Cambridge, which is one of the most cosmopolitan student city in the world, is definitely the place to be, especially when it is about talks and debates. Indeed, Cambridge is a very dynamic place on both an intellectual and cultural level, which offers so many opportunities for students to express themselves.
In order for you to be fully immersed in our daily life as GEM students in Cambridge, we are going to present you two major communities that permit us to purely enjoy talks and debates in Cambridge: the Festival of Ideas currently happening, and the Cambridge 1 Union Society, which is a society in which all GEM students are involved. What are these institutions?
The Festival of Ideas:
The 9th edition of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas is a two-week festival, held in October, with over 200 events, from films and plays to exhibitions and talks, which for the most part are free. It covers a huge range of some of the biggest social, political and cultural issues of our time and features a number of leading thinkers and innovators in Cambridge and beyond. Among the most popular events of this edition were notably the talks about the EU post referendum, the crisis of migrants or the one about the US election.
The Cambridge Union Society:
The Cambridge Union Society is one of the oldest debating society in the world. It indeed has defended free debate since 1815. It is used to hosting leaders and pioneers in all fields. Among the recent guests can be cited Professor Richard Dawkins, Julian Assange or the current Dalai Lama.
We, as Transcontinental Track students, have been offered the opportunity to be members of the Cambridge Union. Consequently, we can attend to conferences, debates, and even more events organized in its facilities for free. All students and staff of the University of Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin University, BPP, Law School Cambridge and Judge Business School are eligible to join, enabling us to find people from different background there.
How does it concretely work?
The Festival of Ideas:
What is particularly interesting about the Festival of Ideas is that talks were not ordinary lectures in which one speaker monologued for an hour without any exchanges with the public. Indeed, after the speakers had expressed their opinion followed a Q&A session with the public. It was very enriching to hear so many different perspectives and points of view on a subject. For instance, the talk upon the EU post referendum featured four speakers, including an economist, a law professor at Trinity College, a geopolitician, as well as a French journalist. Their contrasting viewpoints about the EU referendum have definitely contributed to enrich the debate and, as a result, to broaden our minds! And it was quite contrasting to have two pro-Brexit speakers among the overwhelming europhile population of Cambridge..!
The Cambridge Union Society:
A fun fact about the Cambridge Union Society is that at the very beginning of each debate occurs what is called an “emergency debate“, which is a small debate on a (very) light subject. The latest we attended was about Tinder and its pertinence to find True Love… Just imagine the type of topics covered! Speakers are usually students from the University of Cambridge. During the emergency debate, they have to show their ability to convince and express their opinion on the subject, while displaying a keen sense of humour..!
After the emergency debate comes the real one. There are usually six speakers involved in the debate, three in favor of the motion and three against. Just like in the Festival of Ideas talks, speakers come from very different backgrounds, which is
really interesting since it offers very unique points of view on the topic covered. Throughout the debates, everyone is invited to take part into the discussion. At the very end of the debate, the public has to vote in favor, against the motion or can
abstain. What is great is that you are not just a passive listener, you have to think and give your opinion before leaving.
What are the benefits for us?
These two communities, among many others, are a relevant way to meet people, discover Cambridge and its history in a unique manner. During the Festival of Ideas, there were events everywhere in Cambridge each day, but generally speaking, colleges, museums, facilities host a wide range of events all year long. Beyond attending events, the Cambridge Festival of Ideas was a great opportunity to discover new places, which are normally closed to the general public. For example, talks ofter occurred in the Fisher’s building, which is at the opposite side of St John’s College. It gave visitors the opportunity to pass through the three Courts and the mythic Bridge of Sighs to access the events. Similarly, the exhibition “Erasmus at Queens“ allowed visitors to set into the magnificent library of Queen’s College, where Erasmus wrote down his New Testament 500 years ago.
At the same time, it is also worth attending the events held by the Cambridge Union Society since it is located within a walking distance to the most famous Colleges of Cambridge, the River Cam and the well-known punting trips, without forgetting the tasteful restaurants surrounding the building. In addition to this, you can share unique moments at the Cambridge Union Society, in particular at the Freshers’ Brunch, the Debaters’ Drinks or the Freshers’ Ball. The Student Minds Comedy Night, which is a “night of feeling-good fun and laughter“ is open to all students willing to have fun. And there are even more events set up for students to get the most of their university years.
All in all, Cambridge offers a very unique opportunity for GEM students, but also for all students in a general manner, to be involved in so many debates and talks dealing with various subjects. It definitely hes helped us broaden our mind and enrich our general knowledge, while developing critical thinking. If you want to have your voice heard, Cambridge is for sure the place to be!
(By Marine de Blauwe, Caroline Chuchla and Mah Bintou Chérif)