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Hillary Hurd - (MPhil student) International Relations & Politics

A native Virginian, I did not know what to expect when I arrived in Cambridge last September to pursue a one-year MPhil in International Relations and Politics. While I had of course seen many beautiful photographs of Cambridge and been long impressed by the prestige of its revered alumni, I had little to no personal connection with the University. Given its long history and the formidable grandeur of its buildings, I imagined Cambridge would be a daunting place to study. What with all the rain and scarce winter sunlight, I imagined it would be a good place to “read” but not – necessarily – a great place to “be” all of the time. That said, my experience at Cambridge, and in particular at St. John’s, has been positively magical.

To start, the people at St. John’s - from the students, to the administrators, to the Fellows - have been nothing but welcoming and warm to me. From my first day in Cambridge, I have felt myself to be a “member” of St. John’s and not just a transitory, one-year MPhil student. From tea-time discussions at the Borderer’s lodge, to delicious formal dinners, to jazz music nights, to late night group sessions at the library, there’s a strong sense of community - and activity -  at St. John’s.  In the Fall, I joined a small theology group in St. John’s that met once a week to discuss Augustine and Christian ethics. Not only did the group challenge my understanding of the Church, it provided an intimate forum of fun people with whom I could debate ideas.

Some of my favourite moments have been in the St. John’s buttery dining room and college bar. I do not think I had ever had quite so many existential discussions in my life as I had in those places. From light banter about British politics to more serious discussions about religion and morality, I have been constantly challenged by my friends in St. John’s. While I expected my MPhil degree would be demanding and broaden my understanding of politics, I could not have anticipated how productive seemingly casual conversations around St. John’s would be.  My MPhil might have disciplined my approach to research, but I’ve arguably learned more about my own political views in the St. John’s buttery than anywhere else. What's more, St. John's has been generous in its support of my research interests. Through the "Learning and Research Grant," I have been able to afford books and conferences not otherwise secured by my degree program.

Hilary Hurd, May 2014