Frank HermannMing Kit Wong

Every student at Selwyn who goes to Hall to have dinner, or those who frequent the college from the nearby Sidgwick site for lunch, would have had the pleasure of meeting Frank behind the till. With a cheerful smile and an irresistible propensity for asking about your day, he never fails to brighten up the mood of each person who passes through to the dining hall. Frank becomes embarrassed when I tell him this, and laughingly says that “seeing other people with smiling faces just makes me happy”.

Ferenc Hermann is from the Hungarian city of Pécs and has lived in England for nearly seventeen years. Although a more accurate anglicisation of his first name is “Francis”, and despite the fact that he uses that name in formal settings, Hermann explains that his initial choice of “Frank” was what stuck: “I wear the name Frank now, and it’s what people call me”.

“When I first arrived in Cambridge I was just in shock: what a city, what an environment”

I ask him about his move from Pécs to Cambridge. “I came to the UK immediately after Hungary joined the European Union. When Hungary was voted into the EU it was one of the brightest days of my life. This was in 2004 and by the end of the year, just before Christmas, I arrived in the UK. I was starting my university education in my hometown, but left it in the middle because there was an opportunity to learn a bit of English and have some good fun with a few of my friends by getting a student contract for a period of work in a greenhouse in East Yorkshire, where we grew Poinsettias for Christmas decorations. We lived in a caravan near the farm site—so it was very ‘hippy style’.

“At the time, my aunt was working with the British Consulate in my hometown and she managed to get a scholarship to Cambridge. So when I finished the student contract I moved to Cambridge because it coincided with the start of her fellowship. When I first arrived in Cambridge I was just in shock: what a city, what an environment. It’s so unique and beautiful. I feel very lucky to be able to live here with my family and many friends. My ten-year-old daughter is now going to school here and is receiving a good education; I know she’s in a good place,” Hermann tells me.

“I’m the last person to care about myself; I’m always focusing on serving and treating others well”

How did he begin working for Selwyn? As Hermann recounts, “Before coming to the UK I had a summer job as a waiter in a restaurant in Hungary. Some of my colleagues ended up in Cambridge and they were already working in catering at Selwyn. Coincidentally, when I arrived in Cambridge, we met in the city and they showed me where they were working. I followed them and it has now been sixteen years since I started working for Selwyn. I am very thankful to the college: it was a great starting point for me to develop my language and leadership skills. I am now a cashier and I hope the college will still help me in my future development and self-improvement.”

“I am still in love with working here,” he continues. “The dining hall is not just a restaurant with people coming and going; it is a community with a strong culture, friendly people, and a good team. From the Master to other members of the college, everyone here is friendly. It is also very peaceful so it’s very easy to stay and focus on my work with this environment. I feel very special and lucky. I’m the last person to care about myself; I’m always focusing on serving and treating others well. I want my colleagues to enjoy their time here because this is a kind of home-place for everyone. We spend long hours here, so we need a positive attitude.”

Outside of work, Hermann has a passion for music. “I want to collect thousands of vinyls,” he announces. “I like several types of music: classical, modern electronic. You know with the amp, the turntable, the speakers - I like to enjoy music. I often pick up the first vinyl on my turntable and put it on, and it’s only two or three hours later that I realise it’s now midnight and that I’m still sitting there listening to music – I just can’t stop.”

Hermann is a natural extrovert, and it is difficult not to be affected by his openness. “I like to deal with people. I know that part of it is genetic because I have a very stylish family. My grandfather was a dance teacher and my father was in the music business for many years. When my father was a teenager in the sixties, he was a pianist in a band—you know the sixties was very rock ‘n’ roll in Hungary. And when my auntie worked for the British Consulate, I was able to attend official events and help her to manage them. So I grew up like this and it’s just a part of me – I was never shy to speak with people. I also grew up in a university town with many religions, so I always like to be open to people and to make a connection between peoples and peoples,” he explains.


Mountain View

Charlie Cavey – The Busker in the bin

When I ask him about his favourite memories in Cambridge after all these years, Hermann tells me that there are too many to count. Nevertheless, he says, “One of my favourite moments occurred during graduation day, when the students were having their group photos taken outside in front of the chapel and they started waving to me and calling out my name. I am always very emotional when I realise that I’ve made a good connection.”

In the four years that I’ve been at Selwyn, Hermann has always shown a genuine interest in everyone he meets. Yet there hasn’t always been an opportunity for me to learn more about him and, indeed, other members of college staff. But being able to build a personal connection with the people who are there to support you is, in my view, an important part of what makes college life rewarding.