Choosing to spend the summer studying at the University of Cambridge's Pembrook and King's Colleges was instantaneous. I knew I wanted to do it, I wasn't sure I would be accepted or that I would have the means to do it. After the pieces came together, I set my sights on preparing myself: working on passports and visas, booking tickets, budgeting, and vigorously researching the culture.
Now that I'm just a month away from completing the program, my perspective on what it means to study in Cambridge completely transformed. While the academic experience has been invigorating and intense, the way the University allows students to access the city was completely unexpected. The smart public transportation from Cambridge Station to London, and the tube that connects every corner of London like a web, has only expanded the impact.
I never forget that I'm in an incredibly enriching learning environment, both fast-paced and comprehensive. It's as immersive and constant walking on cobble-stone streets to class everyday. I have little "aha" moments, but I haven't taken it for granted yet. I wake up each morning and exit my Fitzwilliam Street hostel to a view of townhouses, flowering gates, and bicycles. The first thing I see is the historical landmark across the street, a sign above my neighbor's door: "Charles Darwin lived here."
I do, however, forget just how famous my professors are until moments where one casually references interviewing Helen Mirren, muses on meeting Madonna, and invites colleagues to guest-speak from positions on the West End, the BBC, and in the friendships of actors, directors, journalists, playwrights, and the world-renown, both living and deceased.
In so many ways, I don't think I've fully landed two feet on the ground yet. Fellow students have gotten to the point where they're 'used' to the world spinning around us in this place. They love quiet afternoons watching Netflix in the dark, or eating at the same gelato storefront (a destination worthy of our patronage as "regulars") - and no longer desire seeing the rest of the gardens, museums, and landmarks.
For students who came to be students of a classroom, rather than students of the culture and citizens of the world, spending time with new friends from your home country and visiting American chain restaurants is a familiar foundation to find normalcy in. Many prefer a new normalcy to stumbling through ordering in another language, getting outsmarted on political knowledge in conversations with locals, or wandering until spent into unknown places away from tourist-centered gift shops. I've been humbled enough here to realize I'm no authority on the right way to travel, but I have found within myself a wanderlust I didn't realize I was capable of - and so grateful to the friends I've discovered willing to venture to the very edges of what's possible in an infinitely limited (with a limited-infinity) weekend.
In choosing my destination, I thought I'd be in a safe, familiar pool in coming to England. Instead I find myself craving the unknown and the differences, rather than banking on comforting waters. Total, head-under-water, over-your-head exploration has got me in its tendrils. The mysteries of the future, and 'making travel happen', as a low-income, first-generation college student never leaves the back of my mind. With that said, knowing that I have no idea what will be possible, I don't think I'll ever be able to stop travelling completely. I certainly won't be able to stop here. The gift of scholarship, of fellowship, and of true learning opportunity has manifested in an obligation. I don't know what "paying it forward" will look like for this entire experience, but I'm in a karmic debt to do so, somehow.