Celebrating Exam Success: International Students

24th August 2017

This is the second piece in the ‘Celebrating Exam Success’ news series, which brings you stories from Pembroke students who performed particularly well in this year’s exams. Each feature celebrates a particular aspect of life at Pembroke. This week we caught up with international students Leander Thiele (MPhys Physics, 2015) and Yew Loong Fong (History and Politics, 2014).

Leander Thiele is originally from Germany and has just finished his second year of Physics at Pembroke, for which he received an honour from the School of Physics for the ‘Best Part A Exam’. Reflecting on the year he said: ‘I found the course in Statistical Physics very enjoyable. This subject is concerned with the theoretical description of large systems and has a wide range of applications. I also very much liked the work in the laboratories, because it gives some practical experience with the theoretical concepts studied.’

Leander attributes his success in recent examinations to ‘the fruitful cooperation with other Physics students in Pembroke, because discussing concepts together often leads to questions one would otherwise not have thought about. Also, it is crucial to participate actively in tutorials, to challenge tutors with questions and to think thoroughly about the physics behind the phenomena under investigation. And, lastly, hard work pays off.’

Yew Loong Fong is originally from Singapore and has just graduated with his BA in History and Politics, congratulations Yew Loong!

For Yew Loong, the sheer diversity of the course content has made it so enjoyable… he explained: ‘With the full selection of modules from both the History and Politics faculty, students have unrivalled flexibility to construct an educational experience that suits their needs. Some might prefer to specialise in regions or time periods. As for myself, I wanted to dip into anything that sounded interesting and did modules as different as the social history of Renaissance London, Eurasian Empires from 1450-1800 and present-day Politics in the Middle East.’ For Yew Loong, his success was enabled by ‘a strong support system that included family, friends, tutors and college staff.’

We asked Yew Loong and Leander how they think the College system has shaped their University experience. Yew Loong explained how the College system really supported him academically, he said: ‘Pembroke put in a lot of resources to enhance my academic experience. For instance, the college implemented the book grant for humanities students and an MCR-JCR mentoring scheme. Of special mention is the library, which generously helped me to order 5 rather obscure books on Singaporean politics to aid me in my thesis research. The tutors I've had from Pembroke have also been fantastic. They are highly experienced and very dedicated to bringing the best out of each student. I'd like to especially thank my tutors Professor Stephen Whitefield, Professor Stephen Tuck and Dr Noa Schonmann (who is now at Leiden).’

For Leander, one of the most productive parts of college life is the community feeling and the space for sharing knowledge and experience. ‘The college system creates a prolific academic environment, in which students have the chance to share some of the knowledge their tutors bring with them. At Pembroke, there prevails a friendly, productive atmosphere, in which students cooperate rather than compete. I think this is the key to academic success for everyone.’

Finally, we asked both of them what their advice would be to a prospective international applicant, Leander’s main tip is ‘not to take things too seriously’… he continued, ‘Oxford may be unusual in many respects, but after all it is just a university. If you show passion for your subject and are willing to work hard, this is the right place for you and everyone will be happy to help you settle in and be successful in your field of study.’

Yew Loong echoed Leander’s advice, ‘Don't be daunted by the label of Oxford and just apply. Graduating from Oxford is challenging, but certainly an attainable goal for anyone who is willing to work hard for their degree. Too many international students are put off from applying because they think they are not good enough. In reality, Oxford can benefit much from more international students who offer unique and different perspectives during tutorials.’

Below are some useful webpages for International applicants:

Yew Loong Fong (History and Politics, 2014)
Leander Thiele (MPhys Physics, 2015)