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The Dangers of Summer Discovery at Cambridge
Everything was perfect until something went wrong. And I’m well aware that it sounds like the opening to a horror movie, but thankfully, it was nothing as drastic as that. This summer, I attended the Summer Discovery Program at Cambridge in the UK. At first, my parents were convinced the program was a scam because once we paid the tuition, no one contacted us. Thankfully, it was very real. Sadly, the lack of clear instructions and contact remained even as I flew 3,000 miles from home to attend.
When I got to the airport, I should have known that the picturesque flyers and signs promoted on Summer Discovery’s website were wrong. No one was waiting to meet me at the gate, and while it turned out they had been in the wrong place, it still took me over an hour after going through customs to meet a Summer Discovery staff member. After that minor incident, it was an hour and a half bus ride from London Heathrow to Cambridge.
My first sight of Murray Edwards (the campus the program takes place) was underwhelming, to say the least. When one thinks of Cambridge, soaring towers and intricate stonework full of history come to mind. After all, as one of the oldest universities in the world, there’s a reason my expectations were so high. However, Murray Edwards was a concrete block constructed in the 1970s, without AC or the history to excuse the lack.
Orientation was uneventful, with the expected rules explained. By then, I had already made friends and was excited to get started. The first week or so was wonderful. I was allowed to explore Cambridge without supervision, and I met people from all across the globe. We had activities every night, and while we technically had to be in our rooms by midnight, the rule wasn’t enforced (much to my disappointment). It wasn’t uncommon to hear my neighbors singing karaoke at 2 am or for my roommate to come back at 12:30. To say most people got less than six hours of sleep a night was an understatement.
Despite the lax policy when it came to discipline, I had fun. Alongside friends, I toured old churches and museums, explored downtown, and went to the movies. My classes were taught by professors at the University of Cambridge, and I’m now able to claim that I studied genetics at the same university where the structure of DNA was first discovered. In debate class, we argued over foreign policy and listened as our interesting lecturer discussed his time in the British military service. The first week of the program was a great glimpse of what college could be, and how the world opens up after high school.
Yet even the first week could not balance what happened that weekend. On Saturday, we were supposed to go on a tour of London, but two of my friends tested positive for COVID-19. Instead of having those of us who had come in close contact test, the program manager wanted to send me and another friend on a crowded bus to London. We protested repeatedly until we were finally allowed to take a rapid test two hours after our friends had texted us. Of course, we were positive.
The program’s solution was to lock us in our dorm rooms without AC during a record-breaking heatwave and wait to bring us to get a PCR in town. I called my parents in a panic because I had to be picked up by a legal guardian within 24 hours. Keep in mind that I was in a foreign country 3,000 miles away. Thankfully, my mom was able to get a flight, but she wasn’t told by Summer Discovery that I had tested positive until she was at the airport ten hours later.
When I emailed my professors to inform them of my departure once I got to a hotel, they had not been told what was going on, despite being in close contact with me and the three others who tested positive. Some of the professors were over the age of sixty and likely could have been seriously hurt by COVID, but Summer Discovery disregarded their health and the health of other students.
As for the rest of the students in the program, they were told not to test, even when they came into contact with us and actively showed symptoms. My roommate was not tested, even when she exhibited symptoms. Text chains and group chats were the only reason anyone knew what was going on because Summer Discovery staff actively downplayed the situation. The program ended a week ago, and without fail, I keep getting texts from other students who went home and tested positive.
Even though I left the program a week early because of COVID, I am so grateful that my mom was able to pick me up. In many ways, I’m even more grateful that the emergency I faced was COVID and not something even more serious. Had I had an allergic reaction or been hit by a car, I don’t think Summer Discovery would have been prepared. Frankly, I wouldn’t trust them with a pet at this point, much less a person.
If you are interested in attending a Summer Discovery program, I would choose one close to home. That way, when they fail to act responsibly in an emergency, you aren’t stuck in a foreign country.