Where am I now? 2008 scholar details the power of Cambridge ties

The friendships formed at Cambridge are, for many scholars, one of the most rewarding parts of the Davies-Jackson scholarship. Here Joshua Wisebaker, 2008 scholar, reveals the power of those Cambridge ties.


Mike insisted on waiting with me in line for the bus that would take me back to Boston. We chatted while the pushy security guys commanded us to stand against the wall. Mike walked with me as the line began to move. We’d spent some time in Boston before driving down through Rhode Island on a fine, sunny day, wandering about on the backroads and skipping rocks in the tide on a pristinely preserved beach along the south coast. Mike navigated with a joyful carelessness that insisted there was no hurry. A little after midday we remerged with the interstate that would take us down to New York City, where we would meet with another of our Cambridge housemates who was state side for a conference.

As we approached the bus Mike said to me, “Man, it felt like it had been three weeks, not three years!” The comment struck me. He was right. It was something I had felt but hadn’t articulated – from the moment Mike stepped off the plane at Logan, it was like two friends reunited that hadn’t been separated by nearly the time and distance that we had. It was a testament, I thought, to the bonds that had been formed at the Whinside hostel, St John’s College, Cambridge. We hugged and said goodbye.

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I remember the night that I met Mike and my other friends from Whinside. I was a wreck. After having been on planes and buses for some twelve hours, I stubbornly refused to get a cab to the porter’s lodge, deciding that I would simply walk to my new home – how hard could it be to find?

Naturally, I preceded to get hopelessly lost on the labyrinth-like streets of Cambridge (or so they seemed to a suburban American kid used to navigating grids) for some two hours, getting a much better look at that magical little town than I had wanted at that moment (Mike, being an old hand, gave me a proper tour the next morning).

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I arrived at the porter’s lodge in a rather awful way. The man told me that I had arrived in England too early, and wasn’t supposed to be there for another three days. Utterly defeated, I offered to get a hotel – he gave me the keys and sent me on my way. So began my life at Whinside – not propitious, but the beginning was by no means indicative of things to come.

What was so wonderful about that New York reunion was that it was the product of one of the late night discussions that were a staple of life at Whinside. I spent untold happy hours discussing about everything you can think of in that common space on the first floor with those remarkably intelligent people that I suddenly found myself surrounded by, usually when I was supposed to be doing something else.

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Indeed, when you were especially busy, you had to be careful about going into the first floor kitchen – you never knew when an enthralling two hour conversion might spark up, and you knew you were powerless to draw yourself away.

I learned a ton about Renaissance literature (my specialization) during my year at Cambridge; I earned what has proven to be a valuable degree there. But those late night conversations in that common space, where people from every corner of the globe came together to discuss about everything, are the part of my experience at Cambridge that I value the most, that I wouldn’t trade for anything and that proved crucial in making me the person I am today.

As Mike and I met Megan, our other Whinsider, at Central Park in New York City on that bright spring day, I realized that I had found Whinside again. Despite the years and distance covered, it was easier this time. We all picked up where we had left off in that common space.

What was truly remarkable about it is that we all had changed and grown so much: Megan had completed her PhD at Cambridge and was now looking for a tenure track job (which she’s subsequently found); Mike is now a practicing physician with the Royal Air Force; after teaching for a year back in Ohio, I am now working on a doctorate in Boston.

As much as we have changed, those ties remain, and it just seemed (and seems) remarkable that those kinds of bonds can form in just a nine month sojourn in Cambridge; I think that is the magic of the place, though – it brings together people from a dizzying array of places and backgrounds, and puts them in common spaces. I know my friends from Whinside and I will be there again sometime.

– 2008 scholar Joshua Wisebaker


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