Across the pond: finding my way

Guerrein in front of Westminster Abbey in London. Photos by Julia Guerrein/The Forum.

By Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief

During my 1L year of law school, I was perusing the Vermont Law School (VLS) website when I came across a unique opportunity to VLS students: a VLS/Cambridge dual degree program. Once I read about this program, I was instantly interested. At the time we were in the third year of the Trump Administration, which made moving abroad seem even more appealing.

After I decided to go for it, I spoke to Anne Linehan about the program, and I discovered that VLS would have to approve me during my 1L spring. If I was approved, then I would be able to apply to the University of Cambridge during my 2L fall. So I did it. VLS approved me to apply to Cambridge, and then I applied to Cambridge.

Fast forward to March 2021, and I was ACCEPTED to the UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE!

As I write this, I am sitting in Cambridge. Last night, I attended a dinner in the Great Hall of my college, Homerton. Yes, it was very much like Harry Potter. And this is still all very surreal.

Guerrein standing outside the Great Hall (yes it is called that) at Homerton College in a borrowed gown.
The Great Hall at Homerton College before the Matriculation Dinner.

For the dual degree, VLS accepts 14 credits from Cambridge, which basically counts as my final semester of law school. I’ve already completed five semesters at VLS, so after this year I will have my JD from VLS and a Masters of Philosophy (MPhil) in Environmental Policy from the University of Cambridge. The MPhil is a 10-month program, which began on Oct. 1. I will finish the MPhil in July of 2022.

Because Cambridge begins the week on a Thursday, my classes started on Oct. 7. My courses are online for the first four weeks of term, and the term is eight weeks long. The MPhil consists of three terms, which each have a name: Michaelmas (Oct. to Dec.), Lent (mid-Jan. to mid-March), and Easter (mid-April to mid-June). This term, I am taking International Environmental Law, Environmental Economics, Mixed Research Methods, and Comparative Environmental Policy, with some extra dissertation classes thrown in there for some weeks. During the Lent term I will take more classes, and then during the Easter term I will write a thesis.

Most of my time so far has been spent getting myself settled and reading for classes. I bought a bicycle, and cycling around Cambridge has been super cool, a little scary because of cars, and a workout. There have been a few times when the double-decker buses have passed quite close to me while I cycle through the narrow streets of Cambridge. I have also had the chance to try some British food and peruse the stores for different and unique foods. Cambridge is full of history, and so far I have gone to The Eagle, which is the pub where Watson and Crick announced that DNA has a double helix structure.

A vegetarian version of the full English breakfast, complete with baked beans and a tomato.

I have been here for a little over two weeks, and so far I’ve been able to have conversations with fellow Cambridge students from all over the world. The people I’ve met have been from the U.S., Slovakia, Germany, South Africa, China, Bangladesh, Thailand, India, France, England, Scotland, Australia, Canada, and Italy. My professors are also from all over the world, and some of them have Wikipedia pages.

Before I came here, I was very afraid that I would not fit in because I do not come from wealth. I was expecting the stereotypical rich kids and children of prominent people. So far, I have only received kindness and a willingness to know each other.

While feeling jetlagged, being an ocean away from my family, boyfriend, and friends, and getting used to cycling on the left side of the road has all been quite challenging so far, I am excited to take advantage of this opportunity. Attending the University of Cambridge is something I never even considered doing until I found out about the dual degree program at VLS. While I am here I am trying to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible in order to work together with my VLS and Cambridge classmates (and lots of other people) to make the world a better place.

In closing, some fun things I’ve learned about Cambridge:

  • The week starts on a Thursday.
  • “Gowns” are like Harry Potter dress robes that people wear to fancy events.
  • Which gown you wear depends on your age, which College you are in, and they have different ones for graduation. The one I need is currently sold out, coinciding (relatedly or not?) with the great petrol shortage.
  • The University of Cambridge is where the academics are housed. E.g., I am in the Department of the Land Economy.
  • The “college” is like your Hogwarts House or dormitory—it is where students live. This is not based on academic discipline, but rather a student’s preference. E.g., I am in Homerton College.
  • Cambridge has over 100 libraries. Although students have access to most of the libraries, if you want to check out a book you cannot have it sent to a different Cambridge library. Instead, you have to go to that specific library to get the book.

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