"The PlayMobil Goethe I bought reminds me of the first Goethe poems I was able to understand"Anna Whitehead

As I sit in the MML Library wondering how much Goethe it is possible to read without sacrificing my soul in some sort of Faustian bargain, I think back to the sweet beginnings of my degree. What happened to the passion and enthusiasm for European language and literature that brought me here in the first place? Did it not make it beyond the word limit of my personal statement, or did it get left behind in a Zoom breakout room during one of the many months of online classes? Perhaps it’s in my flatmate’s wardrobe in Vienna, with my other belongings that didn’t quite fit into the suitcase back from my Year Abroad. Or perhaps it’s enjoying some pierogi in the early hours of the Polish wedding where I decided to pick up a Slavic language from scratch in my final year. Or perhaps it’s floating through the canals of Amsterdam, waiting for me to visit my Dutch friend and try out some cheese-related idioms. Wherever it is, it better get its skates on and make it to the Raised Faculty Building sharpish.

As we head into the final stages of the MML marathon, well-meaning supervisors and Directors of Studies remind us how far we’ve come in our studies. We are able to have German conversations which aren’t littered with A-Level set phrases, enjoy novels in their original language, watch films without subtitles. Bizarre-sounding acronyms like “TeKaMoLo” or “WAVEM” and the German grammar concepts they explain are by now ingrained in us, and the simple gap-fill questions of first-year language exams are replaced by an open commentary task.

“We are able to have German conversations which aren’t littered with A-Level set phrases”

I, for one, feel less like a MML finalist and more like a Great British Bake Off one, whose nervous laughter covers up their panic as they see the technical challenge recipe without instructions. And Jürgen isn’t even there to help. As he said in German Week to everyone’s horror, “Hals und Beinbruch” — “break a leg and break a neck”.

This well-meaning encouragement has however led me to think back to the key moments which led to my decision to study languages. Reminding myself of these has provided some motivation for my revision. I can’t help but smile as I think of various unexpected German and Austrian adventures involving salt mines and Sommerrodelbahns — both simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating, much like learning German. The PlayMobil Goethe I bought as a souvenir from his 268th party in Weimar on a trip with the UK-German Connection looks down from my bookshelf as I type, reminding me of the first Goethe poems I was able to understand, and the terrible pun I told in my Cambridge interview about the Fa(u)st food at said birthday party. And when I look back on my time abroad, and the innumerable evenings spent on the basement sofa watching Germany’s Next Top Model or talking late into the night with my flatmates, nicknamed “the Währingirls”, I am proud of my younger self for persevering through the stress and tears caused by the Konjunktiv II.

For the flexibility and ‘academic rigour’ of the MML Tripos has indeed been greatly rewarding. The range of papers has allowed me to discover in great depth periods of literature or history which fascinate me, and to gain the resilience to stick through those which don’t. The option to pick up new languages in ‘introductory papers’ has led me to dabble in Dutch and pretend I understand Polish. I’ve also enjoyed the cultural elements of these papers, even if only because they give me an excuse to read up on South-East Asian colonial history and St Pope John Paul II, two personal interests of mine. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be a bona fide MML student if I didn’t mention how great my Year Abroad was, and how this hiatus was both educationally and personally formative. Did I already mention I went to Vienna?

“I wouldn’t be a bona fide MML student if I didn’t mention how great my Year Abroad was”

Climbing the stairs in the Lecture Block the other day with some fellow finalists, we realised we’d come a long way since our first lectures together, awkwardly introducing ourselves and drawing various beetles as we were asked to imagine Kafka’s Die Verwandlung. Looking up to all the stairs to Lecture Block 11 and the awaiting challenges of the C2 paper, we realised there was also still a long way to go. The camaraderie and friendship with the other MMLers has been a real highlight, and particularly with those in college (believe it or not, Christ’s students don’t just study!). It’s been a joy to have had supervision partners capable of expertly steering the conversation to more convivial discussions, fellow eternally optimistic Year Abroad students to climb every mountain and sing in the rain with, and friends wrapped in the blankets of the MML library typing away so furiously that I have felt pressured enough to actually get my work done. It is these friendships I’ll be celebrating come June, more than happily replacing the baffling tranches of the MML examinations with “une tranche de gâteau”.


Mountain View

The year abroad: a lesson in resilience

The MML Tripos has been quite the rollercoaster, with moving abroad during the pandemic and the implications of Brexit being extra surprise loops on the ride. Looking back on the memories and people we’ve encountered along the way helps to lift the spirits as we head into the final stretch, and reminds us why we chose this ride in the first place. But I think I speak for many of us when I say that I feel ready for this rollercoaster to pull to its end, to disembark, and to go and chuckle at the photos of us screaming along the way, which will be stuck on our walls and Instagram feed for years to come. And who knows, maybe after an ice-cream or two, we’ll be queuing up for the next adventure.