Day 2: Gates Orientation Day

I really felt the jet lag in the morning. I awoke at around 4am and found myself wide awake. One of the advantages of westbound travel is that you find it easy to wake up. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I waited around for breakfast. I wanted cereal, but I hadn’t been to the shops yet, so I researched when Sainsbury’s would open and how far it would be to walk, and set off to arrive there at 7am. But when I got there, there was a sign on the door saying it would open at 7:30. Annoyed, I wandered around the city getting my bearings of where all of the shops I might need in the near future are. By 7:30, I returned, purchased my Weeta-bix (which are depressingly not Weet-bix) and carried the two boxes and my milk back to the college, sans bag because I couldn’t figure out some subtle differences about the English self-checkout.

After breakfast, I mulled around in the college for a short while. Today would be the Gates Induction day, hosted at the University Centre, which was a couple of minute walk directly across the river. I walked in, and was welcomed by a lot of people in red shirts wearing lanyards: these were returning scholars who were running the induction. I made my way up to the second floor where the hundred or so scholars were mingling. Much of the day was spent forming groups of people and starting discussions: “What is your name?”, “Where are you from?”, “What do you study?”. Through these processes I met lots of people, and I shan’t go into details of each of the conversations I had.

After a short while of mingling with tea and coffee, we were sat on the floor and were introduced to the provost of the Gates Foundation, and each of the office staff. There was a welcoming speech, but this was quickly ushered on by the Gates council who would run the induction activities. We performed a number of icebreaking facilities. In one, we congregated into groups of varying sizes to perform small tasks like calculating the total age of the group. In another, we formed two concentric circles for a speed-friending session. In a third, our nametags were thrown the centre of the room and distributed randomly and we needed to locate our corresponding names. In each of the games, we met new faces, and tried desperately to remember names.

After some general socialising, we needed lunch. Our guides marched us out of the door and towards Pembroke College for lunch. However, when we arrived, lunch wasn’t ready. So we were marched through the vestibule to the dining hall and out in a obscure lap around the grounds and back into the vestibule again, much to the amusement of many of the scholars. Eventually we were funnelled into the kitchen, where we gathered up our meals and sat down in the Hogwarts-esque dining hall, with more socialising over food.

Once full, we returned to the University Centre where tables had been set up in various stations, which we cycled through as required. There were people from Barclays who were helping people set up bank accounts, we received our first scholarship payment in the form of an expensive cheque, and got general advice about medical, bikes and departments.

For the next session, some past scholars came in to give short presentations about what they had achieved with their scholarships and to give some big picture advice about how to manage the scholarship. But afterwards, we broke into college groups, and went out to explore the city. Our group was led by Sascha, a second year Russian PhD student, who took me and the three fellow Darwinians to book out Darwin’s punts. We took out two punts and made our way downstream past all of the old colleges and past the seemingly hundreds of tourists, each on their own punts. It was a relaxing afternoon under the blue sunshine, but there were two eventful moments: Whilst piloting the second punt, Maddy, the pilot of the first lost her pole in some mud, leaving them drifting off, so we needed to recover the pole to return it. The second, we were passing under Trinity College Bridge when the pilot of a company punt ahead of us decided to bridge jump, but he did not have enough momentum for the punt to return out the other side leaving the tourists somewhat bewildered. So we had to bump their punt up to him so he could collect it.

After punting, we went to dinner at Sala Thong, a Cambridge Thai restaurant near Darwin College seemingly at the request of Derrick, a 4th year Chemistry PhD from Sydney Thong. It was a dinner shared just between the Darwinians, each of us ordering various curries or grills. After, there was the option for a social night, but (as it turns out like many others) I was exhausted and jet-lagged by this point that I returned home to turn in for the night, ahead of the big start the next morning.


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