The Highly Overwhelmed and Fish Out of Water Edition

So, if you ever get the urge to have yourself knocked down a few pegs…or better yet feel the need to make your life up to the current point seem like an exercise in mediocrity and boredom…I suggest that you sit in on an introductory session at a Cambridge graduate program (Development Studies, for example).  Of course, not everyone there has done extraordinary things (like live and work in Japan or Ghana, help prevent human trafficking in the US and Haiti, start and run a non-profit, or clerk at the UN), but many have and those are the ones that stick out.  Add on top of that the ones that previously studied at Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Johns Hopkins (or some combination of those) and you have quite the intimidating crowd.  Not to mention that 95% of the people in the room are younger than you…some significantly so.

Not to sell myself short, of course…I did go to UCF and I have traveled out of the country once before.  That’s somewhere to start, I suppose.  Of course, it wasn’t like I didn’t expect this kind of crowd, that was one of the main attractions to this school after all, but seeing it all on display in one place is a bit overwhelming.  The life experiences are what I’m most intimidated by…I’ll put myself up against anyone when it comes to books and such, but real-life experience is something you can’t replace.  However, I must remember rule #1, “it’s not as serious as you think it is at first glance.”

Anyhow, other than the initial shock…the evening went pretty well.  I nailed my short self introduction in front of a transfixed crowd of 75 or so.  I practiced on the walk over…and the flight over for that matter…so I was pretty prepared.  It helped that one bloke before me said he didn’t know why he was here…I felt like that set the bar sufficiently low that I couldn’t help but topple over.  After that there was one minor mishap that caused me a bit of grief.  I misplaced my name tag that we received in the morning.  I had it when I walked in the room…but lost it somewhere between sitting down and trying to put it on.  I improvised though…and stole somebody else’s (who hadn’t shown up) and wrote my name on the back.  I’m nothing if not resourceful in crisis situations.  In fact, I might use that anecdote if I ever interview for a job in a post-conflict zone or something.  “Give an example of a time you had to improvise in a stressful situation.”  That one would be sure to impress!

After the intro session we had a little par-tay downstairs.  This was right up my alley because it involved a lot of pointless milling about and forced conversation in a loud, crowded environment.  I stuck to my normal strategy.  Float around the perimeter,  never stay in one place too long, and pretend to read flyers on the notice boards every now and then…that way people are less likely to notice that your standing by yourself most of the time.  I did manage to talk to several very nice people.  I won’t go into details to maintain anonymity…but suffice it to say that most everyone seemed very friendly and quite interesting.  Me being “the least interesting person in the world,” I didn’t expect to hold anyone’s attention too long…but I felt like I held my own.

Needless to say, I was very happy to come home to my beautiful wife after it was all over.  Definitely makes things much more bearable.

Now it’s almost time to get down to business.  The British system requires a great deal of self-discipline…so I need to start putting myself on a regiment.  (As an aside, I learned that British undgergrads (at Oxford at least) pretty much do all independent study and have only 2 hours of “contact time” (or class time) per week.  Incredible…even I can’t imagine being on my own that much…and I hate people.)  Things get cracking for real on Thursday with the first lectures…so it should be interesting.  I think I can…I think I can…

p.s.  Not sure if anyone noticed…but the newest Nobel Laureate in Medicine is from Cambridge and he is a fellow at…drumroll please…Churchill College!  Yeah…take that Trinity…I think we should stop letting the Trinity rubbish into our grounds since they won’t let us on theirs!