Honors biology student Mac Stephen spent the 2008-2009 year studying abroad as a Libby Finch scholar at the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, England.
I spent my 2008-2009 academic year studying abroad at the University of Cambridge, thanks in part to a Fulbright Honors College program with Corpus Christi College, Cambridge—and thanks in larger part to the Bodenhamer Fellowship which made the trip possible. Before leaving for the UK, I spent my 2008 summer preparing for the MCAT. My previous two summers were spent abroad in the Dominican Republic and Belize, enjoying tropical environments and adventures in low-resource health development work. The tameness of my summer in the library proved worthwhile, as my MCAT score put me in contention for spots in the top medical schools.
I also found patience that summer knowing a year abroad at Cambridge awaited me as soon as my MCAT ended. I left on September 27 for Cambridge and returned on June 19, 2009. Finding a way to describe my experiences or the importance of this year seems impossible. I’m still discovering the many ways I grew personally and academically thanks this year, as my appreciation grows for the incredible experiences that almost became routine.
Perhaps the most incredible experience this year came as a member of the Cambridge golf team. Instead of competing against other universities, the Cambridge (and Oxford) team plays each weekend against members of “Oxbridge” affiliated golf clubs. These matches are a chance for Oxbridge alums to rekindle their glory-days as undergrads, as well as a chance to recruit future members—an attempt to keep British society as rigidly hierarchical as ever. Essentially each weekend morning between October and March, I piled into a miniature-sized automobile with at least three other teammates with golf clubs in our laps. Our ten-man team would then enjoy jovial but subtly competitive morning and afternoon matches against the given club’s members. The characters, courses, and generous portions of food/drink provided some of the richest memories from my year, if not my life.
In school, I enjoyed a break from the biological sciences to explore my supporting interest in anthropology, which developed during my summers abroad observing the effects of social organization on healthcare delivery. I found the social anthropology coursework as fascinating as it was relevant to my future. To take full advantage of my single year, I jumped into the second year curriculum, which focused solely on social anthropology and development. The largely self-guided “Cambridge System” immersed me in the professional literature as well as argumentative, scholarly writing. Through this year, I’ve gained a perspective on individual behavior and social institutions that will continually help understand the social aspects of healthcare, as medical school provides the biological fundamentals.
I was as surprised as I was happy to receive the news upon returning home that my final exam grades placed me in the top ten of my Year 2 class at Cambridge.
Before I had sufficient time to reflect on my year and enjoy being home, medical school applications began raining down upon me. Since July, I’ve written over forty essays or lengthy paragraphs to satisfy the endless applications required for the medical school process. In the end, I will apply to more than fifteen schools, each of which ask for supplementary essays in addition to the nineteen page universal application. I’ve done my best to stay positive, as the choice was mine to apply to so many schools.
I’m currently awaiting responses regarding interviews from Baylor, Washington University St. Louis, Stanford, Duke, Emory, Penn, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, and Columbia, though I’ve already received interview invitations from Harvard and Vanderbilt. I’ve also applied for a Gates-Cambridge Fellowship in hopes of returning to Cambridge for one more year and a M. Phil. in Development Studies (as well as another spot on the golf team!).
I have no doubt this year will pass by far too quickly. I’m very anxious to know where I will be for medical school, I will miss my home in Fayetteville. This university has given me so many fantastic opportunities, I’m sad to leave it behind.