Happy Winter Break

Here are some winter break reflections:

I’m able to count how many times I’ve stepped into a car since I flew in. That’s because I bike everywhere I can’t walk, and I walk anywhere less than 30 minutes. I bike to class, I bike to groceries, and I bike to distant friends’ houses. Everyone else bikes too: children, other students, office workers, and even professors that happen to be very old. I live by two daycares so when I bike to class I see adults not waiting in a car line to drop off their children, but a bike line instead (apologies, a queue). One of my hobbies is seeing all the different ways young children ride on the bikes of grown-ups, and each time I think I’ve seen it all I learn a new way.

I learned how to politely ring my bike bell to tell pedestrians to get out of my lane.

I learned that I need to buy the oldest, rustiest, looking bike on the market so that it doesn’t get stolen.

I learned that ‘quid’ is slang for a British pound.

I learned within the first few days (but I’ve gotten used to it now) that everything is smaller here- the cars, the streets, the sidewalks, the hallways, the rooms, the stores, the food packaging, the food servings. In the midst of my culture shock, I felt very claustrophobic but now it feels normal. I’m sure that when I return home everything will feel big.

I learned to say football practice instead of soccer practice. I was invited to play for the Eagle’s, The 2nd University Women’s Football team for the University of Cambridge! I’ve been playing for the men’s team for my Hughes Hall since we don’t have a women’s team, but I’m very excited about the Eagle’s. I’m going to try to play for both if I can manage the time and workload.

I learned to say trousers instead of pants because when I say pants my friends think I’m talking about underwear. Also, sweaters are called jumpers.

I learned that grass is not to be walked on. The landscaping here is pristine, absolutely beautiful, but if you dare to step on the grass you may get chased down by a porter. I’ve never been chased, but I’ve heard stories. My room window looks onto a sports field and I see how many hours it takes them to keep it beautiful. I do get sad though when I see a football pitch right in front of me but I’m not allowed to play on it for fun with friends.

I learned how to take a Lateral Flow Test, the take-home COVID test. Did you know the government (NHS) mails them to you for free?

I learned how to enjoy a homemade Chinese Hot Pot with friends in their kitchen. I thought I could decently manage my spice but they proved me wrong. It was fun when they laughed at how red my face turned.

I learned that I love homemade Indian food. Stove-top pressures cookers are some kind of witchcraft, chai is divine, and CTM (chicken tikka masala) is not a real Indian dish. (Edit: I was corrected and it actually is, sorry, my mistake)

I learned to always keep a grocery bag with me anytime I leave the house because you never know when you want to shop for groceries. It’s awful to have to buy another plastic bag when you already have five at home. Don’t tell my Poppa that I’ve made pesto noodles for the third week straight.

I learned that pres means pre-drinks before a party or a night of dancing.

I learned that some academic buildings in Cambridge are older than the US itself.

I learned what it’s like to experience my first major holiday (Thanksgiving) away from my family, it’s a deep ache that I’m not looking forward to again for Christmas. I have time now to prepare and plan with friends, though.

I learned what it’s like to get less than eight hours of sunlight a day. It’s hard to keep working into the afternoon/night when the sun sets at 4pm.

I’m proud of learning how to read very difficult texts. A few days ago I reread works by Donna Haraway that felt impossible in the first few weeks of classes, but after the first term, I can skim them and easily understand what she’s trying to tell me.

I learned what it’s like to meet someone who despite growing up across the world from me, holds inconceivably similar life values. The time spent learning about and caring for each other feels heavier because only this one year together is guaranteed. At the same time, I remind myself to enjoy the present.

I love how my views of the world, which I thought were decently open considering I grew up in the US, are challenged not only by my coursework but by new people I meet from different backgrounds.

I am happy here. I feel very inspired by my research and everything else I’m learning/experiencing. I am also homesick. It helps that I am making meaningful connections with friends.

“Fresher’s Week”

I’ve lived here in Cambridge for exactly 8 days (edit: 16 now) and I still ride the “I’m abroad!” honeymoon high. I say this to others often, but I’m a big nerd and I love school environments. I feed off of shared enthusiasms for learning and intellectual thought, which is very, very, abundant here, so I am almost always enthralled.

Something that I ask people when I get to know them is what they wish to get out of their time here at Cambridge. I ask this because I genuinely wish to understand their goals, so when it was first asked back to me, it took me a moment to think about my answer. This isn’t a main goal, more of a “parallel personal goal,” but I hope to gain more confidence defending my ideas. Even when challenged. I have plenty of practice vocalizing my opinions, but I’m realizing that I mostly tended to be in rooms of like-minded people. There was a moment on campus, last Monday, where I explained my motivations for choosing gender studies. The person I was talking to made a counter point. Instead of continuing the conversation naturally, I felt stunted and struggled to not only gather my own thoughts, but to actually hear what they were saying as well. I assumed that this happened because of my self confidence, so one of my goals this year is to gain the vocabulary and the self-assurance to express my thoughts even when opposed.

Also, I hope to develop meaningful relationships with others. I meet so, so, so many people, and instead of starting with small talk and staying there, I intentionally lead up to personal questions. I think it works well, because I focus less on the social aspects of fitting in or being included, but instead on the people themselves.

I am thankful for being here, and I get emotional when I think about how much work it has taken to reach this point. I am very lucky that the stars aligned and that I had a wonderful university to send me here. If I am already baffled when thinking about my current journey up to this point, I have no concept of how I will feel when I graduate this year.

Edits: I am reviewing this post a week later, and the “I’m abroad!” honeymoon has faded. Classes are hard, the reading never ends, and my classmates challenge me in a good way. However, I created a plan, I still take fun breaks, I just need to put on my “Megan serious pants” now. This is still an great experience. 🙂

Megan’s first post

I would like to start off by congratulating myself for my first journal entry! Secondly, I think this is a good opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Megan, I recently completed my undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering from University of Michigan, and this fall I will pursue a MPhil in gender studies from University of Cambridge. The year after Cambridge I will return to University of Michigan to pursue a one-year MEng in aerospace engineering.

I still cannot believe that I’m leaving in four weeks, it hasn’t sunk in yet, but at the same time I daydream about the future. For example, (and this exposes how much of a nerd I am by saying this) I imagine how I will do my assignments. I daydream about walking through the city center on my way to a fancy library, hearing city bells ring around the corner, passing by groups of students hanging out and chatting, but on the way to the library finding a shady patch of grass to read there instead. I have already been working through my summer reading list like a happy camper. At first I felt overwhelmed because, honestly, who wouldn’t be when looking at a list of about twenty books, but after it washed over me I remembered that this is what it is like to be in graduate school. I am proud to say that I already read Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, and whenever the overwhelming feeling creeps in again I remember to frame the reading as a fun, explorative process.

In my research proposal for the Cambridge application I described trying to make STEM more inclusive, that goal is still very strong in my heart, and since it is still early in the school year I purposefully keep my options open. I’ve also noticed a recurring question that I’ve struggled to answer: why did I choose gender studies? This was asked by the Roger M Jones interviewers, my peers, and by Sara Ahmed. I have my prepared response about inclusion within STEM, but now I’m reflecting on why I chose inclusion within STEM. Oddly, this was not asked by my family nor my closest friends. I assume this means that I talk about social justice often enough to the people closest to me. The next question to myself is: what makes me talk about justice in the first place? Was it how my family raised me to stand up for myself and others? Was it how I may have experienced an injustice? Did something external inspire me?

I started speaking out at a very young age– I have memories of approaching bullies on the playground in elementary school and telling them that it’s not ok to treat people disrespectfully. Of course, just like how we’re all human, I also had moments where I wasn’t brave, but it is part of life to forgive oneself and learn how to stand up for others better in the future.

I hope that this year I may reflect on my past and present to figure out why I pursue gender studies. I understand the logical steps like how I first applied for this fellowship to make STEM inclusive, then I completed my undergraduate degree, but instead I now look for more of a self-awareness and “internal reflection” answer. We shall see if I strike gold through one of my summer reading assignments, or maybe later as I choose a research topic, or maybe even later as I research and write my heart out.

Even if I never figure out what motivates me at my core, I am genuinely excited about this year. I want to learn more about myself, meet amazing people, and be better equipped to make space for those historically marginalized.