|4 May 2023|
|United Kingdom | China | Spain|
|Cambridge University Concordians|
It was great to see William who came to visit his old teachers at Concord the day after completing the Manchester marathon...you couldn't tell he'd run 26 miles the day before! We enjoyed hearing about his fun stories of Concord from 10 years ago (Mr Harding's ducks are a favourite) as well as his life since leaving, we asked him to share them with you and he kindly agreed...
Q) What were your first impressions of Concord when you arrived here?
My initial visit to Concord marked the beginning of my 6.1 year, and I vividly recall feeling a sense of unease as I made my way towards this seemingly remote location. As the scenery outside the window gradually transitioned from urban to rural, I couldn't help but wonder what sort of "challenges" lay ahead.
Upon arriving at Concord, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the warm reception I received. The sense of openness and acceptance of all the staff and students were immediately palpable, and it put me at ease. I had been in boarding school previously, but I was very impressed by the facilities available in Concord. I felt excited that I could try all the different things I had not done before.
Q) What did you enjoy about the food and/or social life & extracurricular activities at Concord?
Personally, I really enjoyed the variety of food Concord offered, especially the delicious pan-Asian dishes. In terms of social life, the school itself is like a little bubble, which I found charming because I got to know not just everyone in my year and sixth forms and even most of the other lower school students too!
One of my favourite things about Concord was the house competitions. It felt like something straight out of Hogwarts! They were a great way to try out new things and challenge yourself. I remember how everyone got hyped up for the house arts competition, the road race, sports day for comic relief, and the Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. It was a lot of fun, and I have some great memories from those experiences.
Q) Can you tell us any funny or inspirational stories about your teachers from your time here?
I recall that Mr Harding always seemed to have an affinity for ducks, evidenced by the collection of rubber ducks he kept in his office (perhaps gifts from adoring students!). I don’t know if I’m making this up, but I believe I remember Mr. Harding mimicking a duck by flipping his feathers to illustrate the meaning of "flipping out" during one of our lessons.
When I received a deferred offer to attend Cambridge, I was slightly frustrated that I was obliged to take a gap year. I spoke with Mr Harding, who proposed that I use the time to learn Spanish in Spain since he knew of my interest in the language. Bea, another teacher, recommended that I visit Salamanca, a university town renowned for its authentic Spanish accent. Thanks to the guidance of these two teachers, I was able to make my trip to Spain a reality, and I am immensely proud of the connection I have forged with the country.
Q) What were you like as a student? Did you do anything naughty ?
I’d say I was quite a diligent student when I was in Concord. I was maybe 1 year or 2 older than my peers at the time and I was quite disciplined having gone through 1.5 years of Chinese high school.
I remember Mr Lawrence getting very mad for one naughty thing I did. I had received my Cambridge offer at the time and my offer conditions required STEP II and III (specific Cambridge Maths entrance exams) plus three A levels. I went to Mr Lawrence explaining I wanted to focus on STEP exams and hence wanted to drop Economics. He approved of me dropping the subject but I entered the A2 Economics exams behind his back (and my economics teachers’ back). When I look back, of course I should have been honest with the teachers and hear their advice if I wanted to learn in my own pace.
Q) How did you come to decide on your degree and university? Was it what you expected when you got there?
Honestly, I was uncertain about which subjects to study at university while I was in Concord. Although I excelled in Mathematics and had a passion for it during my A Levels, I was unsure whether I was capable enough to pursue it further. Before starting university, I took a gap year and spent a few weeks auditing lectures at Cambridge to gain some insight into what to expect. However, attending interesting lectures was still very different from completing supervision questions and juggling multiple courses and activities when actually studying the subject. After a year of studying Mathematics at Cambridge, I decided that it wasn't the right subject for me. The syllabus was overly theoretical, and my peers were all aiming for PhDs and careers in the sciences. I didn't feel prepared for that, and it seemed as though the university was geared towards preparing everyone for an academic route. Eventually, I realized that Mathematics wasn't the right fit for me.
Fortunately, because I had completed A Level Economics, I was able to switch to Economics without having to repeat a year in Cambridge (which was aided by the fact that it was a mature student college, and they were exceptionally accommodating). I really enjoyed my Economics course - I was able to use my mathematical and statistical knowledge in many aspects of the course, and the course's emphasis on essay writing honed my skills in that area. Overall, I felt that the Economics course provided a perfect blend of perspectives for me. The college I attended as a mature student was very understanding and supportive, which made the transition much smoother.
Q) Did you have a career plan and goals when you left university or has your career evolved as opportunities presented themselves?
Many of my peers in economics pursued banking careers in the city. Perhaps it was too mainstream, and I wanted to do something more unique, or simply I didn’t fully grasp what the job would entail so didn’t ace those interviews, but one way or another I didn’t end up with a job in banking.
I did apply to Deloitte for their summer vacation scheme in my second year – initially for consulting but they gave me a position in tax as the places for consulting ran out. I quite enjoyed the work at the time as the team assisted multinational companies with their mobility programmes by advising the companies on employer tax obligations and also their secondees on their personal obligations. I got to hear consultants speaking to individuals and helping individuals managing their personal tax affairs. My thinking of the time is that I can try it out for a couple of years and then if it’s not interesting I can try and start again in consulting or banking.
As things turned out, I found that I genuinely enjoyed working in tax, and I have been in the industry for almost six years now. What I find fascinating about tax is that it is highly topical; many tax decisions are political and have a significant impact on people's lives. When advising clients on tax issues, there are legislative materials and other referencing materials such as HMRC manuals that provide a solid basis for recommendations. This gives me a sense of accomplishment that I have learned something valuable and can provide valuable advice. The world of tax is complex as there are many different types of tax and they all interact with one another, so businesses have to deal with them and manage their tax risks. It is changing constantly so it does mean that you have to be constantly learning – which is amazing as every day is different
Q) How relevant was your degree to your career? Could you have chosen from a number of different degrees and still achieved the same result?
It’s not very relevant to be honest as the courses in university are fairly theoretical. However, from an academic perspective, it taught me a lot about tax policy and it is useful to have that at the back of your mind when you advise clients in the job. You can do other disciplines and still become a tax advisor.
Q) I wonder if the ‘University of Life’ is more important than ‘real’ University… If you could travel back in time, what would you say to your younger self when making degree or life choices?
What advice can you give someone who is scared of making the wrong choices?
I think they are equally important – you don’t want to rule out a career in academia if the ‘real’ university is what you enjoy doing. But as you said, the “University of Life’ is perhaps more important as this is the time you start to manage your own timetable, plan your careers and find your love etc. The most important thing I’d say is to get to know yourself and understand what you want and go after it. Unlike in school, plans won’t be made for you as all options are available for you to pursue.
Regarding the last question, my advice would be that it's acceptable to take more time than others to find the ideal degree or career. There are no predetermined paths to success, and sometimes taking a detour may pleasantly surprise you and benefit your long-term objectives. Many of the skills you learn throughout your life are transferable; it's merely a matter of putting them to good use and adapting them to various situations. Furthermore, the job market is continuously evolving, and in-demand jobs now differ from those of a few years ago. With the increasing use of AI across various industries, it's difficult to predict what the job market will look like in the future!
Q) How important do you think it is to maintain a professional online presence (eg. LinkedIn, academic profile page). Can you tell us about what you’d recommend a student include in their profile?
I think it’s good to maintain a professional online presence. Instead of creating a lengthy list of accomplishments, I suggest emphasizing the abilities you gained from your experiences. In other words, present your achievements as a narrative that highlights your skills. You can also compare the requirements of your dream job with your existing skillsets and concentrate on developing the abilities you lack.
I’d also say be proactive when seeking opportunities – you miss 100% of the shots you don't take!
Q) Briefly summarise, if you can, how your experience at Concord shaped you!
Concord is like a melting pot - an exceptional community which embraces and celebrates diversity. As an individual who experienced living and working alongside people from various backgrounds, I can confidently state that it has taught me the importance of mutual respect and collaboration. Before joining Concord, I was primarily focused on academics and exam success, and could be described as a "geek." However, the opportunity to live and work in this diverse environment allowed me to develop into a more well-rounded person, who not only values academic achievement but also appreciates and strives to acquire other skills.
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