Dear Miss Lake,
Thank you for your application to the University of Cambridge International Summer Programme. We are pleased to confirm that you have been accepted as a full-time student for the Creative Writing Summer Programme 2017…
A dream had come true. I was going to study at Cambridge University. The course may only be two weeks, but it was two weeks longer than I would have ever imagined. And the thought of studying creative writing at such a high level – something I am so passionate about – just blew me away. I was going to be a Cambridge student.
The eight months leading up to my departure was a mixed bag of emotions: Was I excited? Over the moon. Would I be stressed about the immense amount of uni I’ll miss back home? You better believe it.
The unfortunate timing of the summer program decided to plant itself at the beginning of the second Australian uni semester. It would count for credit, but only for one course. I still had another three to juggle. I kept my optimism, though, or at least I did until I realised how much work the semester would actually be. This didn’t help my confidence. Despite the hurdle, I was still utterly elated about the opportunity. It wasn’t until the night before I flew out that it all hit me. The stress was too much. I completely broke down.
I hadn’t focused on the idea that I would be travelling on my own – something I’d always aspired to do, but never really thought about logically. I had travelled previously, quite extensively, but never by myself. I was so incredibly scared that I wasn’t ready for a trip like this, and to do it alone was completely overwhelming. All this time I had been looking forward to it, curious about how it might ‘change’ me, and now I didn’t want to go. It was way out of my comfort zone, and I didn’t like that.
I still got on the plane. Of course I did – how could I possibly pass up this opportunity just because it scared me? The thought of a future involving my brain to constantly wonder ‘what if’ scared me more.
I arrived at Heathrow in one piece, an old friend waiting for me on the other side of immigration. To my detriment, there was a slight dilemma: the airline had forgotten my luggage in Kuala Lumpur, where I had had a stopover the previous night.
Now, to bring myself to be okay with travelling alone, to work up the courage to take on something quite daunting, and to find out I had no luggage, was a major slap in the face. Of course this would happen the first time I travel solo. I spent that night in London, and all I wanted was to go home.
The following day I arrived in Cambridge, still without luggage, and as much as I thought my worries wouldn’t go away, the sight of this town proved me wrong. The photos don’t do this place justice. This is something you have to see some day.
That night I met my fellow students, and as nervous as I was to meet new people without any familiar faces in the mix, I started to become more comfortable. Everyone was in the same boat – there was no need to stress about this part. As well as creative writing students, there were people studying Shakespeare and medieval history. These people were so interesting, so different from those back home. That night I had my first sleep in Clare College, the second oldest college in Cambridge, and I was beginning to feel truly excited for the first time.
Classes started the following day, and I felt completely at home again. My luggage had arrived that morning, relieving my heart of the ongoing uncertainty of whether or not it was okay. I was now in an environment that I was incredibly familiar with. An environment I loved. The classroom.
Over the following week I was immersed into a culture that thrived when learning, where everyone was engaged and provided feedback and comments that I had been searching for for years. Studying overseas was something I had always wanted to do, and now that I was in the midst of it, it was so much more than I had expected. I was finally in an environment with the most like-minded people I had ever met, all with different experiences. From then on, I knew Cambridge would have a remarkably special place in my heart for the years to come.
The weekend involved a large number of activities: a viewing of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the gardens of Trinity College, a tour around the Fitzwilliam Museum, high tea at the Tamburlaine Hotel, drinks at the pub where Pink Floyd started their career (The Anchor), punting on a warm Sunday morning (for England), crepes by the river, a beautiful walk to the small village of Grantchester, and reading in the Newnham College gardens. A busy weekend spent soaking in the Cambridge culture as much as possible.
The second week of classes flew by. I was learning so much, writing so much, that I was losing track of time. The program was nearly over and I couldn’t believe my time there was coming to an end. Everyone was starting to get emotional; we had all become so close in such a short amount of time and we weren’t ready to say goodbye. I received my certificate at the formal dinner on our last Friday night, and I received my last hugs from these unforgettable people the following morning.
I spent my remaining two days with a couple of family friends up in Wycombe whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was a nostalgic and comforting way to end my journey. As much as I didn’t want to say another goodbye to this beautiful country, I was ready to go home.
And now that I am home, I can’t believe it. So much has happened in the past two and a half weeks, and yet it feels as if nothing has changed here. I have that familiar feeling I always get after travelling: of wondering if it happened at all. Not everything is the same, though. I have developed a sense of wanting to push myself over that boundary again, to feel the rush of not always knowing what to do. Being thrust out of my comfort zone was the best thing I could have done at this stage of my life. And now, next time, I won’t be so scared. I’ll be utterly compelled by the wonderful experiences that lay before me.