Cambridge & diversity

Matthew Green: great expectations

Matthew GreenMatthew Green is an undergraduate studying English. After completing his A-Levels at a comprehensive school in London, Matthew spent two years working and travelling before deciding to apply to Cambridge. He joined Wolfson College in 2008.

What motivated you to apply to Cambridge?

I always knew that I wanted to go to university, but when I finished sixth form in 2005, I didn't know what university I wanted to go to or what I wanted to study, so I took some time out to travel and work. My dad, who has been a major inspiration in my life, has always encouraged me to try to get the most out of my academic abilities and he encouraged me apply to Oxford or Cambridge.

There wasn't a tradition in my family, or in my secondary school or sixth form college, of students going to Oxford or Cambridge and I didn't really know much about them. I called up both universities and preferred the response I got from Cambridge—and that was just the admissions receptionist that I spoke to. I researched both universities on the internet and looked into their English degrees, what they involved, the modules and everything else, and decided to make an application to Cambridge.

I didn't visit before applying and didn't even research the whole collegiate system. I made an open application and was allocated to Wolfson College.

Coming from London, how did you find Cambridge when you first arrived?

It's very different. As a Londoner you're used to the vibrancy, the robust nature of living in London, a busy life and everything else. It's quite different coming here. But I do like Cambridge a lot. Just the city, separate from the university—you can separate the two—it's very serene, really quiet; a nice, calm environment, and generally speaking I've had a warm welcome from locals. People generally seem polite compared to many Londoners. They'll take time out of their day to say hello to you when you're passing by which you rarely experience in London.

You mentioned that your father was a role model for you. Can you elaborate?

I was raised in a single parent family, just my dad and myself—he raised me from the age of about four or five by himself in London. We didn't really have any family in the area because they were in Birmingham, so he did it without an established support network which obviously makes it harder.

He was a mature student himself. He went to university from his early to mid 20s and he's now an historian. I remember from when I was really young, from about seven or eight, him teaching me about essay structure, the right introduction, the main body of the essay and the conclusion… going through all of that, so I was always really more into the humanities than the sciences. Although until sixth form I had wanted to be a doctor.

Why did you choose English?

When I came back from travelling and started thinking about what I wanted to do, I still hadn't decided on a particular career path. I wanted to choose something that firstly, I had a passion for and was really interested in; something that I knew I would be happy studying for three years. Secondly, I wanted to study something that I had an ability to achieve highly in and had a natural aptitude for—English filled all those criteria.

Where do you want to go after you finish at Cambridge?

This is a question I have been considering for a long time now. I am very interested in law, and have gone to several law events and recently completed a work placement at a London law firm. I have more recently explored the Civil Service FastStream course, which is an enticing prospect. However, I am keeping all my options open and am hoping to undertake several summer internships next summer which will help me to make a more fixed decision.

Do you see yourself as a role model?

Being from a black Afro-Caribbean background, I think it's important to have strong, positive black role models, and I do see myself in that position. I've got several friends about my age who have younger brothers and sisters who I often speak to, from a range of racial and social backgrounds. They are always interested when they find out that I am at Cambridge. They've always perceived it as an institution for white middle and upper class people who have been educated privately or at boarding schools. When they find out that I am here and that we share similar interests and background histories, went to similar schools and grew up in similar areas, they are fascinated.

It's a source of inspiration for them because it seems like something that isn't so distant or unattainable—if I've done it and they see that I'm someone close to them, similar to them, they think that it is something they can achieve too. So, yes, I think I would see myself as a role model. Not in everything I do, but in the positive things, hopefully.

What challenges have you faced since coming to Cambridge?

I've had challenges so far as academic work goes, but I think everyone experiences that. I don't think that A-Levels stretch you that much really. That was my experience anyway. I didn't find them that demanding or that challenging. Here, you have to work consistently hard and you're expected, in my subject anyway, to produce between one and three essays a week. So that is definitely a challenge.

I think also, perhaps, socialising. At first when I got here I didn't know what to expect from the University. As I said, I didn't visit my College, I didn't really visit Cambridge; when I came for my interview because I was focused on the interview I didn't really think of anything else.

When I actually came here to study, it was almost as though I hadn't been here before. I didn't know what to expect. I came with prejudices or stereotypes of the University and the student populace; I expected to be surrounded by predominantly quiet privately-schooled students from quite wealthy backgrounds, which is probably what a lot of people think. I clearly don't fit that model, so I was apprehensive that I wouldn't be able to fit into certain groups. Now though I feel as though I've established myself quite well in my College; I've got a nice group of friends.

Aside from your studies, what else are you involved with at Cambridge?

There are a few societies that I've joined and have an interest in, including the African and Caribbean Society. When I first started I deliberately sought out that society as I wanted to be able to meet other African and Caribbean students. There's also the Hispanic Society, which I joined mainly to learn Spanish, and the Social and Political Sciences Society. I've been to a number of their talks from politicians and joined in different debates and discussions.

There are about 10 of us who do formal swaps, where we meet with 10 students from other Colleges—it's a way of meeting each other and forging new friendships. There's a wide range of extra-curricular activities you can get involved in and I probably haven't used up all of them yet!