During the summer of 2020 we launched a series of conversations with alumni to hear their memories of Trinity and catch up on what they’ve done since leaving. Rachel from ARDO spoke with Nick Wong (2014) and you can read his story below. You can find more stories here.
History (2014), PGCE (2017)
Why did you want to study at Trinity?
I never thought about applying to Cambridge or Oxford until I went on a Humanities Residential at Trinity in March 2012. I was really struck with how amazing the lectures were and how much I enjoyed them – Dr Richard Serjeantson, who was my Director of Studies, did a lecture on Utopia and I was bowled away by the nuance of looking into a text in that way for the first time. Also, Trinity is so beautiful – living there for a few days was amazing, and the free breakfast definitely helped! The whole combination of being in that space and being able to access that level of academia for the first time was really alluring to me, and I thought, ‘This seems like a great place to go. I’m going to apply.’
Where is your favourite place in Trinity?
My heart was set on Trinity ever since that first moment I walked through Great Gate. That door opens and you see the fountain and the entirety of Great Court – that’s one of the best views in Cambridge in my opinion. The best, though, is when you go from Hall and walk through to Nevile’s Court. It’s got that tiny door and you need to duck down to avoid hitting your head and when you go through and you see the Wren Library just there in all its glory, and the sun shining through it, or the snow… that’s my favourite view in Cambridge.
Where did you live whilst at Trinity?
In my first year I lived in the Wolfson Building, which was really excellent to have a modern building in my first year out of home. Having proper kitchen facilities was so nice, and I really appreciated the lift when I was moving in and out! Wolfson has floors instead of staircases which was great for meeting people – especially in the first couple weeks, people would leave their door open and you could have a chat in the corridor when you’re popping out to lunch.
In my second and third years I lived in Whewell’s Court, which is a bit older and a bit grander – more of what you expect when you think about living in a Cambridge College. In both those years I was very lucky to have a bedroom, a small sitting room, and a small kitchen. There’s a real sense of community, a family-type feel, when you’re in a Court like that where everyone faces each other. I loved starting in Whewell’s Court when I did access tours. I would always start there and point out Wittgenstein’s room, and then my room – two major Trinity alumni!
Outside of Trinity, where are your favourite places in Cambridge?
As a historian, I’d usually be going to the History Faculty on the Sidgwick site. So I love leaving Trinity and walking along the Backs, passing the most beautiful parts of the Colleges – you go past Trinity Hall and Clare and King’s, with the wonderful King’s Chapel in the background – it was just a great way to gently wake up when I was hurrying to lectures.
I also really love King Street, just off the back of Sidney Sussex, which has the Locker Cafe and a few other different places there. It’s a great place to chill and wake up on a Saturday before getting into some work or meeting up with friends. Market Square is also really lovely to walk around, especially when it’s a bit bustling and you can make your way around the stalls. Once you’ve been there for a few years, you find the excellent traders for falafel, the burger stand or the dim sum.
What clubs and societies were you involved with?
Too many, arguably! I mostly did music in terms of societies. When I went to the Freshers’ Fair in my first year, I signed up to everything – and the same in subsequent years, I was still finding things to sign up to! I was a member of College Choirs – I volunteered at Queens’ and Sidney Sussex which was a really fab way to spend a few hours a week. I’d be singing and would get some free food and tours around the world, which was always great. I was also part of Cadenza, which is Cambridge’s premier mixed a cappella group, and I was the President of that for two years which was so much fun. We went up to the Edinburgh Fringe, and during May Week we would do loads of performances at different May Balls. In the same vein, I was part of Fitz Barbershop, which is a bit crazy because of the boaters and the waistcoats but a lot of fun, and a jazz band – Selwyn Jazz.
I think one of the great things about Trinity is that it’s such a large College, which means that there’s so many societies within it as well. So Trinema, the cinema society was fantastic, as well as Magpie and Stump – the Trinity based stand-up comedy society – which is incredible. I’m not sure any other College has something like that, and they definitely don’t have the taxidermied magpie mascot! Trin FemSoc, or the Wine and Cheese Society, as well, there’s loads of things going on. You can hardly move for it.
What’s one thing you wish you’d known before arriving at Trinity?
I tried to dabble in a lot of different things, and I wish I’d had more confidence to persevere with things that really mattered to me and to seek out societies like the BME groups or different access groups that are in Cambridge earlier on, but it’s easy to be swept away in the hysteria and it’s harder to stay firm with your convictions and your passions.
I also wish I’d known how to approach my degree in a better way because when you arrive, it’s just so overwhelming – but if you sit down for a day and get ahead of it, working out which lectures you find interesting and what you really want to go to, that would be a much better academic experience.
What do you do now?
I’m a History teacher in West London. When I was in my third year, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. A former teacher of mine then suggested teaching, and I knew some friends who had done the Cambridge PGCE and they really recommended it. So I looked into it and realised it was exactly what I wanted to do! My next year in Cambridge was maybe my favourite year of the four. As a graduate, it’s such a different space. The course was brilliant and really prepared me for both becoming a teacher and becoming one that specialises in History. Now I can’t really think of anything else I’d rather do.
History teaching is such a wonderful thing to do, and it’s also quite topical at the moment in terms of decolonizing the curriculum and in terms of our place in the wider curriculum. It’s such an intellectually challenging thing: how can I balance all these different issues? How can I best deliver this? It’s not the easy, fun job that I might have considered it to be at the beginning, it’s really quite rigorous and keeps me on my toes every day. It’s also hilarious at times and gives you a million and one stories!
Have you had any role models?
Simon Toyne, my Music teacher at A Level, really inspired me in terms of how I think and how I approach different things. He pushed me to go for Cambridge, and has always encouraged me to think in different ways.
Some of my favourite advice that I’ve been given is that you don’t have to please everyone – which is perhaps a good thing for an incoming fresher to hear. You’ll find the people that you love, you’ll find that close-knit group without having to try to please different people.
What has been your proudest moment?
In the space of a year, during my time as President of Cadenza, we recorded our first album and had a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe. That was all done purely by the Society – really just four of us, the main team, doing fundraising, working out all the logistics, accommodation, sound engineering – it was a feat that took a year to do and all came to fruition in the summer of 2018.
It was incredible in terms of the journey because we creatively shaped and moulded it and had lots of fun experiences along the way, but also the result is that I have a solid legacy there, I can go back and listen to the Spotify album that will remind me of the fantastic times I had with the group, or the recordings of the Edinburgh show.
I was also really proud of the access work I did at College, helping or encouraging students from backgrounds who wouldn’t normally apply to Cambridge or to Trinity to experience it for a little bit, and then to maybe apply if they feel like it’s the right move for them. I remember I think IbzMo was tweeting about residentials and one of these prospective students name-checked me on Twitter – that was a great moment, realising how much the work we’re doing really does make a difference to these students.
Outside of Cambridge, I think my greatest achievement is probably becoming a qualified teacher because it was a hard couple of years and you have to learn a lot of craft, but I’m now in the position where I know that I can inspire young people to do incredible things. I can use my experiences to help them and to encourage them, or to let them follow a different path that maybe wasn’t available to me, or to think in ways that 10 years ago would have been impossible.
What’s your one piece of advice for current students at Trinity?
Make the most of the opportunities that you have whilst at Cambridge, both in terms of societies and hobbies, but also in terms of different academic pathways you can follow. I think it’s so important to not just wade through but to actually take it by the horns and really try to milk as much as possible out of the Cambridge experience whether that be trying something new each term such as trying Quidditch, or seeing what’s on offer at the Union…I’m gutted I missed Robert Downey Jr. speaking there!
In terms of what comes next, talk to the Cambridge Careers Service, who are incredible incredible people, and be open to trying something different. That’s similar to exploring all these different new passions, but don’t feel like you have to go down a certain route in terms of your career. You don’t have to do law just because you are a law graduate. You don’t have to become a history teacher because you’re a history graduate. The world’s your oyster, especially as a Cambridge graduate where you have developed so many skills from your three or four years.
Recorded in August 2020
If you want to get involved and share your story, please get in touch with Matt and Rachel at email@example.com