Welcome :)

Hello and welcome to my humble blog:)

My name is Daniela and I’m a 17 year old schoolgirl living in Zagreb, Croatia. Besides being a typical high school student, I have a passion for animals, movies, music and good food (only eating – I cant cook to save my life). In my short spare time I have between after school activities and studying, i can usually be found out with my friends or being bitten by our evil black pet cat.

I enjoy reading, Christmas time and going to the movies – its almost like therapy to me – and usually find it very difficult to introduce myself. Well, that’s pretty much the basic information about me in a nutshell.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Oxbridge travelogue, part 2!

I’m back again, this time with part two of my great Oxbridge travelogue! So far I’ve told you a bit about Cambridge, the colleges, weird student traditions and the unforgettable Cambridge pigeons…so now that you’ve gotten a sort of general idea of what the place looks and feels like, its time for me to focus my further storytelling on the reason I was sent to England in the first place: the Oxbridge Preparation Program :)

So, as you already know, the Oxbridge program was organized by CATS College and held in CATS Cambridge, one of the three schools CATS runs in England. The location of the college itself was great; it was about 20 minutes away from my accommodation and right in the centre of town, but still secluded enough for the lively atmosphere of the city centre not to be distracting…we found this to be very convenient, because we were able to study and do assignments inside the school facilities without being disturbed, but then again in two minutes be in the very centre of town, ready to further explore Cambridge.

The school facilities were well designed and equipped, and the school was very comfortable and well-organised which actually made it a really enjoyable place to spend time in. The classes were spacious and relaxing, and pretty much everything you needed was there under one roof: a great canteen, an amazing library, modern classrooms, art studios, a café….and we had access to the newest ICT equipment (some of which I had actually never seen before!). The Academic staff were also at hand should we need any assistance…Everything is designed to make it the ultimate study environment, and well, they sure succeeded! It was a great place for lectures during the school day but also for study-time and to get some quality work done…plus, they had lots of socializing areas, so if you wanted to, you could easily take a break from studying and spend time with other students… CATS organises a number of summer courses for visual and performing arts students, so besides studying, I also got a chance to meet a whole bunch of really interesting people from these different courses :)

Our typical school day started off at 9 o’clock and we had an average of 4 two-hour lectures a day. I know most high-school students (and even teachers!) dread the idea of having double lessons, but I found this to be very beneficial.… Students have a very strong sense of schedule in Croatian schools: we have an average of seven different 45-minute classes a day, usually separated by 5-minute breaks (and a lunch break, which usually goes for 20 minutes).
The interior of the CATS library
CATS, on the other hand, had a differently structured timetable. Between each two-hour lesson there was usually a 15-20 minute gap (which varied depending on how long our previous lesson was – sometimes the teacher needed a bit of extra time, whilst sometimes we even finished early) during which the students were free to get a cup of coffee, prepare themselves for the next lecture or even just sit and wind down - it was entirely up to us. Lunch was scheduled after two such lessons, and even though its duration was also subject to changes, we never had any less than a full hour before the following lecture. After lunch we would have another two lessons, followed by library time (usually an hour long) during which we could do our assignments, and we were finished with school by 4:30. The timetable was impeccably organised and the lectures were academically intense, but the timetable was structured in a way which took the feeling of pressure and urgency off our backs and encouraged us to focus our undivided attention on improving ourselves and our studies. For me, it was very different to previous school experiences I had, and even though I was being academically challenged at a higher level than ever before, the study environment was so stimulating and encouraging that I enjoyed every single challenge, no matter how difficult. I know from experience that the typical Croatian school timetable can get a bit hectic and that 5 minutes between 7 different lessons isn’t always enough, so I can’t tell you how impressed I was with the way CATS organised their lectures and school activities…I think that it made not just me, but all of the students more punctual and productive in class! Don’t get me wrong, the course wasn’t easy, but it was truly and incredibly enjoyable!

Anyway, every school day began with an Intensive Academic English class, which focused on preparing us for the academic IELTS exam: an international standardized test of English language proficiency used by universities to assess the level of English of the students applying. We started and ended the course with a mock IELTS exam, and during the three weeks we each worked with a personal tutor to see how we could improve. My English professor and personal tutor, Ruby, was simply marvellous and honestly one of the best teachers I‘ve ever had the honour of being taught by. She was wonderful, not only as a teacher but also as a person and I’m amazed at just how much she taught us and how dedicated she was to her profession and attentive to her students. If I ever become a teacher, I would want to be just like Ruby!

I had never seen an IELTS exam before being handed one at the first mock testing, so I was very interested to learn about it and see what a real exam actually looks like. Generally speaking, it’s sort of similar to the Croatian Matura exam in English, but IELTS seems to be a bit more advanced and generally more straight forward than Matura. I mean, the Matura is notorious for its tricky and fickle questions which call for a great deal of adroitness, whilst IELTS has difficult, but very straight forward questions. You don’t get the feeling that someone is trying to trick you. The level of English is generally more advanced, but you know exactly what is being asked of you, so it really does just come down to how well you know the English language. Also, unlike Matura, IELTS is not a “pass or fail” exam; the taker is graded in bands from 1(non user) to 9 (expert user)…Anyway, being a first time IELTS taker, I still had a lot to learn, but thanks to my amazing tutor, I perfected my test taking skills and both I and, more importantly, my tutor were really happy with my score :)

Besides the Academic English classes, we had a wide range of different lectures and lecturers. From maths master classes and basic economics to brain training and personal statement sessions…no matter what their interest, there really was something in there for everybody! I attended all of the lectures, and I have to say, I can’t think of a single lesson that could have been described as just “mediocre”. The lessons were a-ma-zing and the lecturers were world-class…dedicated, passionate, and not to mention world experts in their field…I still can’t believe that I was lucky enough to actually learn from such astonishing people! I mean, no lesson is complete without a good lecturer. I enjoyed every single lecture I attended, be it a subject that I had an affinity towards or not.  Its not often that teachers manage to profoundly inspire their students …on several occasions the whole class was simply left in awe and we often ended up talking about the lecture amongst ourselves long after it had actually finished!

The lecturers really were amazing, and besides being insanely intelligent and inspiring, there was always a sense of mutual respect between the lecturers and students and a desire to initiate discussions. They challenged us to think in ways we had not attempted before and to use knowledge in situations we had never encountered. In one particular class, lectured by the vice-principal, I was asked to contest the fact that I am alive…yes, you read it correctly; I was asked to prove (or disprove) that I was (and still am) alive! Surprisingly, even though it is obviously true, proving it is not as easy as it sounds :P This out-of-the-box thing was something totally new to me, so I had no idea where to even begin at first…but little by little, the wheels began to turn and thoughts just began to pop up! In Croatian schools, we are required to learn a large quantity of information, whilst the focus here was on how to process and evaluate information, how to coach our train of thought and think independently… As one of the professors said “It’s not just important what you think; its how you think it that counts”! All in all, the lectures were very stimulating and truly eye-opening, and I was lucky enough to pick up many valuable lessons to take home from these talented educators…there is so much we could learn from professors and schools like this :)

The Mathematical bridge, allegedly constructed by Newton himself!
I could just keep writing for days on end, but the post is getting pretty long again so I guess its time I cut it short…I guess I’m going to have to make my epic travelogue a trilogy!

I’ll be back in a few days with part three of my Oxbridge adventure, and until then I leave you with some more photos of the beautiful city of Cambridge and its sights. Enjoy! :)

Probably the creepiest clock I've ever seen, right in front of Corpus Christi College - appropriately named the Time-eater

The gate of Clare College's hidden gardens...doesn't it just look magical?

A beautiful view of the river Cam and a punt