Don’t Bring the Tart to Class by Ruth Yao

How is higher education different in your host country from the US? Think about overall institutional structure as well as the pedagogy that is employed in the classroom. What strategies have you used to navigate these new rules and mores in these academic settings?

I ran up the steps, pear pastry tart in hand, and halted once I saw my two classmates at the top. One of my supervisions had been moved, so I had two supervisions back to back. From what I understand, supervisions are specific to Cambridge. They are lectures between the professor and one to three students, and they generally take place in the professor’s office. To paint a picture of a Cambridge professor’s office, there are cozy couches, a warm fireplace, some bottles of wine to the side, multiple rooms, and even possibly kitchen. These become areas for discussion.

With two minutes to go before the supervision takes place, I begin to eat my pastry for a late lunch. However halfway through, the students from the previous supervision exit the professor’s room, and we had to hurry in. Tart in hand, I apologize, set it on the table, and promise to not touch it. My professor, an elderly distinguished fellow at King’s College one of the most prestigious colleges of Cambridge University, was in shock. The idea that a student would bring food into a lecture, let alone a supervision was unheard of. The student that brought the tart into the supervision, then heard about it for the next ten minutes, and then multiple times again throughout the lecture. After multiple heartfelt apologies, I believe that this incident has been forgiven. However, I learned a few important lessons.

Not only was the structure of lecture in England different, but the rules that came with them. Once you learn the rules, you pay particular attention to follow them. Cambridge is a university rooted in tradition, and they have a right to be. As an individual there only for a semester, it is not my place to be indignant when I get told off for breaking a rule. Instead of focusing on where anything but myself is at fault or judging differences, I can make sure I am doing my best to be respectful and understanding. I like this story of the tart for multiple reasons. It showcases the intimacy allowed in academic discussion, through the supervisions at Cambridge. Yet reminds me to stay on my toes and not get too comfortable.


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