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A Voice from Across the Atlantic

By Jeremiah Yu

As you finish your second week of work after a fleeting spring break, I want you to picture me writing this column from across the Atlantic during my five week Easter break. If you haven’t guessed it, I am one of twenty-eight juniors in this year’s Cambridge-MIT (CMI) Undergraduate Student Exchange Program.

I would strongly encourage any freshman or sophomore to participate in the exchange; if your department does not support the exchange, I would suggest you demand that they do so. “Why?” you may ask... why leave the great concrete walls of MIT behind for the gothic stone structures of Cambridge?

The CMI exchange has provided me with a rare chance to seriously reconsider what it means to be educated at MIT. The time constraints imposed by MIT life yield little time for such introspection. I have found my time at Cambridge much more conducive to thinking about such matters.

My thought process has been largely facilitated by conversations with other Cambridge students, often in the evening at the college bar after a day of lectures and work or at meals in the canteen (that’s British for cafeteria).

All conversations about work are banned from such social gatherings. In fact, many of these conversations have largely fixated on global issues and it has been engaging to understand how the U.S. is perceived abroad.

What has struck me as most alarming and disconcerting is the fact that Cambridge students I’ve met are on the whole are more globally-minded than MIT students I’ve met. Furthermore, the Cambridge students generally are able to articulate and to present their thoughts more clearly.

Introspection is a natural activity for any exchange program participant. However, I believe it is especially true for participants in the CMI exchange simply because of the nature of the exchange.

The undergraduate exchange is actually only a small part of the Cambridge-MIT Institute. The Cambridge-MIT Institute, as described from its Web site, is “a strategic alliance between two world-leading universities to deliver education and research to enhance the competitiveness of U.K. business.”

Since the program is funded primarily by the British government and private corporations, the CMI exchange students are constantly being asked to assess the effectiveness of the program. We are forced to think beyond the nominal differences between student life in the United States and Britain and we have to consider our year abroad in the terms of competitiveness, entrepreneurship, and value. No other program requires such in-depth evaluation and the entire process has made me generate a great deal of introspection.

As a result of all of this evaluation, I believe that many effects of the exchange have been recognized as beneficial for undergraduates on both sides of the Atlantic. And though the initial CMI undergraduate exchange was originally slated to expire along with the rest of the Cambridge-MIT Institute, the undergraduate exchange has been setup as a permanent exchange between MIT and Cambridge undergraduates. In anticipation of the expiration of the Cambridge-MIT Institute, the CMI undergraduate exchange will be known in the future as the Cambridge-MIT Exchange (CME).

I know many students are reluctant to apply to the program because they fear that a year abroad means a year forfeited at “the greatest technology institution in the world.” As a result, these students inherently believe that by spending a year abroad at Cambridge their MIT education will somehow be diluted. This view is highly short-sighted and dangerously arrogant.

While I am positive that the exchange is not appropriate for everyone, I am certain that spending a year at Cambridge will challenge and invigorate any MIT student. The best part of my MIT education has been this last year, where I have been given the opportunity to view MIT through the eyes of an outsider.

Jeremiah Yu is a member of the class of 2005.