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Opinion29th June 2016

The making of an Oxford mathematician

Haengeun, a former Ark Burlington Danes Academy student and Marshall Wace bursary recipient, graduates from the University of Oxford this summer. Here, she reflects on her time both at BDA and Oxford and shares her exciting plans for the future.

I arrived in the UK from Korea when I was twelve years old. My English wasn’t great and the cultural barriers were huge. I started school at Burlington Danes Academy and with the support of the teachers, my family, and my friends, I grew so much. The six years I spent at BDA gave me the resilience and confidence I needed to not only earn a place at Oxford – but to be successful there when times were tough.

When I started at Oxford it was a massive shock – people had told me beforehand just how challenging the Mathematics course would be – but I hadn’t truly appreciated it. I’m a very active person and love getting involved in societies and volunteering. In sixth form, I was able to both study intensely and be really involved in BDA student life. So I signed up for loads of activities at Oxford – including the rowing team – but quickly realised it was all too much on top of my academic course load. And, the way we approached Maths was much more conceptual and abstract than my previous studies, which added another dimension to my struggles.

Thankfully, during my time at BDA I formed strong bonds not only with my friends but with a few key teachers. I kept in touch with these teachers and they remained a huge source of support. I looked to them through my ups and downs at Oxford.

I’d become accustomed to relying on Miss Okezie for advice and encouragement. Whenever I was uncertain about something, she would help me think through my thought process and come to a good decision. She really helped me learn to believe in myself and without her, I wouldn’t have gone to Oxford in the first place.

Mr. Fairbairn, my former Maths teacher, told me how hard he’d had to work at Engineering at Cambridge. I’ll never forget his advice: it’s not about how good you are at the start, it’s about how hard you try.

Mr. Gidaraopoulos (Mr. G as we called him), also a former Maths teacher, was the teacher who most inspired my initial love of the subject. He always challenged me to think about ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ and it was this approach that not only helped me in my Oxford interview, but also in adjusting to my Oxford classes.

I was also lucky to have financial assistance in the form of a Marshall Wace bursary. Rather than being further strained or distracted by financial worries, I was able to use the bursary to pay for course materials and society fees. I’m really grateful for that support because it helped me to have a really full Oxford experience.

Eventually, I adjusted to Oxford life and now can’t believe it’s all over! This June, I will graduate with a degree in Mathematics. I have a fun summer planned including a bit of travelling through Portugal and then participating in a three week youth International Youth Leadership programme in China. Once I come back to the UK, I will start at KPMG as a Technology Consultant.

BDA has had such a huge impact on my life, so I always try to go back to visit whenever I’m in London. It’s good to catch up with my old teachers and to speak to current students. I tell them that believing in yourself is the most powerful thing. There will be challenges and we all have struggles, but the storm will pass if you keep trying and never give up on yourself.

Each year, the Reuben Scholarship Programme, Driver Youth Trust Bursary Programme and Marshall Wace Bursary Programme help talented Ark students headed for top universities, who might not otherwise be able to afford higher education, with expenses like accommodation and subsistence.

For more information on our bursary programme or how you might support Ark alumni, please contact Bridie Blower.