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Year 13 student, Ben Dewale ,attended a 5 day Geography course in Foxton, a small village just south of Cambridge, as part of the Villiers Park Inspiring Excellence programme. Below he tells us of the intensive experience and how it has been useful in shaping his options for when he completes his A-Levels at the Academy.

Day 1 – I was very much looking forward to attending the residential, though having to wake up at 6 on a Saturday made me think otherwise. I was not looking forward to 5 hours of travel, though I was sure it would be worth it in the end. For my first time taking a train, it was rather inconvenient to have a cancellation half way through my journey. Despite this disruption, I was confident that I would end up at Foxton before 1:30pm. The next thing I knew, I was on a train from Cambridge that I believed went to Foxton, except it didn’t, it was direct to Kings Cross Station in London. After I finally arranged a ticket to take me back up to Foxton, I arrived at my destination at 4:30pm, 3 hours later than expected. On arrival, I was introduced to my tutors, given my room key and after meeting the other students, I was thrown into rotation and attended my first lecture.

Day 2 – Well, this day couldn’t start much worse than yesterday, so I was rather positive about the events that would unfold. I attended breakfast at 8:30am and got to know some of my peers. I quickly realised that everyone was in the same predicament as nobody knew who anyone else was. Students had travelled from all over the UK to attend, including 2 from Northern Ireland and 2 from Wales. During the day, the 2 tutors, one a lecturer at Manchester University and one a PhD student at Manchester University, delivered lectures in their field about areas that they studied at university. I found the Antarctica Lecture delivered by Iowana (the lecturer from Manchester University) to be rather compelling, as I didn’t know the amount of work that went into organising these kind of projects. Later in the day, we were put into groups that would be conducting a field study in the city of Cambridge about a chosen topic.

Day 3 – Field study day was upon us. In the morning, in depth preparations took place, coming up with the correct techniques needed to gather the data that required to answer our chosen question. I was working with Inaz, Charlotte and Michelle to answer the question of whether Cambridge is sustainable or not. After lunch (around 2pm) we set off to Cambridge and our study was underway. I quickly realised that getting people to answer surveys is harder than it looks, though the freezing temperatures probably contributed to quite a few of my rejections. On our arrival back at Foxton, we were given a short talk about data analysis and presentation, along with a few tips on how to present in general. A documentary about Texaco’s lawsuit with the Ecuadorian rainforest ended the day at 10pm.

Day 4 – The aim of today was mainly presentation focused, as on top of our fieldwork, we also had another group presentation with different people, in which we had to research and answer a given topic (my groups being the risk of hazards in developed vs. developing countries). The morning involved making the final touches to our field work presentation in order to present them after lunch. After these presentations had finished, 4 students from Cambridge’s geographical society came to talk to us about life as a geography student at University (not specific to Cambridge) and the benefits of for-taking it as a degree. This was extremely useful for me and was in the end a big influence as to why I ended up choosing geography for my University Applications. We had a short time allocated to finish off our main presentations after tea, but the evening was finished off with another lecture about using mud cores as a way to determine information about the past.

Day 5 – Today was the final day and after spending so much time bonding with the group, we were all sad that it had to come to an end. After delivering our final presentations, we had lunch, sad goodbye and then departed to the train station. This journey also turned out to be a disaster for me, as this time I decided to leave my school bag on one of the trains. Luckily though, some students from the residential where on hand to take my bag and post it up to me a few days later.

In summary, I would say that the residential has been highly influential on my university choice and has given me a large insight as to what life in a university setting is like. I found it to be very useful that I was taught in the manor that I would be at university, so I could get a feel for what it would be like. If I had the option, I would definitely go again and I would highly recommend the Villiers Park inspiring excellence course to anyone that might be interested.