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Institute of Continuing Education (ICE)

Summer programme students in conversation

More than 500 students – aged from 18 to 80+ and from 48 different countries – gathered in Cambridge this July as the International Summer Programme returned to in-person teaching. We joined students and course directors for a day to discover what they’re loving most about learning and living in Cambridge.

It’s another hot summer’s day as students settle in for Dr Miriam Gill’s plenary lecture on a decidedly chilling subject. A leading expert on medieval wall paintings, she’s sharing her latest research on an intriguing subject – three dead men walking. 

Documented in more than 40 English parish churches, these 14th century paintings tell a simple story: on one side stand three men out hunting; beautifully dressed for a day of elite sport, they are stopped in their tracks by three corpses in varying states of decay warning the living of their vanity and mortality.

“I wanted to share this research here because of what these paintings tell us about how literature and visual ideas were transmitted and shared in medieval Europe,” says Miriam. “For me, knowledge is about making connections. And I love sharing it with summer programme students because people come with differing perspectives and from different cultures. They are motivated, they are confident and that’s what makes the Summer Programme so very enriching and exciting.”

For Stephen Pike, a retired chartered accountant and lawyer from Hertfordshire, it’s the breadth of teaching on offer that makes the Summer Programme such a draw. With a passion for history and archaeology, he’s opted for courses on medieval castles and fossils. “[The subject of] fossils is slightly left-field for me, but that’s the whole idea – it’s multidisciplinary,” he says. “If you only go for courses you know, it doesn’t stretch you. This is a rare opportunity to engage with such a breadth of subjects and I’m enjoying it immensely.”

For fellow student Shyamala Tharmendiran, the Summer Programme is a chance to reassess work and study after having a family and a successful marketing career in the music industry. “When I looked at the different courses, there was lots of choice of subjects that I’m interested in,” she explains. “I’m between careers so I thought this might be a nice opportunity to study a couple of subjects that I really enjoy. After graduating, I always thought about doing a Master’s or some further study, but got a job straight away and worked for 14 years so never had the opportunity.”

Opting for a mix of pleasure and the professional: Shyamala joins Ulrike Horstmann-Guthrie’s Pride, prejudice and persuasion: Jane Austen re-visited, followed by Andrew Hatcher’s course, Understanding marketing. What’s struck her most is the quality and diversity of what’s on offer. “Our tutor for Jane Austen is absolutely incredible, and my mornings are so different to my afternoon classes, but I love them both. I hadn’t done a course on marketing since 2000 – a long time ago – so it’s really useful to discover how the marketing landscape has changed.”

Fresh perspectives are what the Summer Programme is all about, says marketing Course Director Andrew – who has created, developed and nurtured companies in diverse sectors, from medical technology to AI, and who has taught innovation and marketing at Cambridge Judge Business School. “The biggest takeaway for students is to become more deliberate about the things they do,” he says. “I hope they’ll be more inquisitive and ask more questions so that they go away thinking slightly differently [about life and work].”

For Evelina Komarnytska, everything is new. A recent law graduate from the University of Kiev, she arrived in the UK and a scholarship from the James Stuart Fund at the Institute for Continuing Education enabled her to join the Summer Programme. “It’s my first time in the UK so I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “Being with people from all over the world is really great, and everyone has so much empathy for Ukraine. I’m studying astronomy and business economy – disciplines you’d never study in a law degree – and for me, gaining this kind of knowledge is the most valuable thing about the Cambridge Summer Programme.”

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