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Seven juniors from the School of Engineering are studying at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom this year, the first MIT students to participate in the Cambridge MIT Institute (CMI) collaboration.
Under the CMI agreement, MIT and Cambridge third-year students may exchange places and study at the other institution, allowing them to benefit from the contrasting teaching style while being exposed to a different culture. Both schools are noted for their rigorous academic atmosphere.
No students from Cambridge are at MIT during the fall semester. During the 2001-2002 academic year, CMI expects to have 50 juniors from MIT in Cambridge and 50 of their counterparts at MIT.
Four of the MIT students major in mechanical engineering: Gina Kim of Minneapolis; Kevin R. Lang of Stratford, CT; Kristen Clements of Sterling Heights, MI; and Linus J. Park of Libertyville, IL. Two major in materials science and engineering: Jeremy Cheng of Longmeadow, MA, and Michelle D. Lefebvre of Plano, TX. The other MIT student, Liam Bossi of Falmouth, MA, is a chemical engineering major.
Mr. Cheng and Ms. Lefevbre will return to MIT for the spring semester. The others will study at Cambridge for the entire academic year.
Each MIT student has been assigned to one of Cambridge's storied colleges, where many centuries-old traditions are observed. The original buildings are still used for a variety of purposes, including accommodations, lectures, special events and conferences.
Ms. Kim is at Jesus College (founded in 1496), Mr. Lang at Corpus Christi College (1352), Ms. Clements at Queens College (1448), Mr. Park at St. John's College (1511), Mr. Bossi at King's College (1441), Ms. Lefebvre at Selwyn College (1882) and Mr. Cheng at Trinity College (1546).
Before departing, the MIT students were reminded to pack foul weather gear and ties.
In addition to an umbrella and other necessities, Ms. Kim packed her violin, a large backpack to carry while exploring Europe and appropriate garb for formal dinners. "They have formal three-course meals for dinner with the professors, who wear their academic regalia," she said. "The students are expected to follow suit."
Once Ms. Kim learned about CMI on the eve of finals last year ("I was so excited I couldn't study," she said), she started visiting the Cambridge web site. Among the things she learned: "Students are not allowed to walk on the grass."
Ms. Kim, who toured Europe with the MIT Symphony Orchestra last spring, plans to attend a Royal Ballet performance of Swan Lake and the Royal Opera's Tristan and Isolde with her friend Susanna Mierau (SB 2000), a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. They bought the tickets on the web after conferring on the dates.
In addition, Ms. Kim will certainly play the violin while she is overseas and may perform as well.
She was eager to study under the British system, which includes one-on-one tutoring. "It's really different from the MIT experience," said Ms. Kim, who plans to do research during the year. "There's one test at the end of the year. That's frightening. Here we get constant testing. You know where you stand."
Mr. Lang, winner of the 2.007 design contest last spring, traveled to Korea for the International Design Contest. This will be his first trip to Europe and he plans to travel as frequently as his studies permit.
He expects to be challenged academically in class and by his tutor. "Perhaps even more than at MIT," he said, "especially with their different approach to teaching and such." Mr. Lang, a news editor of The Tech last year, will miss the excitement of putting out the newspaper, his friends and MacGregor. He won't miss the food ("It's overpriced and not very good") and New England winters. "I don't expect to get any break from long problem sets and all-nighters," he said.
Mr. Bossi lived in Feltwell, England, from age six to nine when his father, a retired chief master sergeant in the Air Force, was stationed there. "I don't really remember too much, but since Feltwell is close to Cambridge, I am anxious to go back to my old stomping grounds and see what recollections come up," he said.
He believes CMI will provide adventure and excitement, as well as academic challenge. "I applied for the program due to a general feeling that it was time for me to do something exciting in my life," he said. "I was tired of sitting around telling myself I was going to travel, skydive, etc. It was time to just get out and do it."
A member of the MIT golf team, Mr. Bossi plans to travel extensively while overseas, perhaps even to play some of the UK's legendary courses. "I have some family in the UK that I would like to see," he said. "Other than that, I will just have to see what presents itself."
Ms. Clements was excited to be making her first trip outside the United States. "They asked us if we wanted to participate in this program and I thought that it was a really good opportunity," she said. "Who knows when the next time I will have a chance like this again. So I decided to go for it."
Ms. Clements, an MIT varsity swimmer, had no preconceptions about life at Cambridge. "I am just going to go and see what it is like," she said. "I don't have any activities or special plans in mind. I will miss my friends and the swim team most."
Mr. Park, an avid rugby player, hopes to participate in his favorite sport once he adjusts to life at Cambridge.
"I am quite clueless as to how things are done on the other side of the ocean," he said. "It makes me nervous to think about it. My main priority will, of course, be academics and adjusting to a completely new environment. Once that's settled, I hope to play some really English rugby, see London and other parts of Great Britain. I've heard that the Scottish accent is quite sexy, so I'd like to visit Scotland, naturally."
He toured Belgium, France and Germany with his high school band in 1994. "All I can really remember is being on a bus for a long time, seeing a lot of churches and eating lots of good chocolate," he said. He'll miss his fraternity and MIT friends during his year abroad. "I feel like I have a family and home in Boston with my fraternity, as well as on campus with my completely amazing friends."
A seasoned traveler, Ms. Lefebvre cruised the Mediterranean with her family last summer, visiting Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Florence, Naples, Venice, Athens, Kusadasi and Istanbul. On spring break, she went to Paris with three friends. Last May, she visited a friend who was studying at Oxford. She also spent three weeks living in Germany on an exchange program during her sophomore year in high school.
"So although I've never been to Cambridge, I have an idea of what it will be like from my visit to Oxford," she said. "My favorite city by far is Paris, and I am looking forward to visiting it again while I'm at Cambridge." She also plans to visit a friend in Budapest.
"I'm really excited to get to spend a term abroad," she said. "It could be my only chance to live in another country, and I didn't want to pass it up. I'm curious to see how the classes compare to ours, and I'm looking forward to meeting people and making friends. I will miss Boston a lot; I love living here. And I'll miss a few of my close friends. But other than that, I won't miss much about MIT. I'm looking forward to a change in scenery for a little while."
A summer internship in Sweden gave Mr. Cheng a new perspective on the world. "Prior to this summer, I could not imagine living anywhere outside of New England, especially outside the US," he said. "This was the reason I felt the need to leave the area, and not get locked into a comfortable lifestyle just yet."
He fell in love with the beauty and pace of life in Stockholm during his three months there. When he heard about the CMI program, his bags were packed. "Although travelling is enjoyable," he said, "it is not as satisfying as actually living elsewhere for an extended period of time."
Mr. Cheng, who is a member of the sailing team and plays intramural hockey, will miss the MIT/Wellesley Toons. "The thing I'll miss least is the bitter cold walk through the MacGregor wind tunnel in the late fall and winter," he said.
CMI will concentrate on undergraduate and faculty exchanges, integrated research focusing on improving productivity and entrepreneurship, professional development for executives, and collaboration with eight British universities designated as Enterprise Centers. Eventually, distance learning will be used and educational and research programs in manufacturing, product development and competitiveness will be introduced.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 18, 2000.