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Class of ’23 Aishani Chaudhuri is accepted into the prestigious University of Oxford

Ms. Aishani Chaudhuri, a sixth-year student at AIS, has achieved a notable accomplishment by recently being accepted to the prestigious University of Oxford. Her journey towards this achievement was unconventional. Ms. Chaudhuri sat down for an interview with Mr. Mike Wing, the High School Principal, Ms. Vicky Lam, the Director of Admissions and Advancement, and Mr. Jeremy Green, the Learning Activator, to reflect on her time at AIS and to shed light on her journey through the university application process.

How long have you been at AIS?

A: This is my sixth year at AIS.

What is your favorite memory at AIS?

A: There are a lot, but one of them that stands out is when in Grade 9 History class, Mr. D did a simulation to walk us through World War I. It was a lot of fun. In the simulation my country was called “Bahkan”, but in reality it was meant to represent Serbia. We ended up rewriting history by winning World War I. This definitely made me love history a lot more. It’s a year long simulation and we are taught lots of content, with more and more being added for each stage of the simulation. We started with creating our countries, and then it became more and more complex, eventually even having to establish trade with other countries. It was interesting to see how our decisions had impacts, not only on our nations, but also the rest of the world. Mr D also does mock trials which were a lot of fun, too.

Are there any other classes or activities that you particularly enjoyed?

A: I am part of three after-school clubs which I am very passionate about; Model United Nations, TED, and the American Mathematical Competition. But aside from these, all my classes are pretty fun. Right now in AP Literature we are reading Macbeth. The language and characters are so layered and rich, they evoke a lot of emotions. It’s really cool to unpack everything.

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Please share your experience with applying to Oxford.

A: I had an unconventional journey. I decided to apply to Oxford in late August. I had a major dilemma between whether I wanted to major in English or physics.

That’s quite a contrast!

A: That’s the reason it was such an issue!

You’ve referred a lot to your experiences in the humanities at AIS, what have been the experiences that led you to pursue physics?

A: We had so many labs in Chemistry last year. It’s one thing to do the lab and the reports after, they seem like a lot of work, but once you finish them and you go through all the results, methodically organizing and discussing what you found in the lab, it feels so rewarding. One lab in particular, the titrations, had such beautiful colors. It was a lot of fun to do and we made mistakes, sometimes we would add a little too much, and we’d have to figure out how to fix that. To understand the mechanism behind that and be able to explain it, then have Dr. Rines tell you that you’ve done a great job was a very rewarding experience.

“And that’s something I may not have gotten outside of AIS, because here there are no limitations on the courses you can take and you really get to choose what you want as long as you meet the necessary credits. That’s something I love about the American system – getting to choose your own courses.”

— Aishani Chaudhuri

What has drawn you to physics?

A: In the summer between Grade 9 and 10, I attended a course called, “Big History and Collective Learning” at The Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education. The course spun the entire history of the universe into one thread. It was interdisciplinary. It started with the Big Bang, and then categorized the history of humanity into different thresholds of development, ranging from star formation to the more modern development of language. Seeing everything put in context was very interesting but also introduced me to a lot of things that I hadn’t thought about before like how elements were formed. As a student in Grade 9, it blew my mind that elements were formed in the stars. This developed more of my interest in astrophysics.

Going back to my application, I decided to do physics but, in August, I wavered again and decided that I would apply to major in English in the UK at Oxford. Our high school counselor, Ms. Luk Van was very supportive. She encouraged me to apply early, gave me plenty of guidelines, and helped me follow up on deadlines. She was also very good with giving me immediate feedback on my essays, highlighting areas for improvement. It was quite an easy process and I didn’t have any issues with deadlines.

We sent it off in October and the notifications regarding interviews came in December. I had my interview on the 6th of December. It was a conversation with two professors, and they treated it like a mock tutorial. Half an hour before the interview started, I was sent two poems and an excerpt from an analogical reading.

During the interview, they asked me to discuss the poems in light of the concept from the reading. There were plenty of questions during the interview and then they gave additional information which was followed by them asking me to reevaluate my perspective based on the new information. At one point, they asked me to defend two opposing arguments using the same piece of evidence. It was a very intellectually stimulating interview and I loved it.

Do you feel like there are areas of our curriculum that gave you the skills necessary to excel in that situation?

A: Definitely! Well, it seems a little obvious, but I’ll start with AP Literature and AP Language where you are taught to break down writing and analyze it for meaning. Even History, I know I keep going back to Mr. D, but I can remember in Grade 9 History learning how to analyze a source given historical contexts and the author’s background. This was something that was specifically thrown at me in the interview. I was given two poems. They told me the first poem was written during this time when people were pushing back against older influences and “the greats.” That was something that I was used to doing by this point – seeing how the context of the times influenced what was created and said.

Regarding support, everything is very accommodating here at AIS, especially when it comes to course conflicts. In Grade 11, I took six APs thanks to Mr. Wing who helped me figure out I could do so by skipping Pre-AP Chemistry which allowed me to take the five courses I wanted to take plus another that was beneficial for my major.

You’re being modest on that because it was Calculus BC which is a double block, so all seven blocks you had were APs.

A: The month after the AP exams was incredible! I had nothing to do.

And you still managed to fit in student leadership responsibilities. In that year of all APs, how did you manage to maintain yourself as a well-rounded individual?

A: I would say I am pretty well-rounded. Even outside of school, I play piano and have played practically all my life since I was three years old. I never lost that habit. I also did MUN and Math Club. I read books, watched things online, and still talked to my friends.

Are you reading stuff that’s related to physics and engineering?

A: Last summer I read, “A Brief History of Time.” I felt like I should. It’s a staple. But my reading is mostly fictional.

You’ve also been more involved with sports this year, even joining the Girls Touch Rugby Team.

A: This year I have been doing more sports. My mom has wondered what happened to me. I actually won two medals on sports day! The Rugby Touch Tournament was also very fun!

Do you think those sorts of things – challenging yourself, pushing your boundaries and trying new experiences – that’s obviously part of developing as an adolescent. Do you think this is being encouraged for AIS students?

A: Yes, definitely! I wouldn’t have thought of joining the sports teams if not for the many people around me being so encouraging. In this case, it was not just the teacher, Ms. Brosnan, who encouraged me, but more importantly my friends encouraged me to just give it a try and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

Are there any other universities you are applying to at the moment?

A: The only other universities I am waiting for are Columbia and Georgia Tech, but I am currently leaning more towards the University of Toronto Scarborough as I received a sizable scholarship package from them. I applied through UCAS for Oxford, a few universities in the USA, and two in Canada.

You have such a range – English Literature at Oxford and Physics at Columbia. What’s the thinking behind it?

A: I applied for physics in North America. And that’s something I may not have gotten outside of AIS, because here there are no limitations on the courses you can take and you really get to choose what you want as long as you meet the necessary credits. That’s something I love about the American system – getting to choose your own courses.

Is that influencing your decision on where to go?

A: When I chose all the universities to apply to, and that was a long process, it was about the programs they offered and their rankings. Now that all the decisions are coming in, the decision is more financial. It was also about finally choosing between English and Physics. English can still be my hobby and I won’t lose touch with it if I don’t study it, but I can’t casually do astrophysics.

What do you hope to do with your degree?

A: I want to be involved in astrophysics research. If I went into English, I’d want to be a professor at a university.

Do you write on your own, outside of classes?

A: Yes, I write poetry. I have been published. There is the Berkeley Poetry Review (BPR). I was accepted for their Made at Home edition and it is being shipped to me at the moment. I have also been shortlisted twice for the Hong Kong Young Writers Award.

What’s the poem that’s been published? 

A: The theme of the zine is ‘Made at Home’.” This poem was one that I wrote this summer when I went home to India after not having gone there in three years and how weird it felt to be in a space where I felt like a child and now I am no longer a child. Everything in the house seems visually different because it’s not the way I remember it – everything is a little smaller. It’s a sense of alienation in a place that was so familiar.

While we’re on the topic of families, what was your parents’ reaction when they found out you have been accepted to Oxford?

A: They were completely ecstatic! My mom likes to say that she always knew I was going to get in. They took turns passing around the laptop looking at the little box that says ‘this university has offered you a placement.’ I wasn’t even sure if I’d been accepted because I couldn’t get my laptop back from my parents as they were busy reading the letter themselves. My grandparents are also very excited. Everyone was really happy.

So you remember that day very well? 

A: Yes, because I had actually gone to Crossroads for service work and forgot that it was January 10th, which was the day the decision was coming out. My mum had not forgotten. When I got home, she asked me, ‘Do you know what day it is?’  I changed slowly before opening my laptop because I was pretty sure I hadn’t gotten in. I have a friend who I knew had already gotten a second interview, so I thought I wasn’t moving forward to that stage. It turns out that the process wasn’t the same for everyone.

Maybe they just knew. Aishani ‘knocked it out of the park’!

A: It was a great interview and I had so much fun. The pieces they sent me were right in the sweet spot. I loved it. Speaking about confidence, I wasn’t too nervous in the interview.

“I might not know everything, but I know myself. It’s important to know yourself and also what you want other people to know about you. I am an introspective person and therefore my writing is also introspective, and more lyrical. Know how to represent yourself with words – be clear and coherent, but most importantly, be natural.”

— Aishani Chaudhuri

What made you feel confident so you weren’t nervous walking into it?

A: I knew that the interview was going to be analysis, something I really enjoy and I’ve been told I am good at it. There wasn’t much more I could do to prepare myself. Going and reading a bunch of poems and trying to cram wouldn’t have done any good. The poems I received were all about creating art and whether art is something that is invented or recreated. I loved that debate!

Mr. Su, my English teacher – I love him. He’s so great! He has been such an important guiding stone throughout this entire journey – he knows all about my physics/English dilemma and he’s given me great advice. He’s also just been so supportive. Every time I turn in work, he provides me with so many comments that are both constructive and helpful, as well as encouraging. He’s the best!

What kind of advice would you give to future students who are thinking about applying to Oxford or Ivy League universities?

A: Ivy League university applications aren’t really different from any other university. I would say getting started earlier is better. Deadlines are important. I was ahead of most deadlines, and most of my applications were early action. 

The important thing is to know your own voice. A lot of people give you advice on your essays and their advice is very important. But you have to be able to apply that advice in a way that is authentic to you. Say what you want to say. Don’t lose sight of your voice. That’s what the universities want. They can tell if an essay is scattered or listening to other people. That’s definitely something to avoid. I might not know everything, but I know myself. It’s important to know yourself and also what you want other people to know about you. I am an introspective person and therefore my writing is also introspective, and more lyrical. Know how to represent yourself with words – be clear and coherent, but most importantly, be natural.