Laura Neumann: On Rowing and Anthropology at Cambridge

Honors cultural anthropology and international relations double major Laura Neumann spent the 2011-2012 year studying abroad as a Libby Finch scholar at the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, England. 

When I think back on my year in Cambridge, I sometimes feel as though all I did was study! I was there to take the second year of their Social Anthropology course, and I knew that I was going to be taking end-of-year exams just like the other students. So, even while traveling with three friends to the Netherlands during winter break, we studied in the airport, and even went to the Amsterdam Public Library to study on our last day.

Cambridge students are very dedicated – maybe too dedicated, as you can tell from that anecdote! However, the intensity of the coursework was offset by the fact that I was able to attend lectures and talks by some very well-known and interesting anthropologists. In fact, in some cases I was supervised (i.e., taught with only one or two other students) by those very professors. In the spring, I was privileged to represent the Cambridge University Social Anthropology Society with my friend Robin in a debate against the London School of Economics. This was the first such debate to have taken place between the two universities in many years, and at the end we took a commemorative picture with some of the faculty from both schools, over whose work we debated at points.

Of course, even with the workload, guest lectures, and conferences, there was still time for friends and social events. My college, Corpus Christi, was the second smallest of all 31 colleges within the university system. That was wonderful, as I really got to know many of my fellow members of Corpus. Much of your Cambridge life is organized around your College – your room, your meals, your library, and even your College Bar are all on the same grounds. Here are my two friends Jinho and Alexandra and I at Formal Hall, which took place every Friday and Sunday. To attend this dinner, you have to wear the gown specific to your College. So buying a gown is an investment- it’s not just for graduation or matriculation (also known as commencement, as seen in the first photo).

When I arrived at Cambridge at the beginning of the year, I knew I wanted to try something new. Although it sounded intimidating, I thought I would try to row for the women’s team and see how I liked it. It did involve getting up as early as 5:50 some mornings for outings, but it was definitely one of the most valuable activities I took part in, and I do not regret joining in the least. I rowed all three terms, and at the end of the year our crew competed in May Bumps, a race in which boats are lined up at intervals on the river and must attempt to “bump” the boat in front – before being bumped themselves. It is a very high-intensity race, and thousands of people come to watch. Unfortunately, for us it was also a short race each day, as we got “bumped” all four days of competition. If a team wins every day, they get “blades,” but in our case we had the honor of receiving the opposite, “spoons.” We weren’t sore losers though- after the last race, we put plastic spoons on our heads and rowed back to our boathouse in style.

Leaving Corpus Christi and Cambridge was difficult due to all the friends I made and memorable times I had during my stay there. Corpus lets the UA students officially matriculate and partipate fully in College life, and thus some people didn’t even know that I wasn’t returning to Corpus next year. While I’m more than excited to finally be home and back in Fayetteville for my senior year, the cliché that I won’t forget my year there is not untrue. Thanks to the Libby Finch Study Abroad grant and the Honors College, I was able to expand the scope of my academics, spend time with great friends, and even participate in a quintessential British sport at the same time.

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