Blog: Frisbee and Friendship

In this guest post series, Luke, a History graduate from the University of Cambridge writes about his university experiences in addition to his experience as a summer mentor at Cambridge Immerse.

Cambridge Immerse is a summer camp that runs all day and all night. Lessons are the focus of each day, but students get much more out of their immersion in the Oxbridge environment than academic improvement alone.

When tutorials have finished in the afternoon, the kids head out for special extra-curricular activities that will give them a taste of Cambridge life and help them bond with their fellow students who have arrived from every corner of the globe. From day one, our pupils throw themselves into proceedings and from friendships that will endure long after the camp is over.

Studies consistently demonstrate that extra-curricular activities boost children’s performance within the academic curriculum. Research by the United States Department of Education has shown that pupils engaged in extra-curricular pursuits are three times more likely to attain good grades than their classmates. But here in Cambridge, activities outside academic work do even more than improve our test scores. At a time of transition in their lives, some of our kids are unsure about what motivates them, about what their strengths are, about how they come across to others. By giving the students at Cambridge Immerse the opportunity to play new sports, see new cities and interact in new ways, we can help them grow into happier, more confident young adults who will be brilliantly placed to hit the ground running when they arrive at university.

On weekends, we head out on tours of London and of Britain’s other great university town, Oxford. Amid the souvenir shopping and chocolate gobbling, there’s just enough time for fascinating guided tours of London’s city centre and Oxford’s ancient colleges.

During balmy, golden afternoons, our students clamber into shallow-bottomed punts and drift along the River Cam. After gulping in the beauty of the university buildings which back onto the waterway and trying their hand at steering the boats with long wooden poles, they emerge back onto dry land full of enthusiasm for the charms of Cambridge’s leisurely traditions.

After dinner in the evening, there are quizzes, games nights and even an (ostensibly) Platonic speed dating session to help our students introduce themselves to each other. On sunny days, we all march out to the local playing fields for sporting tournaments that display a frightening level of prowess and equally terrifying amounts of competitive spirit. Watching dozens of teenagers throwing themselves into games of dodgeball, croquet and ultimate frisbee, it’s hard not to appreciate the important functions that sports and leisure can play for bright and energetic young people, helping them to find and embrace the best version of themselves.

It is no mean feat to arrive in Cambridge expecting to spend the next two weeks with people you’ve never met who have journeyed there from completely different cultures and life stories. It says something about the calibre of the students who attend Cambridge Immerse that, just an hour after registering with us for the first time, it only takes a couple of rounds of the game “Mafia” before all sixty of them are loudly accusing each other of murder, defending themselves against charges of treachery and courageously insisting on the innocence of those beside them.

Two weeks later, the same confidence and supportiveness is slathered generously all over the final night’s talent show. Our camp’s quietest students step gingerly onstage cupping a microphone, and are met with the whoops and cheers of a wild audience. Heartthrobs perform duets on their acoustic guitars, musical prodigies amaze us with their piano repertoires and – how could I forget – the camp mentors launch into an a capella rendition of Anchorman’s ‘Afternoon Delight’ whose shameless enthusiasm makes up for its utter tunelessness. Throughout the evening, I had to keep stepping back and pinching myself: these delighted, outgoing stars of the stage were the same nervous teenagers who had arrived just a fortnight before with no idea of the friends they would go on to make or the sides of themselves they would go on to reveal. And that’s just the mentors.

So for those of us running the activities, there’s a wonderful win-win when things go down well. The more the students enjoy themselves, the more self-assured, focused and sociable they will be. There’s no trade-off at Cambridge Immerse between achievement and enjoyment. And that’s what makes it such a delight to work at.

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