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All twelve regional winning entries in the Shine International Student Awards 2011 were posted here on the British Council Voices blog. The overall winner was James Xi Xu.

This is the East of England regional winner by Sze Han (Heidi) Haidee Ng, who comes from Hong Kong and studies at The Leys School.

Sze Han (Heidi) Haidee NgDear myself at 16,

I know you are under so much exam pressure right now. School work is immense and dull and you can’t wait to get away from this seemingly constrained educational system when you graduate. But 2 years later, after Year 11, you can choose to study abroad, like in the UK as I am now, and enjoy a completely different learning experience, which is much more rewarding.

After year 11, I decided to do my sixth form studies at The Leys in Cambridge, the dream place for you and me to be in since we went to the UK summer study tour few years ago. This is a smaller school, compared to your school at the present, with only 500 students. With this scale, we enjoy a higher staff to student ratio. I remember that you don’t like big classes because it is harder to learn with people all at different levels. Taking my physics class for example, there are 3 sets in my year, with 7 in each. The sets are arranged according to our levels. I find it easier to learn in this way: the clever ones can learn at a quicker speed while the rest have more time asking questions. Back in our hometown, we are not used to asking our teacher loads of questions. In the UK, we almost fire questions at our teachers all the time as the exam pressure is less and we can afford to explore more out-of-syllabus topics. Under this learning culture, they are much more creative and daring than those in our hometown! I have also adapted to this mindset and find myself understanding concepts much better.

Beside lessons, studying at a boarding school gives me so many more opportunities. At your age, I had lessons from 8 til 5 every day, and tutorial classes after that. I had to do unlimited exam past questions and I felt school was very meaningless. Of course I had a lot of hobbies, like piano-playing, tennis-playing and acting, but I did not have time because I was busy preparing for my exams. At The Leys, however, the emphasis is placed on a personal development and we are encouraged to participate in many activities. I found immense pleasure in joining the musical cast last year. We had rehearsals over a 3-month-period and performed 3 shows. It was very tiring but I nevertheless enjoyed it very much. Being in a few musical ensemble groups, I am also very active in all the musical events around the school year. I performed a piano duet at a concert last year, which I would never have the chance had I not been here. Despite the A level exams coming up, everyone still spends a lot of time developing their interests. I am really grateful that I have come here to study and this has given me the chance to pursue my dream.

Being in a different country, I am also more sensitive about my identity and all global issues. When following the general election news earlier this year, I learned so much about a different government system to the one we have in HK. Having so many friends from different countries, I have also learned a lot about their cultures. As I am immersed in a very different culture, I have come to realise how much I treasure my culture and traditions. Strangely, I love being homesick because I realise that the more things and people I miss, the more important they are to me and that I will cherish them more than ever. I also start reading world news and take them more personally. Although I have only been abroad for one and a half years, many people I know admit that I have matured so much in thoughts and behaviour.

Living in a boarding house has also shaped me into a more mature person. Being with so many girls with different personalities and habits around the clock, respect towards others becomes a very important value that I hold. Of course, most of the time, a boarding life is much more fun than you can imagine: Midnight fire-drills, six-hour blackouts, long night-chats, I will definitely miss these happy times so much after I left school.

It also appears to me that I have the freedom to choose my future path. When I was at your age, I felt it was a must to get good grades, go to university and find a decent job like everyone else. The people I met here made me appreciate their courage to pursue one’s dream career, even if it is frowned upon and very difficult. A girl I know is a very good actress and after very difficult times of decision-making, she is now happily studying in a prestigious drama school, fulfilling her childhood dream. She told me not to give up whatever you love just for money because you will regret it so much afterwards. I would never have learnt that if I had not been away from our hometown which is too competitive for dream-pursuers.

In the future I am sure you will face many more tough decisions in life. A quote by T.S Eliot goes ‘Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.’ Studying abroad for a few years will be an incredible experience which you will benefit from a lot. I really encourage you to try and step up for this challenge.

Read all the Shine Winners.

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