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From aquarium to ocean: my experience of transition from high school to university in the UK

03 Sep, 2018
From aquarium to ocean: my experience of transition from high school to university in the UK

Ya Gan progressed from A-levels at Kings Oxford to a degree in Government with Economics at LSE, and then completed a master's at the University of Sussex. She writes about her experience of transitioning to life at university in the UK.

Whichever corner you're at in this world and wherever you're from, the transition from high school to university is never an easy step. Just like fish born into an aquarium suddenly put into the sea, despite the excitement of freshness and freedom, there’s often a feeling of unease at the beginning. I'll share with you in this blog how I've adapted to university life as an international student in the UK.

You might have heard of this joke about uni students only being able to choose two of these three: studying, social life, and sleep; but when you actually get into university, you'll realize that what you're juggling with is far more than that. There's sleep, job applications, networking events, academic work, social life, working out, and society activities — and you don't have enough time for any of them. This might be an exaggeration, but it does highlight the first problem I encountered at university: how am I going to allocate my limited time efficiently to optimize utility? (See the economist in me talking?)

The good news is, for most of us, time management is a life-long battle with ourselves. (Surprise! We are not all always rational beings.) Also, everyone's needs and wants are different (See the neoclassical economists' models not working?) so we don't have to all force ourselves to follow one recipe for time management. For me, what worked was firstly figuring out what I wanted and needed to do, and then observing my own habits and trying to adjust them bit by bit with basic tools like the Pomodoro technique, diary-keeping and to-do lists. After series of trials and errors, I gradually found the work rhythm and lifestyle I have today — still subject to adjustments after I start with my first formal job.

Among all the steps mentioned above, what I found the most difficult was not the actual execution of time allocation, but the very first step — identifying the things I want to do. I'm not talking about dessert choices here, but decisions with larger implications, like what internship to apply to, which volunteering programme to choose from, etc. My world became so much bigger all of a sudden after leaving high school that it was difficult to decide what to do.

My intuitive reaction was to look at what people around me were doing, and it turned out that they are from all sorts of backgrounds, making all sorts of choices. Friends aspiring to become macroeconomists so that they can contribute to better policy-making in their own countries; friends who have gone through military service before coming to uni and decided to establish a start-up in a totally foreign country; friends who find career in finance exciting and started fighting their way in from Day 1 at uni; friends who are so fascinated by the philosophy of social sciences that they have made up their minds about staying in academia even before their uni degree... but at the end of the day, my choices were to be made by myself, not by following others.

As cliché as it sounds, following my heart was all I did, and a path naturally appeared in front of me. In fact, I think as long as we can get out of our comfort zone and explore a bit while we're still young, then our time is not wasted regardless of the result; and university is the best place for such adventures.

There are thousands of things I want to talk to you about university life, but perhaps the best way to learn is to experience it yourself, so I'll leave it here and end with what my dear old friend Paul (A-level Course Director at Kings Oxford) said to 17-year-old me:

"The world is your oyster, go explore!"

A proud Graduation Day at LSE

Kings Oxford's Paul Steele, Course Director of A-level and GCSE, mentioned above by Ya, tells us about his experience attending her graduation ceremony from LSE.

"As the Academic year comes to a close it is always really gratifying to hear about the successes of our students at their Universities. I was honoured to be asked to attend the Graduation of one of our ex-students at the London School of Economics (LSE) — the most popular and sought after University by students from beyond Europe, and very difficult to get into.

Ya Gan graduated with Honours from the Department of Government and, like so many of our ex-students, now takes up a course leading to a Master’s Degree, in her case at the University of Sussex.

We met many other past students also graduating at the same time from University College or Kings College in the University of London and they were all moving on to the United States, Australia or here in the UK to pursue their academic careers.

Ya has not just spent her time studying however: she has been volunteering in London schools, in villages at home in China and with an NGO in northern India. As you can see she has combined these community spirited acts with modelling Kings' high quality T shirts!

We wish Ya continuing success — and to all of our alumni."