Samara Linton, ACES Diamond Awards winner 2012, writes about her experience of attending at Cambridge University. This is a very inspiring, insightful and informative article.
I am fortunate to study medicine at Cambridge. I am thankful for my parents who encouraged me, the teachers who challenged me and the people who doubted me, making me determined to prove them wrong. It was the opportunities that I had that allowed me to reach Cambridge, a place of vast opportunity.
Benefits of going to Cambridge
The academic benefits of being at Cambridge speak for themselves. I have lectures from leading intellectuals, practicals with incredible resources, and weekly small-group teaching with subject specialists. Cambridge also provides a great environment for independent study with an abundance of opportunities for research. One of the benefits of the medical course at Cambridge is the third year where students intercalate and study another subject, usually one from the Natural Sciences course. This gives us the chance to study and do independent research on an area of interest.
There are also numerous ways to pursue your academic interests outside of the course. This year, I joined the committee of a new student-led organisation in Cambridge called Polygeia (www.polygeia.com). We aim to empower students to research and write policy on global health issues and will be hosting our inaugural conference in Cambridge in November 2014. As the Marketing and Outreach Officer, I have organised and led workshops and assemblies in schools, encouraging sixth form and college students to get interested in global health issues and start thinking about policy.
Extra- curricular activities
There are also numerous opportunities for non-academic enrichment in Cambridge.
I play for my college netball team, I was a representative for the Christian Union in my college and now I’m part of the International Committee for the wider Christian Union. I have attended ballets and theatre productions, visited exhibitions and balls and more talks than I thought possible!
Cambridge has also afforded me the opportunity to travel.
Through college grants, society funds and fundraising in my college, I travelled to Ghana last year to volunteer as a mentor with the African Gifted Foundation in Accra and in a hospital in the rural town of Donkorkrom.
This summer, I travelled to Peru to volunteer with a local development charity through Tearfund, a trip partly made possible by funds from the university.
Medicine at Cambridge is hard work: the course is challenging, your timetable is demanding and your peers are ambitious. Academic challenges aside, there are also cultural and social challenges.
When people start comparing types of cheese, and name-dropping composers, it is very easy to feel out of place. However, having immigrated to the UK in 2001, maybe I am just used to learning to adjust to new environments. Cambridge is a learning experience.
University is a maturing experience. We live in an increasingly international and multicultural world and I believe most of us will find ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings at some point.
Cambridge is a place to learn; not just about bacteria and scientists, thinkers and ideologies, but to learn about the people around you and their ways, their ideas.
I ask for translations when my friends casually quote French phrases, I Google the places they talk about. In supervisions, I make note of the names mentioned and then go and research them. I will spend hours sketching a reaction cycle that my colleagues grasped in a few minutes.
Turning my weaknesses into my strengths: asking for help
I have learnt from my weaknesses, especially how I can turn them into strengths. I have also learnt to ask for help. When you have worked hard to achieve something, it is easy to believe that admitting that you are struggling is failure.
When you call home, you want to tell your family that your studies are going well and that you are enjoying yourself. However, I have learnt that you let yourself down when you refuse to look after wellbeing. If you do not ask for the help and support you need, you may never get it.
Diversity at Cambridge
Cambridge has a collegiate system, which means that every student belongs to one of the 31 colleges.
In my college, I am one of two black students in my year group and so it is easy to forget about the cultural diversity that exists in the university if I only spend time in my college.
Therefore, I joined my university’s African Caribbean Society (CUACS) early in my first year, and was elected president in March of that year.
Cambridge University African and Caribbean Society
The society aims to educate members about African and Caribbean history as well as contemporary issues and so this year we hosted speakers such as Esther Stanford, an internationally acclaimed scholar and Reparationist and Dr Gus Casely-Hayford, an eminent scholar at SOAS and presenter of the BBC series ‘Lost Kingdoms of Africa’.
We also supported the Cambridge screening of ‘Riots Reframed’, a social commentary on the 2011 riots, with an audience-led panel discussion with the director and several Cambridge academics.
CUACS also empowers its members through links in industry, networking opportunities and peer mentoring. We also encourage our members to work to empower the wider community, and this year I organised our first ‘Give Blood Day’ to highlight the issue of the lack of donors from African and Caribbean background.
Finally, the society aims to entertain its members with dinners, socials and garden parties. The highlight of our year was Culturefest, our annual showcase of African and Caribbean talent and intellect, with MOBO nominated poet/rapper, Akala, headlining the event.
Cambridge has many thriving cultural societies and an International Students Union, with which we ran events. We also joined the other African societies across Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin University to celebrate Africa Day, and co-hosted a dinner with Oxford’s ACS.
Campaigning for Change
I am pleased to say that there is an increasing awareness of the need to address issues of under-represented groups in the university, and this includes ethnic minorities. My time as CUACS president led me to apply for the role of the ethnic minorities’ representative for the college’s welfare team subcommittee.
My college now has an online ‘Race and Cultural Diversity’group, a place for students to discuss, ask questions, celebrate and share topics relating to race and cultural diversity. I also joined Fly, a new forum established in conjunction with the Women’s Campaign, for ethnic minority women attending Cambridge.
The BME Campaign has been especially active this year, working behind the scenes to promote equality, as well as organising campaigns such as the ‘I, too, am Cambridge’campaign to challenge ignorance and discrimination.
In the two years I have been here, Cambridge has been graced with visits from influential thinkers and leaders such as Baroness Lawrence, Dr Cornel West, Reverend Jesse Jackson and ChimamandaNgoziAdichie. I do believe that things are moving in the right direction.
Making the Most of Cambridge
I believe that Cambridge is what you make of it. The university is a place of academic excellence and it is easy to be fully engrossed in your course. However, university is also a place filled with incredible people and wonderful opportunities, so I would encourage every student, regardless of where they study, to make the most of the time they have.
Challenge yourself and challenge others. Look after yourself and look after others.
Do that, and I trust you will have some of the best experiences of your life.