Cambridge2Cambridge: The Hat of Feathers

BY JESSICA CORSI

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This week, we are proud to introduce “Cambridge2Cambridge”, a recurring column from Jessica Corsi, a student in the joint JD/LLM program with Cambridge University. Corsi’s column will focus on the experience of studying law abroad.

The first thing I noticed about Cambridge is how relaxed everything is here. Upon my arrival, I showed up to my residence, and was, without question or request to produce even a photo ID, issued my welcome folder and the key to my room and sent on my way. You’ve got to be joking, I thought. I haven’t paid a single dime, or signed a single contract, or even proven that I am who I say I am, and I’m already safely ensconced in my dingy room relaxing on the tiniest single bed I’ve ever seen in my life. But they’re not joking; this nonchalance is definitely a way of life, and one I wish I could transport back with me when I return to HLS.

The plot thickened as every single rule was bent in my favour. We’re not allowed overnight guests for more than three nights, but mine, they told me, could stay as long as I needed. We’re not allowed to let our guests use our IDs, but that’s OK for you they said, and so my guest ran around using my ID without any problems. What a nice place, I thought; there seems to be such flexibility in my residential life. Surely this won’t carry over to the law course, though; lawyers love rules. But it has. Oh yes, thank goodness, it has.

During my first week here, welcoming speech after welcoming speech has emphasized enjoying oneself to the utmost and finding the proper work-life balance. I almost fell out of my chair when the convocation keynote speaker stressed the importance of not working too hard, and then stressed it again. In a small group meeting with my law advisor, she responded to all of our eager fretting with similar, repeated admonishments that we really shouldn’t work so much-this was a fun place, and it was of equal importance that we spend our time taking advantage of Cambridge’s many leisurely pursuits. I nodded in agreement, thinking to myself that this is a load of you know what that won’t last longer than the first week. Wrong again.

What makes this place so relaxed? I’m not quite sure, but I have a few theories. The school system itself is structured in a way that facilitates easy living. First, we’re not curved against each other, so people are friendlier and less competitive, by far. Second, classmates taking the same course as you won’t be doing the same reading as you, because, for the most part, we’re assigned suggested reading lists rather than compulsory reading, and since there is no Socratic method here, no one is going to know if you do any reading anyway. This self-study method of preparation combined with the very long time that we have to prepare-three terms leading up to only four final exams, three if you’re doing a thesis, interspersed with several school breaks of up to five weeks at a time-means that no one in the LL.M. course is in a particular hurry to hit the books. People are studying of course, but in moderation, as opposed to HLS, where, in my opinion, people study like crazy people.

I’m also ready to ascribe part of this blissful environment to British culture. You don’t want to be a “swot,” a person who studies all the time and has no friends, even at a university like Cambridge. In fact, I’ve never experienced so much peer pressure to close the books and go do something enjoyable in my life. Giving in to this pressure brings me into situations where I learn things like the tradition of the “quiet pint,” a pint of beer with your friends at the local pub that’s just that-quiet, rather than a big party. Imagine, drinking on a weeknight, when you haven’t finished all your work, and imagine doing it every day. Herein lies the name of this column-the Hat of Feathers is the pub closest to my residence hall, and the place where I had my first quiet pint. Usually, though, we can’t be bothered to walk the five minutes to his pub, and we meet in our residence’s pub instead. Yes, every residence here has a pub, where they sell you insanely discounted drinks and snacks. If you’re bent on being uptight and staying in the library, you’re going to have a hard time keeping your resolution when you have to walk through the pub just to get there.

My last theory centers on the relationship between Cambridge the university and Cambridge the city. It took all of one hour walking around this city to realize that it revolves almost entirely around the University. The physical landscape is dominated by the gorgeous ancient buildings, the businesses cater to and have a symbiotic relationship with the students, and the students and faculty are responsible for, if not all, then mostly all of Cambridge’s culture and way of life. This again combines with the nature of the education system here to mean that any day of the week is just as good as any other for going out. The self-study emphasis means that missing classes is de rigueur. Students often think of lectures as superfluous-as one told me, they’re just one person’s opinion, and so not that important-and believe that the most important process is simply reading on one’s own. So, missing class the next day because you stay too long at the pub on Monday night isn’t such a big deal, which explains why the clubs, pubs, and bars are always packed on Mondays. Additionally, any day of the week is up for grabs for doing work-you can have a lecture or an exam on a Saturday. People here are certainly not living for the weekend; they’re just living, and I am very, very happy to join them.

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