California Institute of Technology. The last word there tells you a lot about the college, really. This is not a school to find a great deal of philosophers or historians. Of course people here can like or love non-science subjects (I enjoy writing myself, hence blogging), and you can definitely major in these fields, most of the time as a second major. End of the day, however, Caltech is known for its word class work in the science and technology fields, not necessarily the humanities, and that’s reflected in its students. There are advantages to having a university where everyone has a certain level of understanding of a subject, but at the same time, you lose a bit of the diversity of ideas and opinions that you might find at a more broad university.
Coming to Cambridge, you really get hit with that hard. This place is a world-class university in a number of fields, across the board. You’ll see people here studying law, medicine, anglo-saxon literature, theology, history of art, international relations, and a plethora of other subjects, including the sciences and engineering that you see at Tech; you’ll find interesting and intelligent people in a bunch of fields.
In some ways it makes it harder to speak to people; you have to break that old habit of assuming everyone has a certain level of understanding in math or science. At the same time, you’ll find that everyone has an interesting story to tell, just because of their fields and what interests them about it. For someone who’s spent the last two or three years in Caltech, understandably this is a huge paradigm shift. Interestingly enough, it actually shifts the conversation away from academics. It’s harder to discuss what you’re working on when it could be in a completely different field from anything you’re familiar with.
When it does go to academics, however, you might have a leg up compared to British students, though. The American education system is quite a bit broader in what it teaches you, so while students here might have started focusing on their field in high school, you still had the opportunity to take psychology or European history or whatever. It definitely helps with connecting with other students.
And one way or another, connect you will. Even with that student who’s incredibly deep in Middle English and Old English works and might have no idea what these chemicals you’re so interested in are, you’ll find that there’s always something interesting to talk about. Heh, you might even learn something.
Toodles or something,
P.S. It’s a really pretty business department…