fbpx Matt Kang | Phillips Exeter Academy

Matt Kang

Year of Graduation: 
2019
Matt Kang at Exeter

"A friend once told me listening is an act of love. That's so true at Exeter."

With his easy smile and engaging enthusiasm, it’s difficult to believe Matt Kang was ever timid.

When he arrived at Exeter, Matt was shy, unsure about fitting in. Three years later, after forming new friendships and immersing himself in school life, Matt compares his experience to Theseus's paradox in Greek mythology: Is a ship that’s been restored piece by piece the same ship?

“The people I’ve met here—not just the students but the teachers and others—have helped change me, little by little,” Matt says.

Originally from New York City, he was introduced to Exeter through his father, S.K. Kang ’86, and trips to campus to visit his older brother Michael Kang ’16. “The autonomy my brother had really appealed to me,” he says. He was also fascinated by watching students and teachers practice the Harkness approach. “I noticed that the teacher sat with his students at the table during the entire class,” Matt remembers. “That showed me how much the school values discussion and listening.”

Dorm, friends, community

During his first weeks at Exeter, Matt embraced dorm life, mingling with students from all years in Main Street dorm. “Dorm life is one of the greatest parts of Exeter,” Matt says. “It’s where I started to meet people.” He was encouraged by a senior—who later became his best friend—to explore as many clubs as possible to meet other students. “We literally visited about a dozen clubs in a week,” Matt remembers. “And he came with me to visit every one.”

Matt has stayed involved ever since, the perfect example of an ESSOnian—a term for Exeter students who are involved in Exeter Student Service Organization. He’s co-leader of the Fitness Club as well as ESSO Beach Cleanup, an environmental club leading efforts to clear nearby Seabrook Beach of debris (demonstrating his enthusiasm for the club, he’s been known to wear a Hawaiian shirt and goggles to encourage students to join).

He’s also a board member and production manager of Exeter’s student-run radio station, WPEA; serves as a student representative to the school’s Discipline Committee; and regularly works as a greeter and host at Exeter alumni events.

A committed volunteer

Exeter’s motto non sibi (“not for oneself”), resonates with Matt. Volunteerism has been an important part of his life since he was a child, helping his father and brother deliver food baskets to the homeless in lower Manhattan. “It was something that really gave me perspective,” Matt says. Later, as a middle school student living with his family in Hong Kong, Matt volunteered at a counseling center for troubled youth.

Matt most enjoys his summer internship with Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that collects surplus food from restaurants and caterers and distributes it to hunger relief organizations and shelters. During his first day, he found himself hauling bags of bagels alongside Robert Lee, RLC founder. For the last three summers, he’s had an internship managing the nonprofit’s website and setting up volunteer events.

But his favorite task is picking up and delivering food. “It’s so rewarding,” he says. “If I come home at night with aching legs and a sore back, it’s OK knowing I’ve made the world a tiny bit better.”

Listening as an act of love

Matt is a student listener in Main Street dorm, a friendly presence for other students who may be homesick or just need to talk. “A friend once told me listening is an act of love,” Matt says. “That’s so true at Exeter. Student listeners embody that feeling. It feels like you’re talking to a friend. I like knowing I can be that person for someone else.”

Since coming to Exeter, Matt has used his listening skills to form lasting friendships with others on campus, from fellow students to faculty. He enjoys the school’s sense of community, knowing that he can walk across campus and greet others by name. Harking back to his rebuilt ship analogy, Matt views Exeter as the place where he learned how to be comfortable with himself.

“You meet amazing people here,” he muses, “and you’ll be exposed to lots of people with many stories. If you connect with them, share, and learn to listen, that’s an amazing gift.”

— Debbie Kane