STUDIUM & FREIZEIT
Working as a lecturer in a university such as Cambridge always seemed like an unattainable goal to me. A dream dreamt by those who happened to grow up with a silver spoon in their mouths and a first class Ivy-League degree in their hands. Boy, was I wrong.
Universities like Cambridge, St Andrews or Oxford (actual order of the latest UK ranking) are known to be highly selective and competitive places who live of their long-standing dusty traditions and elitist prestige. Yet, they are also the birthplace of outstanding research, of fascinating and even ingenious thoughts and ideas. So do not let yourself be discouraged by the mere splendid reputation of an elite-university as this might cost you a valuable experience, a great degree or even a job.
Here’s How I Did it
After having spent most of my undergraduate studies in Bonn, where I graduated with a literature’s and modern languages‘ degree in 2016, I applied for a Master’s program called „German and Comparative Literature“. This structured program enabled me to spend an incredible year in St Andrews (Scotland) and simultaneously obtain a British and a German diploma.
As some of you might know, a Master’s degree in Great Britain is rather expensive for German standards. The scholarship embedded in the program plus the German BAFöG certainly helped me to fund my Master’s without additional debt or external financing. And – believe it or not – there are a lot of us out there. People without over-proportionally wealthy parents, a large savings account or a trust fund. It is a myth still lingering over these old and prestigious walls that you have to stem from a specific social or economic background to gain access to a university like Cambridge.
A large number of students is actually self-sufficient through loans and scholarships, meaning they do not rely on their family’s money to pay for their fees and living costs (I have met a lot of them in my own classroom). Although it is still a long way to go in terms of equal opportunity, British universities are definitely invested in diversifying their student body and democratizing their traditional structures.
Binational Process of Application
With this being said, there really was a higher chance of ending up as a lecturer in Cambridge than I initially thought. As a „German Lektorin“ (my official job title) I am one of several German linguists and literary scholars who teach language classes for a specific amount of time. Most of my colleagues are DAAD lecturers who are staying up to five years. My post, however, runs for the duration of one academic year and is the result of a cooperation between the Universities of Cologne and Cambridge. Therefore, I did not directly apply to Cambridge – I applied to the University of Cologne first. This binational selection process was much more conclusive for a non-UK citizen than the regular British application process. It is all about finding the perfect niche.
The classes I am teaching are called „Language Supervisions“ (translation, grammar and essay writing) and are held in the respective college, not the faculty. The division of teaching between colleges and university traces back to the traditional „Oxbridge“ collegesystem. Before the centralized university as we know it today was established, the colleges were the center of education, research, and teaching. Each college had (and still has) its own libraries, professors and specializations. The best way to explain this system is through a comparison to Harry Potter and Hogwarts‘ different houses (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, etc.).
But it is not only the teaching which fascinates me, it is the college itself with its staff and students from all over the world.
Nowadays, the teaching is divided between the central university body and the colleges. The faculty responsible for my students is the MMLL faculty (Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics), the college I am employed by is „Pembroke College“– one of the oldest colleges in Cambridge. This means I am affiliated with the faculty, but I am not a faculty lecturer. I live and work in Pembroke College and I follow the faculty guidelines and the syllabus of the German department.
In my position as a lecturer I am responsible for around 20 undergraduate students. The teaching is held in small groups of 2-4 students which creates a very cozy and personal atmosphere. And this is probably my favorite thing about teaching language supervisions. You really get to know your students with all their strengths and weaknesses. It also makes the preparation more challenging, since you have to plan out your material as thoroughly as possible. In a classroom with only 2 students there is no time or space to be absent minded during a teaching session. And as draining as this might sound, it is actually a great training on how to be more present and connected with the people around you.
But it is not only the teaching which fascinates me, it is the college itself with its staff and students from all over the world. Being in Cambridge has made me more perceptive and curious. It is astonishing how approachable people are in Cambridge. I have spoken to theologists, neuroscientists, geologist and literary scholars (to name only a few disciplines), all of which have given me fascinating insights into their research and personal lives. And it is exactly this type of experience which motivated me to work in Cambridge in the first place. I wanted to broaden my horizon (I know, I know, it’s cheesy) while doing something I am skilled in, which is language teaching. I wanted to meet fascinating people, listen to their stories and gain some clarity about my own career choices. I figured there would be no better place to find answers to my many questions (both personal and professional) than an institution like Cambridge which is home to so many brilliant thoughts, ideas, and stories. And boy, was I right.