Parker Ramsay is an award-winning harpist living in New York –

“As an international student enrolling for Sixth Form, my time at King’s Ely was comparatively brief, if viewed alongside some classmates who had boarded since Junior School. And yet my two years at King’s Ely Sixth Form from 2007-2009 were incredibly formative, both personally and professionally. Having been home-schooled in rural Tennessee prior to my arrival in the UK, my Housemaster told me I’d be ‘moving from a cave onto a kibbutz’. (He was right!)

“What was most important about King’s Ely was its incredibly supportive atmosphere. When I arrived with the aim of gaining an Oxbridge Organ Scholarship, the school struck the right balance of helping me to prepare for interviews and organ trials, while making sure that it was not all-consuming. More importantly, the teachers I had were very keen on fostering independence, so that students were not simply “coached” through exams, but learned in the process. In particular, the History Department at King’s Ely was really helpful in gaining some academic confidence, to the point where I elected to read History for my Bachelor’s at Cambridge, rather than Music.

“On another level, a small private school in the Fens was good preparation for the life and career I would later lead in New York City. A significant contingent of international students didn’t translate into just a set of statistics or a vacuous idea like “diversity.” If I had to describe what I learned, it was the value of cosmopolitanism. In my hallway were boys from the EU, Central Asia/former Soviet Republics and the Far East (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong). Each arrived not just with a language or a personal story, but a set of cultural values contingent on their upbringing. As I now live in a country mired in petty culture wars, I remember fondly learning about how it is other people see and view the world, even if I couldn’t fathom agreeing with them or carrying my own life in the same manner. And I’m grateful to live in a city like New York, where (like King’s Ely) there are people from every corner of the globe, negotiating relationships with one another.

“My career as well owes quite a lot to a certain openness at King’s. In any given week, I’m writing an article or preparing a performance. I work as a soloist and chamber musician at the harp bench, but also hold down an organist job and write for several publications on either side of the Atlantic. The seeds for this were planted at King’s, where I was able to commute to London for my harp lessons, learn the ropes as an Organ Scholar at Ely Cathedral, and have my essays meticulously ripped apart for my own benefit, so that I might communicate more effectively as a writer. This was also a hugely important preparation for my time as Organ Scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, where time management entailed organising how to flip back and forth between a humanities degree and time in Evensong rehearsals.

“That said, if there was anything I wished I’d done more of, it was take part in more extra-curricular activities. I was buried in musical activities – with the blessing of the school – but didn’t touch any sport or debating societies. If I have any advice for the students at King’s today, it would be not to fear taking up on all the school has to offer, both socially and academically. In the years ahead, it will have taught you far more than you realise.”

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