Hugh Grigg

I matriculated for Chinese Studies at Churchill in 2009, and the time has flown by. The whole class has experienced and learnt so much together, far more than I could summarise in a few sentences here. I think once we've graduated and the dust has settled I'll be able to really get to grips with how much we've achieved in four short years, but for the time being it's still full steam ahead (as it always is at Cambridge)!

Churchill appealed to me after I visited it during a faculty open day; it struck me as quite special amongst Cambridge’s colleges. No other college comes close to Churchill’s spacious, open fields, large courtyards and level of greenery. I also appreciated Churchill’s slightly out-of-town location throughout my time there. The town centre is five minutes away on a bike, but you’ve always got somewhere quiet, uncrowded and unpretentious to come back to with Churchill.

Studying Chinese at Churchill is definitely different to doing it at other colleges. The Chinese Studies cohort tends to be a little bigger at Churchill than at other colleges, so we've had more opportunity to socialise together, study together and generally spend time together. There are also one or two other perks to studying Chinese at Churchill, such as the Wing Yip grants and bursaries, which offer generous financial support for Churchill students going to and coming from China. Churchill also hosts a fantastic Chinese New Year Dinner ever year, which sees the hall (the largest of any Cambridge college) filled with hundreds of guests enjoying a variety of performances and Chinese food.

More generally, I think Churchill is definitely more relaxed and 'sorted' than other colleges. By that I mean that there's less of the 'fluff' that seems to surround life at more traditional colleges, and more focus on having a well-rounded student experience with sensible studying and good socialising. This shows in the high position Churchill achieves each year in the university rankings, and the wide-ranging social events that happen at Churchill every week. Churchill College is chilled-out, down-to-earth and studious.

I was curious about the proportions of the course before I started, so I'll write briefly about that here as well. Around sixty percent of our teaching time is spent on learning to speak, read and write modern Chinese. After that, about twenty five percent is spent on Classical Chinese, and the remaining fifteen percent goes to other topics such as history and politics. Don't worry if you're coming to this subject area with no previous experience: the marks at the end of our first year didn't actually reflect previous knowledge at all. As far as I could see, the only predictors were attitude and effort.

The staff of the Department of East Asian Studies are inspiring and often very witty as well. Many of them are also well-known academics, so you're learning from some of the most knowledgeable people in the field. The faculty staff have always been very approachable and friendly in my experience, and none of us could have come so far without their help. I think it's also important to point out that the courses in the Department of East Asian Studies very much focus on independent learning, and what you do and how far you go is always up to you as a student.

One thing that I've done throughout my time at Cambridge is to run a small blog about what I study called East Asia Student. I've found this to be a great way to reinforce what I'm learning and to get in contact with interesting people all over the world who are taking similar courses. I'd recommend running a blog to anyone else planning to take courses in the Department of East Asian Studies at Cambridge, as I've found that it really enhances the courses.

I've had no regrets since taking on this course at Churchill, and I know I'll always look back on it as a hugely important part of my life. It's intense, fun and totally worth all the hard work.


Image: Hugh Grigg in Dali, Yunnan, China.