It's obviously too late to sign up for a summer vacation stay at one of the great English-language universities that open their classrooms and residence halls each July and August to adults of all ages. But because these stays are so popular, and are often sold out by early spring, it's important to examine them now and to submit your application long in advance for the courses that most intrigue you.
I have earlier written about the summer programs offered by Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, by Oxford University in Oxford, England, and by St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But I have failed to give equal attention to the so-called "International Summer Program" at famous Cambridge University, in Cambridge, England. Several returning "students" (one 70 years old, others younger) who attended that program in July have now briefed me about their experiences. And they were all so enthusiastic about this unique vacation, that their story needs to be told.
Cambridge calls this an "international" program, and this year's courses were attended by adults from 58 countries, including Great Britain, the United States, Europe, China, Korea and South America, the only common feature being that they were all fluent in English. Students reside for one to four weeks, as they choose, in the vacated summer residence of a Cambridge student. All were satisfied with their accommodations in comfortable student rooms.
The curriculum ranges from science to literature to history to politics and sociology, and the courses are scores in number. Most students select two of them, the first attended for ninety minutes every morning for a week, the second attended for that same period in the afternoon. In between these two main subjects, students are urged to attend "plenary one hour lectures" at noontime, just before lunch. The "plenaries" are on a favorite topic of a famous local professor, and range from discussions of Greek and Roman literature to the British Enigma machine that broke the Nazi code in World War II.
At night, even more lectures or musical or dramatic performances are offered, all to be freely chosen by participants in the school. Courses themselves are lively sessions, with much student participation as they question or comment upon the delivery of the faculty members. Three of my informants chose an afternoon one-week course in the novels and novellas of Henry James (for which they were advised to read them in advance) and a morning one week course in the surprisingly-profound treatment of children'ts literature, ranging from Peter Pan to Harry Potter (a subject of increasing, serious attention in colleges around the world, which regard such books as offering important insights into culture and society). Another informant was enthusiastic about her course in Shakespeare.
Squeezed in at other times was a walking tour of the Cambridge campus, viewing the rooms where Sir Isaac Newton studied, the campus digs of Charles Darwin, and another building housing and ministering to the needs of the university's most famous current figure, Stephen Hawking.
The cost? An all-inclusive charge of 1,100 British pounds ($1,430) for one week, including a single room for a single person traveling alone, two meals a day, all tuition, all lectures both specialized and plenary, and all other activities. (Airfare to Britain is of course extra). The program requires no tests or examinations (students participate simply for the sake of learning), although some wanting recognition of their attendance can prepare papers which are graded for submission to the student's home university, if they are still attending one.
I wish I could properly convey the enthusiasm of my informants following their unforgettable stay in one of the most famous places of education, studded with structures built in the long-ago time of Henry the Sixth. I was so impressed that I will definitely consider a stay for myself, in the summer of 2017. All that is required is a computer's search engine to access details of next year's program.
Photo credit: Alex Brown