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International adventures

Following Thursday’s post on Peter’s round-the-world cycle tour, two more Pembroke students speak about their recent adventures abroad.

Patrick Kirkham (2011) did a CCRC Asia internship in China over the summer:

Patrick‘I’m studying the History and Philosophy of Science. I did one lecture last year about the way that science was used in Chinese national propaganda in the 1960s. From this, I became interested to learn more about the Chinese government’s current scientific policy. They put a lot of emphasis on science generally and they fund a lot of scientific research. They have these big technological shows of what they’ve built: the highest, the fastest or the biggest. They are also experiencing a lot of tensions to do with climate change.

‘Pembroke offers a scholarship for one student each year to do a CCRC Asia internship. I applied for the travel package, which meant that I would spend four weeks working in Beijing and then three weeks travelling around China. After an interview, I was lucky enough to get the scholarship and was placed in a company called Vogmask, who make high-quality, fashionable pollution masks. My project was to help set up a website that explained the basic information about pollution in China. There are a lot of news articles about the subject, but I was researching things like the causes, the health impact, government policies and different types of masks.

‘Being plunged in and having to live and work in China was definitely a major personal growth experience. It is a completely different culture and you have to quickly adapt to their mindset, etiquette and management style. Thankfully, the work I was doing used similar skills to writing a weekly supervision essay. Doing the trip through CCRC Asia also meant that I had a lot of support. They helped us to find a placement, accommodation, they gave us induction sessions and language classes, and it meant that you had someone to call if you ever got lost or stranded. I’d happily go travelling on my own, but it is really good to have a safety net.

‘It also gave me a chance to get to know people from other universities who were doing the internship. About 30 of us were living in the same place and there were loads of cultural activities in the evenings and weekends. People were working in all different areas: law, marketing, real estate, wildlife, journalism and one was even designing specialist package holidays. There are so many options, so for anyone thinking of applying for next year I’d say definitely go for it.’

Lucy Aitchison (2011) is studying MML and recently returned from her year abroad:

Lucy‘I study French and also Spanish, which I started from scratch here at Cambridge. It would be normal for people like me to go to Spain for their year abroad to consolidate their language, but French was the one I loved first so I decided to go to France instead. I didn’t want to go to Paris where there would be lots of other Cambridge students, so I applied for a job at a translation company in Rennes. I didn’t have any professional experience, so I thought that rather than spending a year at a French university it would be really cool to see how an office works.

‘I send off my CV and had a telephone interview the next day. I was terrified; I’m awkward on the phone in English, so I thought in French it would be terrible. However, I got the job and made the rather hasty choice to take it. It’s a huge decision so I did worry I’d rushed it, but I really lucked out: it was great and I had such a good time. I learnt fairly quickly that I’m not well suited to sitting at a desk 9 to 5 every day, but at least my job was very varied. I translated everything from articles about fashion to legal documents. I also got to do some subtitling and some voice recording. The most exciting thing for me was sitting in the interpreter’s booth during a major court case. It was really dramatic and made me think that, although I don’t want to be a translator, I might like to pursue a career in interpreting after I graduate.

‘I did fall into the trap of speaking English a lot of the time because I was working with people who spoke it, but the other interns in the office were such a mix of nationalities – German, Dutch, Italian and even Spanish, so I kept up my Spanish a little bit as well. The real saving grace was sharing a flat with two French people. That means that even when you’re tired and can’t be bothered to speak French you are forced to, which is probably the best practice. There are always moments when you make mistakes or get tongue-tied, but people understand. In fact, you get so used to embarrassing yourself that you gain a lot of confidence. When I look back at where I was in first year and where I am now, that’s the biggest difference I notice. I’m also much more independent. In comparison to organising everything for yourself, and in a different language, Cambridge feels very safe – it’s almost like boarding school!

‘I had mixed feelings about coming back knowing that many of my friends had graduated and moved on. I also became very attached to Rennes and it was a bit heartbreaking to leave; when I got on the ferry to come home I burst into tears. But the thing about Pembroke is that once you’ve been back for half an hour it’s like you never left; you slot right back in. I do feel older – I’m not sure I feel any more mature – but it’s like I have a new perspective and a lot of barriers have just fallen away. The year abroad has been a break and it has allowed me step back and appreciate Cambridge so much more. You don’t sometimes realise how lucky you are to be here because you get so bogged down in work and everything. Being away gave me a chance to re-evaluate what I really want out of my time here. I know I am here for me and that means that I won’t get as stressed about work.

‘It was such a great experience that I almost feel a bit guilty – I think that everyone, whatever subject they study, should have the same opportunity!’

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