Interview with Zareen, our first ever student to be offered a place at Oxbridge

Zareen is the first student from Ark Globe Academy to receive an offer from Oxbridge. Her acceptance to the University of Cambridge is the well-deserved result of her committment, hard work and contribution to her school and community. Zareen has participated in a wide range of activities at school, not just academically. She was elected Head Girl in Years 10 and 11, and was a prefect in Year 9. Zareen is one of the founders of youth poetry collective Globe Poets, which went to Washington DC last year to represent the UK and to compete in Brave New Voices 2016. More recently, she opened Ark's Teach 2017 conference with a spoken word performance.

Zareen applied to universities including Warwick, Manchester, York, as well as Brown University in Rhode Island, USA. She received offers from all of them. At first, her heart was set on Brown University, and applying to Cambridge was not planned. It came as a surprise to her to be invited to an interview and for it to go so well.

Zareen says: “I never expected I’d get in. With all of the opportunities that Cambridge could give, with the fact that coming from South East London, and being a black woman, going to Cambridge is a huge deal. I have many students from lower year groups coming up and saying 'Wow! It’s amazing; I want to do that too.'”

Zareen wants to study Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Cambridge. Because HSPS is a broad subject the programme was her first choice, as she's not yet certain about her future: “I don’t know what my career path is yet, but I think that it will be something politically and socially engaged.”

Zareen accepts that she had some concerns about life in Cambridge: “I am not going to deny that I was concerned. I am still concerned. No one wants to be a minority; I am certainly not a minority at Globe. I think it will be quite a change, but nothing will change unless people like me go to prestigious universities. It will always stay the same if people like me say ‘No, I can’t go, because there aren’t people who look like me in Cambridge.’” She smiles, adding: “My friends told me the first thing to do is join the African Caribbean Society, where I’ll get my jollof rice and plantain. I am far more excited than concerned.”  

Zareen lives with her mother, brother and sister in Surrey Quays. She says that her family is over the moon; even being invited to the interview for Cambridge made her mother very proud. Having moved to London from Kent, Zareen started at Globe in Year 8.

“I don’t think I could be in the position I am now if I wasn’t at Globe. In my old school, I was very shy; I didn’t really like to put myself out there too much. Being at Globe, being in a community where people are so confident to express their ideas and also very supportive, changed me."

She also says that the culture in the school helped her to understand there are things wider than her school bubble. “For any kind of major political event, we have our mini event. We had our Brexit referendum, our own mock presidential election, presidency debate with our own candidates representing Trump and Clinton. I don’t think that would happen in other schools, with people taking it seriously. Year 7s get involved with political dialogue, and I know that this is something that shapes their lives. I think this is something that’s very unique to the Globe community.”

“Globe has just given me so many opportunities to speak, to really shine and get people to shine along with me. I’ve spoken at a lot of Ark events; I chaired a debate between the Southwark candidates during the 2015 election. That was probably one of the things I’m most proud of. Trying to get four men and women to listen to a Year 11 was difficult, but it was awesome.”

Zareen defines herself as part-time student and part-time poet, often performing at the Rich Mix Centre, Shoreditch. Her love of poetry also started at Globe: “I used to be a really bad rapper. I realised that wasn’t working, so I kind of transitioned. I attended a session in poetry when I was in Year 9, since then I knew that this was what I wanted to do.”

Her advice to others is to be involved in anything and everything, investing in themselves both in and outside of the school. “The reason I was able to go to the US, or was such a good candidate for Cambridge was because although I focused on my academics, I also had things I was really passionate about, like poetry. That has not only helped me with my confidence, but helped me in interacting with people and leading big groups and directing sessions.”

She also suggests not making comparisons: “If I had really focused on comparing myself to other candidates, I would have never applied to Cambridge. It’s important to recognise the things that you are going to work on. Investing in yourself is a long-term investment, and it’s a good one.”


Please note that this interview was made in January 2017. Zareen now studies Human, Social, and Political Studies at the University of Cambridge.