For this new episode dedicated to our alumni, we asked Theo Wang, student from the LFS promotion 2020 to meet up via video to chat and exchange about his studies and his life at Cambridge.
Hi Theo, thank you so much for accepting this interview despite your busy schedule. Could you introduce yourself in a few words?
My name is Theo Wang, I am currently studying Computer Science at the University of Cambridge and was an LFS student from 2007 to 2020, I did all my school years there apart from K1 and K2. I think I know the LFS pretty well. *laughs* I did a Scientific Baccalaureate with the International Baccalaureate Option (OIB, which will become the International French Baccalaureate next school year) in Chinese. I was in the International Chinese Stream (SIC) throughout my school years at the LFS.
Why did you go to SIC?
I think I joined SIC first to reconnect with my origins. Despite the fact I was born in France and am French, I have Chinese origins and it was important for me to study the culture, the language, and the history of the country I come from and where I was about to live in for 14 years. Both of my parents are French with Chinese origins.
SIC is an incredible stream at the LFS, firstly because since we are in China, it’s important to integrate the Chinese language and culture. I think studying Chinese language, literature, culture but also philosophy in 11th and 12th Grades helped me getting a better exposure and it was fascinating.
This immersion also was a good opportunity for me to make new friends at school. We even got the chance to go to Beijing in 10th Grade.
Outside of SIC, do you have specific memories of your time at the LFS?
I don’t think I can sum up my experience at the LFS in one major event, as I spent most of my school years there.
Among the most recent memories, I remember my craving for literature thanks to my classes, I was so passionate I passed the Literature Open Competition. It was incredible because doing a 6-hour exam between 7pm and 1am isn’t something you forget easily!
My 11th Grade year was also fun thanks to geosciences. I passed the National Competition and was then able to join the French team in the International Competition. I won a medal and found it rewarding to represent France in a worldwide contest!
Following these experiences at the LFS, you chose to focus on computer science at the University of Cambridge. Can you explain this choice of studies and why you chose Cambridge?
I was exposed to computer science relatively early in age and outside of school, I had participated in coding projects and done a summer camp in 2019, it really interested me.
I find in computer science a good balance between mathematics and the theorical aspect in which we demonstrate, and the engineering which incorporates applications and has a more direct impact on the world. Thus, the computer science major was a perfect mix.
Cambridge is an exceptional institution; the bachelor’s program is well-recognised and quite competitive. Students are smart, teachers and lecturers are renowned in their field.
I hesitated between maths and computer science for a while, as maths really were what interested me the most in High School, but I wondered whether I really wanted to do maths all my life and whether I should go to a preparatory class in that case. Yet based on my personality, I wasn’t sure a preparatory class would have been for me. The pressure is different as more supervised whereas here, there is more autonomy in the way I manage my work. I figured a university path would be more fitted.
How did you find the application process?
In terms of procedure, the UCAS system (Universities & Colleges Admissions Services) is the platform where we prepare applications for English universities. For Oxford and Cambridge, exams and interviews happen following this first step and depending on the program chosen.
If you want to go to Cambridge, you must choose a college (type of house inside the university) in which you want to enter. Each college has different academic resources, programs, and application procedures. It’s important to make your research ahead of your application. For example, for a similar program in two different colleges, the college will require the same writing exam, but the interview will differ per college and occur within the college chosen with the Director of Studies.
And your life in Cambridge, how is it going?
Well, I’d recommend all students to learn how to cook. *laughs*
I live in a dormitory in my college which is quite new (founded in 1960), the Churchill College, quite good for computer science. In terms of academic resources and teachers, the University of Cambridge is exceptional, libraries are everywhere, it’s fantastic.
Since we are in uni, there are also a lot of opportunities to do internships from the very beginning, which is quite different from France. Internships in French universities usually happen from the 3rd year on whereas in computer science here, starting from the 1st year, we are recommended to do internships during summertime. I did one last year actually.
The Anglo-Saxon system is different and requires a certain time to adapt to it because not everything is obvious. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone.
Do you already have an idea of a job you wish to do or are you still in a thinking phase?
I have an idea of the jobs I don’t want to do. *laughs*
Computer engineering is interesting but the job behind it may not sound as interesting to me, I am more thinking about research, continuing towards a Masters’ Degree and a PhD. We’ll see, I am not 100% sure yet and I give myself time to explore what I must learn here.
At Cambridge, we have a lot of computer theory, it’s more intense than in other British universities since one term here is only 8 weeks whilst being 10 or 12 for most universities in the UK. It’s a short but intense period of time.
Holidays are long though, which allows us to mix relaxing and studying, while enjoying our student life!
Do you have time to invest in other things outside of your studies?
I was able to do a lot of things this year. I am a member of the International Students Campaign, a student association and part of the Student Union which looks like the CVL (High School Life Council) at the LFS. We recently organised a Fresher’s Week for the new international students, it was a lot of fun!
At Cambridge we also have what we call the “Formal” which are fancy dinners happening regularly in the student life and are well-known at Cambridge and Oxford.
We also organise computer science-oriented events; the last one was about creating IT projects in 24 hours. It was the first Hackathon project happening in England on-site since the beginning of the pandemic and I’m quite proud to have participated in its organisation!
To finish our discussion, what would you like to say to our students who are currently thinking about their future?
If you want to study in England, I think the first thing to do is not to be afraid. Cambridge is an exceptional institution without a doubt, because very selective, but it’s not an impossible selection. You always have to try!
It’s also important to understand what you want to do, what you want to study, and to know what your interests are. England has extremely specialised maths and computer science majors, which asks you to have a relatively precise idea of what you want to study.
Yet Cambridge also has general programs like Natural Sciences or Human, Social and Political Sciences, the type of studies that are more flexible and only specialise later.
To have a good application and apply for Cambridge or Oxford, you must personally invest your time into going beyond. It’s not necessarily about doing an extra-curricular activity like a sport, but more about an investment in a topic you wish to study more. Doing mini projects, participating in contests and competitions, being a member of a student association are all things that can add value to your motivation and strengthen your application.
Finally, take the time to explore, stay curious, and keep an open mind. The program at the LFS, especially with the International French Baccalaureate in English or Chinese language is intense, with a lot of classes. Yet I would still recommend you take some extra time to invest in yourselves and go beyond in your approach to have the possibility to enter these excellent universities.