Students' letters home strike gold

May 2, 2003

When 22-year-old Yimon Aye first arrived in the UK from Burma four years ago, she had never seen a test tube or switched on a bunsen burner.

With prizes for excellence at chemistry from Oxford University and the Royal Society of Chemistry under her belt, she has notched up another accolade for writing a letter telling the story of how her experiences in the UK have transformed her life.

Miss Aye, who is reading chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford, was one of two gold award winners out of 1,700 entries in last weekend's British Council's first International Student Awards, sponsored by The THES.

She picked up a £2,000 prize in the category for students from universities and colleges.

The other gold award winner was Dun Xiao, a 17-year-old Chinese student at Millfield School in Somerset. He won £1,000 for topping the boarding and English-language schools category.

Six other students from universities and colleges won silver awards and £1,000 each, and four boarding and language school students took home a silver award and £500.

Students from 98 nationalities entered the competition by writing a "letter home" describing their life, experiences and achievements in the UK.

Miss Aye, the only Burmese-domiciled student at Oxford, impressed judges with the genuine enthusiasm in her letter, written to one of her teachers in Burma.

In it she tells of the "lifelong experience" she gained working with people with disabilities as a volunteer with the Winged Fellowship Trust, getting to grips with the notion that "the customer is always right" while working as a sales advisor for Marks and Spencer, and of her pride at gaining a scholarship from her college for consistently high standards in her academic work.

She said: "I am just so excited to have got to the final. It is like a miracle. I only entered because I wanted to represent my country and I know I am so fortunate to be here because there are only a few Burmese students in the UK."

She plans to embark on an academic career so that she can return home to help bring about reforms in the Burmese higher education system.

The letter from Mr Xiao, who has been offered a place at Trinity College, Cambridge, to study engineering, describes experiences and achievements including winning a national code-cracking challenge and a music festival trophy, and encountering games such as squash for the first time.

He said: "What could be better than being voted international student of the year?"

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