While still studying for his MPhil at the Faculty of Education, Emerson Csorba reflected about his time in Cambridge, with this guest blog post which some of our new students may find interesting and insightful.
“Never write about a place until you’re away from it, for only then do you have perspective.”
– Ernest Hemingway
In early January 2014, I received an email I will never forget. After several weeks spent refreshing the Cambridge graduate application platform dozens of times per day, I noticed the application status had switched: what once read ‘application made’ was suddenly ‘board of directors confirming approval.’ Several days later, the official confirmation email arrived in my inbox. An unexpected scholarship in May sealed the deal: I would be going to Cambridge for a M.Phil in Politics, Development and Democratic Education.
When I first arrived in Cambridge, colleagues from across the city remarked that the year would pass quickly. At the time, having yet to meet classmates and having only just been introduced to the traditions and events on campus, there was much to learn – and many opportunities awaiting for getting lost while making my way from college to college! As I write this, only one month is left in the programme, and it has been an experience that has left a significant impact on my life, one that words cannot do justice. In this brief reflection, I will speak to the way in which the Cambridge experience – but more specifically, studying in the Faculty of Education – has provided immense benefit in my growth as a scholar and person. In particular, I will emphasize the roles that the Library, PDDE route and several key faculty members have played in making these last nine months some of the most transformative of my life.
Considering how the thesis deadline is fast approaching, and for the sake of time and simplicity, I will present these reflections in the form of a list:
- The M.Phil in PDDE route and the students within it challenge each other to broaden their thinking
Students in Education – and specifically, the M.Phil in Politics, Development and Democratic Education route I’m a part of – have challenged me to think in ways that at first were uncomfortable, but that over time have been of immense value. From the first seminars of the year, my PDDE classmates were deeply engaged in the subject matter, both inside and outside of class. Coming from Canada, where the education system is more or less egalitarian, and where divisions between class are less pronounced than in Britain and the United States, it took time to feel at ease in a new culture where the debates on education differ so markedly. (In so doing, I have also learned a lot more about Canadian culture, which I’ve found has its positives and negatives!) Within PDDE alone, students come from Germany, the United States, Britain, Colombia, Peru, Australia and Canada. Whether I agree or not with viewpoints raised in seminar discussions, they have opened my mind to ways of thinking for which I’m grateful.
- There is space to step back and think
One of the most common phrases I’ve heard throughout my time at Cambridge is “Why don’t you go have a think?” Activities such as introspection are valued, and there is no shortage of beautiful scenery for taking long walks – on one’s own or with friends – around the city. On top of this, there are few assessments. Students are truly provided with the space to think through important questions on their own, an opportunity that unfortunately exists less and less these days in higher education.
The seminar and supervision approach to learning is also one that I wish more students could experience in higher education. I’ve taken a lot away from the many philosophical discussions on topics such as autonomy, freedom, democracy, liberalism and the good life, which I view as being valuable both intrinsically as well as for the work I’ll do later on in life across education, politics and business. Indeed, philosophy and critical examination are taken seriously in the Faculty of Education. And we can never have enough of this in the world!
- Social entrepreneurship is taken seriously: faculty and staff welcome this
The Faculty is remarkably open to social entrepreneurship. One unique aspect of my Cambridge experience is that I co-run a business based in Canada called Gen Y Inc., a company that helps organisations develop multigenerational engagement internally, attracting and retaining the next generation of leaders and managers. In no small part to Cambridge, we’re now entering Britain, establishing what I feel is a promising practice here. While in undergraduate studies in Canada, I was never sure whether professors were open to the idea of profit-making enterprises. At Cambridge, however, it has been much the opposite: the city is one of the most entrepreneurial and innovative in Europe, home to the “Cambridge Phenomenon.” (In the last 15 years, for instance, Cambridge University Entrepreneurs has generated more than 100M GBP worth of investment in companies. Not bad for a student society!)
Most recently, for instance, I was asked to speak at a Faculty of Education event entitled Education and Entrepreneurship. David Carter, Hilary Cremin, Nidhi Singal and Ian Frowe have all been champions in this regard, all providing support in very meaningful ways. The openness to ideas and support from the Faculty of Education has been a breath of fresh air.
- Learning is valued in itself, and the Library team ensures this is the most pleasant experience possible
Finally, I’ve benefited significantly from the rich collection of books in the Faculty of Education, most specifically with ones on the capabilities approach by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. There is such a terrific culture of learning for the sake of learning with students here. Supporting this is a Library team where every interaction is engaging, and where staff members always manage to have a smile on their face.
As another (and more positive) example about the culture of learning, I remember distinctly bumping into Abraham (a fellow PDDE student) on December 5, as I walked home from the Donald MacIntyre building. I had just handed in the Michaelmas term essay, having of course successfully hole-punched it. Hilariously, Abraham was on his way to the Faculty – with just two hours to spare before the essay deadline – leisurely reading a book on higher education innovation well outside his area of focus for Essay One! At the time, he mentioned there were “several edits left” on the paper. I remain both perplexed and impressed by his calm as the 4 pm essay deadline approached.
Studying in the Faculty of Education has been a nourishing experience, intellectually, spiritually and socially. I have never been in a place where students care so deeply about learning, and where staff are equal facilitators in this journey. Part of this is the Cambridge experience, but the culture in the Faculty of Education deepens this. I will forever have warm memories of studying in the Faculty of Education Library, with Oakeshott, Sen, Nussbaum and others by my side. This last year has, in short, served as a gateway into the wider world, while also helping me make sense of my life growing up in Canada. And more importantly, the memories and friendships developed here, with both classmates and faculty, will last a lifetime.