Saturday, October 1, 2022

Jessica’s Blog: First term at Cambridge

YT blogger, Jessica Pham has gone up to Cambridge to study Law.

In the midst of our debate on university places and Thurrock students, YT has reconnected with our blogger, Jessica Pham.

The former Stifford Clays Junior school, William Edwards and Palmer’s College student reflects on her first weeks at Cambridge.

“Picture the scene: it’s midnight during your first week at university and you’re in a sweaty dark club, looking around at the mass of unrecognisable faces around you. The music is building and arms begin to fly everywhere. Is it Rihanna? David Guetta? DJ Fresh? No… it’s S Club 7. I quickly realise that this may be the only place in England where university students get this excited dancing to Disney songs and 80’s and 90’s “hits”, with memories of my Year 6 School Disco at Stifford Clays Junior School flooding back. Some universities have a freshers’ two-weeks, whilst our partying antics and ice-breakers lasted a whole… four days.

Here the streets are narrow and lined with cobblestones, the centuries-old buildings tower over you like miniature castles and the reception is definitely not a reception; we call it a ‘Porters’ Lodge’. Alas, I made it to the University of Cambridge, and I wouldn’t change where I am for anything in the world.

I started reading Law here in October 2011 after spending a gap year in France and Vietnam. The freshers’ “Four-Days” gave me a good flavour of what my Cambridge experience over the next four years would be like.

Upon arrival, I collected my pre-ordered long black gown that I would be wearing to formal hall dinners: candle-lit three course meals in a beautiful mediaeval hall, old portraits hanging from every wall.

First, we had our matriculation dinner to mark our admission to the university. It was surreal: an experience that rivalled a scene plucked straight out of Harry Potter, something which had not escaped the college master’s attention when he told us teasingly that ‘the owls will be over from the Porters’ Lodge with your post in a minute’.

A punting trip in the narrow and winding River Cam followed that week, which was an experience not unlike a gondola ride in Venice. I also met my college family, a Cambridge tradition whereby each Fresher is given second-year mentors as college parents and a Fresher sibling and we all go out to dinner for a “Family Night”.

Of course it was not long before the Freshers’ Four-Days came to an end, and the reading lists began piling up. So, what’s it like being a Cambridge lawyer, and in particular, a lawyer at Downing College? What’s unique about Cambridge and Oxford is their ‘supervision systems’: regular classes in groups of upto only four students, to discuss with leading legal experts about what we have prepared and read for that supervision. Often, the textbooks or articles that we are instructed to read have indeed been written by our professors and heated discussion with the other students and the professor over a wide range of controversial legal matters is not uncommon.

The workload is intense: eight hours a day of independent reading, in addition to lectures, is the recommended amount; whereas homework at college might have consisted of an exercise or worksheet to do – and even then, somehow, an hour of one’s time seemed a long time – ‘homework’ for one supervision can easily surpass 150 pages of reading and Law students have two supervisions a week.

So the motto here is work hard, play hard: the variety of extracurricular activities allows us to take our minds off of work. I am heavily involved in mooting competitions at the moment, which means donning my long black gown and effectively pretending to be a lawyer in a court room, arguing legal points in a fictional case. The best part is getting judged and receiving feedback from incredibly clever and experienced ‘real-life’ lawyers, not to mention the constant supply of free ‘nibbles and drinks’ – a seemingly integral part of every Law Society event.

In addition, a lot of debating goes on at Cambridge, with the Cambridge Union Society inviting everyone from Vince Cable MP to Katie Price to debate controversial topics in front of hundreds of Cambridge students. It is impossible to resist getting involved in societies and clubs as there is always so much going on.

I have even started playing Korfball, for example – an intense contact sport originating in the Netherlands and played with mixed teams, combining elements of netball and basketball. I am also involved in a charity called Kenya Education Partnerships, which sends students to Kenya for over two months in the summer to invest resources into rural secondary schools and initiate incredibly effective programmes of sustainable development.

Indeed, being at the University of Cambridge is a truly unique experience. Even the lingo takes some time to get used to, with words like ‘bumps’, ‘bedders’ and ‘suicide Sunday’ becoming commonplace expressions; terms last only eight-weeks with extensive 6-week holidays punctuating the year but, as our Professors duly remind us, ‘study vacation’ and not ‘holiday’ is the more appropriate expression.

So what makes all this hard work worth it? Is it being regularly wined and dined by City Law firms on the look out for potential recruits? Is it the picturesque and fairytale-like scenery, with towering buildings and untouchable lawns? Or is it the anticipation of a Wednesday night at Cindies, among the most popular of the Cambridge clubs, where Hakuna Matata and Cotton Eyed Joe are just waiting to be danced to? While these are all highlights of my Cambridge experience so far, they are in fact only the icing on the cake: the Law course has been incredibly interesting and I am very much looking forward to what lies in store.

Jessica Pham

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