatizing, and I’m being forced to pick between running quickly to warm up, and running slowly so I can actually complete a decent run. It’s very entertaining for me to look at how my head makes these decisions, and makes me more curious about seeing the inside of my brain one day. I do hope that becomes possible in my lifetime.

A solid run later, we were scheduled to walk from St. Edmund’s to Grantchester Meadows, a 3 mile walk – and so I walked to college, adding a mile to my own count for the day. Grantchester is a stunning little meadow close by to Cambridge with a little village and everything, where the Bloomsbury Group used to do a lot of thinking & writing. The walk was very pretty, and I was in excellent company, keeping me in rather good spirits in the cold and the rain (the real feel at one point said 6 degrees – so the worst is yet to come). What absolutely dampened most people’s joie de vivre was the discovery that The Orchard, our destination for the day, was shut. We walked back and I returned to the warmth of my home, hoping to spend the evening on some work.

I ended up playing some videogames and attending QuizSoc’s Fresher’s Pub Quiz – making new friends, instead. The quiz was super fun, and I really love attending new quizzes to see how innovative people get in coming up with unique rounds that they can add into their quizzes. There was a letters round today – asking you to find the letter that sets two words whose definitions were presented apart. For example, you’d see the part of the alimentary canal below the stomach; the intestine and round, circular dinnerware. That would be bowel and bowl, making the letter e the letter setting them apart. Another round was dingbats, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

A bit of work on our school’s alumni association, some international law reading, and writing this blog – and I’m a very pleased man going to bed, hoping to wake up in time for another run out in the rain.

Pre-Term: Day #6

Last night was legitimately crazy and I’ve ended up walking a whole bunch across cobblestones in my formal shoes, which is not a very pleasurable experience. This morning, I awoke to two realizations: it’s been one week since I moved out to my new home, and I’m four days away from the start of Michaelmas Term. It feels like the week has flown by with coffee meet-ups and learning Cambridge’s culture, but most of all, the week has been a lesson in the art of layering up. That’s right, not lawyering up, but layering up. I’ve understood since I’ve come here that a lot of my excuses to get out of social meet-ups when I don’t fancy going will no longer work. These are some I can no longer use:

  1. It’s raining too heavily,
  2. That’s too far away,
  3. I’m stuck in traffic,
  4. It’s too cold to meet-up.

None of these will work any longer. The weather here stops nobody, which is a testament to their character given how frigid the rain can feel. It’s also made me appreciate footballers more. On television, I always wondered why they wore gloves, and why their breath fogged up so much when it looked rather pleasant and the rain didn’t feel as heavy. I’m experiencing it all now, and trust me, I no longer understand how they play football at all.

There was a lunch meet-up and a household tea happening today which I was unable to attend owing to some work commitments (that reasoning continues to hold good here), and thus, today became a day-in. A day to rest my weary calves and thighs (barring a run in the morning), to sit, think, and work. It also allowed me to catch-up with family, cook leisurely and eat my food without wondering how to navigate to where I need to be next.

I was right. The two weeks of quarantine meant it would take me at least one week to want to stay at home. Trust me, I didn’t particularly want to either. I would have loved to go out – but sometimes the socializing urges have to give way to more practical things. I’m certain now that the art of time management is one that I’ll continuously get to work on over here.

Tomorrow I’m back out, and the forecast says it’s very cold, so I’m eager to see how things pan out.

Pre-Term: Day #5

Today was my matriculation day.
Matriculation marks the formal admission of a student to membership of the University, and means we sign a Matriculation Registration Form, promising to observe the Statutes and Ordinances of the University and to pay due respect and obedience to the Chancellor and other officers of the University.

Of course, there’s that aspect of things – the signing of a form (which has taken place electronically for the moment, and will happen in small groups at matriculation soirees). However, this was the first day I got to wear my academic gown. I’ve been a fan of tradition for a long time. While hoping for increased accessibility to people from more diverse backgrounds, Universities set themselves apart with these little traditions. Even back in India, IIT-Bombay, for example, hosts their graduation in Indian traditional outfits. I enjoy that. So wearing the academic dress was quite lovely – and to me, in this chilly weather, I started to recognize that perhaps it was born out of practicality. You know, an additional layer worn on top of formals to feel warm, but still appear formal.

The matriculation itself was just a quick little photograph; but what followed was the chance to meet two friends: one who has the same personality type as me, and another whose research interests align very closely with my own – both incredibly fun. Subsequent to that was the chance for photographs. I’m someone who is always game for photographs, but rarely know how to ask people to take them of me. I was in luck – with me were two photographer friends, both who have a wonderful eye for detail and direction, but a lot of patience too. And thus, we went around St. Edmund’s in the morning, and Cambridge at night – taking photos everywhere we pleased. It’s impossible for me to pick a favourite photo given the range we captured, from formal ones outside Trinity Lane at night, to me pretending to be a wizard with a twig. If only I had a broomstick too.

Cambridge at night has a completely different vibe to it. There’s very few people out on the streets, a lot more open space, and it’s very dimly lit. It definitely looks like Hogwarts. In my head, I always imagined the colleges themselves to be a source of light to the town. I don’t mean this figuratively, I mean it literally. They’re so large that I anticipated every room to carry a source of light and allow for the streets to be well-lit. How wrong I was. This night has been memorable though: for the company, the photographs, and the slow-cycling competition outside Gonville & Caius College (I’m glad we didn’t try doing that till the Corpus Clock).

Pre-Term: Day #4

Everybody cycles in Cambridge.

I live off-site. This means I’m not on College accommodation, or University accommodation. It’s important to remember that Cambridge is a town with people living here who have nothing to do with the University, and I’m very lucky to have found a lovely place to stay. It’s about 20 minutes by walk to both the Law Faculty, and to St Edmund’s, time that’s cut in half when you cycle. That is good enough reason to acquire one.

The story of my cycle is a story of luck, and now of love. I’ve ridden it one day and I am remembering now how much I enjoyed cycling to places inside my gated community, and how liberating it is to be able to cycle on the roads. It’s not something I’ve done before and it’s something I’m enjoying thoroughly. I’m keen to see where all I end up going with the cycle, and what all it gets to see. Bike theft occurs commonly over here – and forget that, light theft does too, which meant some expenditure on accessories to keep safe.

Having been to a picnic earlier in the week, one of the members from there was kind enough to meet me again for crepes, which provided a fine opportunity to get to know someone outside of the Faculty of Law, which I’m certain will become my social hub – especially if our meet-up this evening is anything to go by. After eating some pulao I made, I ended up going to meet what I thought would be a few, and ended up being way more than a few LLMs. Like yesterday, it opened my eyes up to the diversity in the batch. As a fresh undergraduate (having completed a degree in May), I’m one of the younger ones in the class, which is comprised of, among others, some students who have completed a PhD. In conversation with them, I understood that unlike my own conditioning – which views qualifications very linearly (undergraduate, postgraduate, doctorate, post-doctorate), a large number of societies worldwide view qualifications as merely being indicative levels of education. Consequentially, it isn’t absurd to have done a PhD and then be doing an LLM – and the LLM is often pursued with a research grant; to gain both institutional affiliation and further specialization.

Now I’m thinking of all the wonderful doors this degree opens up for me. I can only smile, and hope that more people get to experience this.