Week 104: Orientation 2019

Another year had rolled around, and another flock of new scholars were arriving in Cambridge. Most of the week was preparations, with a returning scholar’s briefing for Orientation being held on Wednesday evening.

Not being in charge of Orientation this year meant that I could relax and not have to stress out when things weren’t going well. Instead, I could just help out in the corners where necessary to try and ensure things ran smoothly. The Thursday of Orientation was set aside for the Induction Day, where the fresh faces first bring themselves into contact with the University. After a short bit of set up at the University Centre, the new scholars arrived in dribs and drabs, and Annalise, Anjalene and I were charged with handing out there tote bags and name-tags. Unfortunately, the printed lanyards for the name-tags had not arrived in time, and after some furious phone calls and desperate stationery shopping by Lily and Jake, they had to have them couriered in so they would be there by the afternoon. Not the best start, but it didn’t seem to matter as everybody was soon enough upstairs and beginning to make friends. By the time I finally made my way upstairs, it was hard to get a word in to any of them, as they were all so chatty. Lily and Anna did their usual introductions of themselves and the Trust, before we broke into icebreakers, and later, lunch at Queens’. For this, we were given vouchers for a certain amount, and I realised that the cost of a whole litre bottle of apple juice was covered under the cost of the voucher, so I came back to the table with too much juice to know what to do with.

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I headed back to the University Centre early; the post-lunch session was the life admin session and Lily had asked me to run the bike station again. This was a role I delighted in, and I tried encourage as many people as possible to ride around Cambridge. After the session, we marched over to Emmanuel College for the Inspiring Scholar’s talks, during which the lanyards finally arrived, and we distributed around. But for me, the more exciting part of the afternoon was to take the new Darwin and Newnham students on there college tours. Our group ditched the planned walking tour, opting for a cool but pleasant punt down the Cam. Since I had been treated to a similar pleasure in my first year, I have always found it an excellent way to get to know the new students. Finally, we went out to dinner; getting ourselves some Thai food from the restaurant near the college, before sending them all to bed for the early rise the next day. I went briefly to the old-meets-new night at the Maypole, but it was too busy and I went to bed instead.

The trip to Ambleside began on Friday. I packed up my things and rode my bike out to Queens’ Road, where the bus would depart from. For the second year in a row, I was the first person there, but was quickly met by more and more people. However, there soon arose an issue with the packed lunches for the trip. Whoever was in charge of the food had brought it over in crates from King’s, but had to return the crates, meaning there was no storage devices for the food at all. This meant a chaotic handing out of fruit and rolls intended to be eaten at lunchtime at eight in the morning. Consequently, most people had already eaten their lunch before we even got to the first rest stop, and there were a lot of hungry mouths by the second stop.

Our trip was mostly uneventful, there was not too much traffic, and a little bit of rain around Manchester because there always is. Before long, we found ourselves on familiar roads through the Lake District, and pulling up at the hostel in Ambleside. Lily and Anna had come up early and had organised our room keys already, and so after a brief introduction, we got our rooms and went to settle in. I was sharing with only one person: Alex from Sydney. But there was no time to chat, the annual tradition of jumping into the lake was about to start. I changed into my bathers, but other than Emma, Jacqueline, Margaret, Annalise and Annika, there were a lot of hesitant onlookers. Soon enough, some of the new scholars cottoned on and joined in too.

But then came my most character-defining moment of the entire trip. Kevin had brought along his go-pro, and so I asked if I could borrow it briefly. I took the camera in one hand, holding it out like a selfie stick, and ran down the jetty to jump into the cold lake water. With a majority of new scholars standing and watching from the bank of the lake, I slipped on the wet part of the wooden jetty and fell backwards, landing on my backside. Ashamed, and laughing at myself, I slid the last foot into the water. By the time I came up, everybody else was laughing too. As I later discovered, Andrea had been filming it on her phone as well, so we now had two camera angles of the incident. Fortunately, I was not hurt, at least beyond my ego. It would be shared around Instagram for the rest of the new scholars to see too.

Somehow, I ended up leading a group of the new scholars into town via the old roman castle ruins before we all headed for the Ambleside Parish Centre for the Learning for Purpose Night. The co-directors ran a somewhat hastily organised listening workshop for 120 people, which seemed to work slightly better in practice than it sounded on paper. But we soon transitioned into the less formal part of the evening. Jacqueline, Annalise and I didn’t stay long, opting to escort the more jet lagged scholars back to the hostel instead of staying out all night.

The three of us had other plans too. The next morning, we all woke before six, and laced up our hiking boots. Unbound by the responsibilities of the co-directorship, not being as naive as a new scholar, we headed out for a morning walk to enjoy the hills of the Lake District without the chaos of Orientation bearing down on us. Having taken advice from the front desk of the hostel, we headed up the River Rothay, before turning up a narrow path that took us up to the Lily Tarn. This was a small lake on the side of the hill that had fantastic views over Lake Windermere and Ambleside. We stayed to watch what we called the sunrise, but we never saw the cellestial body itself as it was disguised by water vapour. We couldn’t wait too long, as we had to head back to the hostel for breakfast.

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That morning, I was put in charge of the mountain bike activity. Having lead the event last year, I was quite familiar and excited to lead it. I met up with the same guy who delivered the bikes last year, and we both remembered each other, so he was happy to leave me with the instructions on safety and reliability. All together, we had a group of 15 new scholars, including Annika and Jacqueline, and together we were instructed to bring them all back in one piece. We headed out on the same route as last year, following the National Cycle Route 6 to Wray Castle. The route is a mostly off-road trail, that doesn’t pose too much difficulty of hard terrain or steep climbs and descents. Although the group stretched a little, we all made it to the castle together. The only casualty was Annika, but that was a minor crash, and she was otherwise fine. Nobody wanted to turn back at the castle, so we headed on, with the aim of reaching the town of Hawkshead. The path took us through fields of sheep and cows and past many people out walking their dogs. We built up a fair bit of speed coming through Outgate, and soon enough reached Hawkshead. I lead everybody through to a cafe for coffee, before going back to find Jacqueline, Joseph and one of the new scholars who had made a wrong turn about a kilometre back up the road. When we returned to Hawkshead, we discovered that the cafe we had chosen was a cat cafe, and the interior was crawling with cats! The journey back to Ambleside went smoothly, with more and more of the group opting to ride through the fords instead of opting for the bridges.

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Once back, the new scholars went off for a shower, while I grabbed some lunch and helped Chris and Andre set up the bikes for the afternoon group. That afternoon, I stayed in the hostel and had a nap, before heading out for the pub quiz night at the Parish Centre. Our group didn’t do terribly well, as there were a lot of questions about literature that we had no chance of getting right. Annika’s team won. Again, people headed out for the pubs afterwards, but I was among the group who headed home early.

The third day of Orientation began like the previous one; Annalise, Jacqueline and I all woke up earlier than anyone else and went for another walk up to the Lily Tarn. It was great to get out with the crisp mountain air, and once again afforded us beautiful views over Lake Windermere. Annalise had to head down slightly earlier to set up her first activity, but Jacqueline and I weren’t far behind. After breakfast, and watching a few of the eager new scholars jumping into the lake, we headed for the bus to our first activity, a new activity for 2018. We were heading to the Lake District Wildlife Park. Along the way, we dropped off those people going to see the Stone Circle at Castlerigg.

We only had a little more than an hour at the park, but that was more than enough to see everything. Most of the enclosures were fairly large, and some of the animals were more notable than others. There was a male wildebeest that was feeling particularly territorial, and kept ramming it’s head into the fence. Cansu was particularly fascinated by the social hierarchy among the gibbons, and Margaret was keen to look out for the serval, fishing cat and lynx. Personally, I enjoyed seeing an emu again. But the highlight was at the end of the visit, when the keeper’s, at Margaret’s request for her birthday, woke the otters up for their morning feed. Although hesitant at first, eventually they came out for a frolic in the water. We were all very excited.

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Back on the bus, we headed back to Ambleside for a quick turn-around onto the next activities. My final activity was rock climbing, something I had not done since my first year. I remembered the road out there, however, and we were all mightily impressed by the skill of our bus driver on a road that the coach really should not have managed to navigate. We met with our instructors, who took us up to the same rock face we climb every year. They had set up four lines, and we each took turns climbing and belaying. I easily summited the first line, and moved on to the challenging right-most line. I had failed to climb this two years ago, and again it would prove too much for me. I simply did not have the arm strength or coordination to climb it. Although having the right shoes would perhaps have helped, Melina, one of the new scholars, managed to climb that line in her riding boots.

We returned to Ambleside one last time and milled around a bit before heading out on the boat cruise. Once again, the boat left from the jetty just outside our hostel, and went on a two hour cruise around Lake Windermere. It was great to sit and chat with new and old friends. Among them, I discovered that at least one new scholar, Babette, was considering applying to do a stint on Maatsuyker Island like my parents are doing, and another new scholar, Alex, had ancestors who were on the same island decades ago. They served a barbecue on board, which is easily the best food at Orienation, and I went up for seconds as soon as I could. We also managed the big group photo at the bow of the boat.

Once off the boat, we immediately headed for the buses. Lily and Anna ran ahead in the car to go and set up our ceilidh night, but it was still a surprise for many of the new scholars. Annika and I pointed the new scholars off the boat and towards the busses instead of the hostel. We were heading to the barn at Rydal Hall. Despite only being a short drive away, as everybody had just been on the boat it makes it a race to set up in as short a time as possible. As soon as the coaches pulled in to the hall, I and many of the new scholars ran ahead as fast as we could to help Lily, Anna, Jake and Anjalene set up. I was the fastest one off the coach, as it requires an uphill run down a hidden road in the dark, and immediately started helping setting up drinks and snacks. More of the returning scholars filed in shortly afterwards and raced to help out. In just over 10 minutes, with everybody working so well together, we had gone from arriving to having set up for the event. We met with the ceilidh band as they arrived, and shortly after, the new scholars fumbled in too.

The Ambleside ceilidh is by far one of my favourites for the year. Part of it is the location; an old tiny barn crowded full of people. Part of it is the band and the caller; she’s an old lady who delights in seeing so many energetic young people dancing around. She even took a photo of us all dancing to send to her son in Japan. Part of it is the fact that everybody knows everybody and has all just spent the last four days in each other’s company, so everybody is willing to dance with everybody else. I danced pretty much the whole time, having as much fun as I could.

Finally, it had to come to an end. After ushering all of the new scholars out, the returning scholars completed an emu parade by collecting up all of the rubbish and left overs and leaving the hall as spotless as we could by the end. We even made it back down to help the scholars back onto the buses as the pulled by. The night was not quite over, there were some low-key celebrations for Margaret’s birthday that evening at the hostel, which resulted in far too many otter-related presents.

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Monday was the day for heading back home. Jacqueline, Annalise and I opted not to go for a sunrise walk, even though it would have been the clearest day of the trip. Instead, we packed everything up and took our big group photo before heading to the buses back to Cambridge. Everyone was exhausted and tired, and there were a lot of sleepy faces on the way home. But everyone made it back safe and sound with no major injuries or incidents to report.

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