From YCIS to UCL: An Alumnus’s Journey
In this special edition of Student Blogs, Yew Chung International School of Beijing alumnus and current student at University College London, Russell Ng, shares the story of his life since graduation. A member of the 2015 graduating class, Russell spent two years in the Singapore military before beginning his university life.
As Russell settles into his new life in London, he shares with current YCIS Beijing students the experience of his gap years in the military, the demands of a university workload, and what students can expect when they begin their own post-graduation journeys. He also shares a tip for one of the best (and most unexpected!) ways that students can prepare for the rigours of university life.
Please introduce yourself.
I joined YCIS Beijing in Year 8, graduating in 2015. Upon graduation, I enlisted into the Singapore Armed Forces, spending two meaningful years. I left the Armed Forces in August and have just started at the University College London, reading History, Politics, and Economics.
Do you still feel connected to the YCIS community? How?
YCIS Beijing will always have a place in my heart. I visited the school and attended the Christmas concert last year, which was truly heart-warming. I used to organise and perform in these concerts, and they mean a lot to me. Seeing our traditions being handed over to the newer generation of students was truly incredible. Visiting the school, I saw many new faces, and many of the old spaces have given way to new facilities. Nonetheless, this did not change the overall feel of the YCIS community, and I am looking forward to visiting in the future.
What do you miss most about YCIS Beijing?
We were a small, close-knit community where everybody knew everybody else. You could walk down a corridor during lunchtime or even between classes and expect a “what’s up” or “how are you” every few metres. Whether through Performing Arts or Sports or any other clubs/societies, our small community meant that it did not take long before I had worked with virtually everyone across the different grades.
Our small community also meant that we were all on such good terms, knowing each other’s talents and strengths, and that we could cooperate very well. When I was Leader for Student Council, I often needed help from other members to organise events: it was only because everyone was eager to offer help with what they were skilled at, that all our projects were done with great efficiency and quality.
Of course, universities are much larger entities – and even for an international school we were not one of the largest in Beijing – but what we were able to achieve in terms of community at YCIS Beijing was truly remarkable. Our community was a microcosm of the bigger world, and today, although I have moved on to being a member of a larger society, I cannot help but look back and be truly proud of where I came from.
In your last interview, you spoke of the IBDP experience being stressful. How did that experience benefit you during your life after graduation?
Having experienced university, I can honestly say that the workload I had during the International Baccalaureate is nothing compared to what I have experienced in University, even during the first week. I am currently taking four modules this term, and each involve about 2-3 chapters of reading each week, around 60 pages worth of books or textbooks. Our perceptions are relative to what we have experienced before—what I thought was a lot of work in the IB was in fact manageable, and I hope that I will soon get used to my 240-pages-a-week. A few of my friends here have taken, for example, the A Levels, and found themselves under great stress – which does go to show that the IB aptly helped me in university. I feel like I study more efficiently, make better notes, write better papers, and of course better manage my time to cater to extracurricular interests. Perhaps my experiences may not be applicable to many other universities, but I believe most YCIS Beijing students can look forward to a similar experience. Simply put, we did not write an Extended Essay and do CAS for nothing.
What’s the best thing about life after graduation? And what was most unexpected?
There is a small shock that many people feel after graduation—for many at YCIS Beijing, school from reception to sixth form is a given. Everything that happens beyond that is truly a myriad of possibilities—it is what you make of yourself. I was initially very excited that I was now given the opportunity to make my life, but this was not without caution that the ‘pre-planned’ part of my life was already over. Overcoming that, every aspect of my new life was exciting—from the greater independence, to choosing what I pursue, to living on my own.
It took me some time to fully realise the implications of living on my own—having to factor in time to do laundry, clean my own living spaces, and even do my own cooking. You can be monumentally busy (especially during exam season), but these are still the basic tasks you must accomplish. I set aside money for takeaway on my busier days, but apart from it not always being the healthiest choice, it is not something I can afford to always do. Some of my friends were baffled at laundry, which I felt thankful that I had learnt how to do laundry before living on my own. What I once thought was the least of my concerns is now a fundamental part of my life. I would advise that everyone start helping at home with laundry and cooking—not only you gain basic cooking and washing skills, you can do your bit for the family.
You were a part of the pilot batch for IB Global Politics, and politics is quite an important part of your degree. How did taking the IB course help you in university?
I am very grateful for IB Global Politics, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to take some form of Politics at university level. In terms of soft skills, the fundamentals of academic writing were drilled into my head—that you should consciously keep a list of bibliographic references that you use, and that it is very easy to ‘drift away’ for longer pieces of work. Having basic political analytical skills and knowledge in basic political theory also went a long way. The way Global Politics was being taught was also very small-group discussion-based, and I felt it prepared me for the tutorial sessions in University.
What did you learn from your time in the military?
My favourite quote from the military is “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. This doesn’t just cover long-term goals such as your career and the milestones in between. Ever since being in the Army, I find myself planning my to-do list by the hour – that I will accomplish Task A in half an hour, take a ten-minute break, then begin on Task B, etc. This makes everything much more efficient and discourages procrastination.
Of course, life is not all work and no play—I don’t structure every single minute of my time. I do set aside time for leisure and self-discovery, where I am more laid back. That said, when it is time to be productive, it is best to finish it at the first opportunity and free up time for rest and leisure. Additional work might also unexpectedly come up, and having cleared your tasking you can respond much better.
How does discipline factor into a person’s success in achieving their goals?
Discipline is choosing between what you want most over what you want now. Procrastination not only means you get less work done, but also often means your work is of poorer quality. We are judged by the work we produce and rushed work is never good work.
Discipline is much more than refraining from procrastination. It also means following your own set of rules and never betraying them. I set aside time every day to do a bit of reading, and I will always follow it. One cheat day leads to another, hence discipline ensures that I never fall behind on what I need to accomplish. Perhaps an example we can relate to is jogging—if you start walking during your run, you will find yourself walking quite a bit throughout. Discipline is taking the extra small step in life to make life much better overall.
What are your next plans?
Over the past weeks I have learnt more about the clubs/societies we have here at UCL, and I am hoping to participate in a few ‘taster sessions’. We have also had many employers visit our campus to tell us about their internship programmes and I am doing my own research about them, hoping to maybe apply.
I am also thinking about travelling around the UK with my mates. Having moved to London, it would be an absolute waste to not explore the UK and Europe and learn more about the history and the culture of this new region. We have some ideas on where we would like to visit but it would all depend on how much we can save up!
When will you come back and visit us?
I have no plans at the moment, but I will definitely let everyone know when I plan a homecoming!