New Zealand dairy owner’s son tops the world in physics exam
Chinese immigrants’ 18-year-old son scored 98 per cent in physics, 97 per cent in maths, 96 per cent in chemistry and 95 per cent in biology
By Simon Collins
A young man who started out stacking shelves in his family’s Taranaki dairy has won the top mark in the world in a physics exam.
Henry Chen, now 18, grew up in the small Taranaki town of Stratford, where his Chinese-immigrant parents ran a dairy.
The whole family moved to Auckland in 2015, to a street just around the corner from Auckland Grammar School so that Henry and his twin brother Kevin could attend the school.
Henry will be honoured in a ceremony at the Eden Park stadium as New Zealand’s top overall student in the Cambridge international exams for 2017, and top in the world for A-level physics.
He scored 98 per cent in physics, 97 per cent in maths, 96 per cent in chemistry and 95 per cent in biology.
Auckland Grammar is one of 46 NZ schools offering the Cambridge exams. About 4500 New Zealand students sat the exams in Years 12 and 13 last year, about four per cent of the 109,000 students in those years across all schools.
Cambridge Assessment International Education, part of Britain’s Cambridge University, receives 495,000 entries across all subjects in the two senior high-school years internationally. If each student enters in four or five subjects, that may be about 100,000 to 120,000 students.
Henry, who was also dux of Auckland Grammar, said his parents were always ambitious for him and Kevin and their older brother Michael, who recently completed a medical degree at Otago University.
“My parents, coming from a strict Chinese family, always wanted me to do well in my studies,” he said.
“For the first half of my life it was more my parents forcing me, and at the end it kind of grew on me. I started to enjoy and feel proud of my achievements.”
He said the family lived for a short time in Auckland, where he was born, before moving in about 2002 to Stratford, where they lived in a house attached to their dairy.
“I helped out a bit,” he said. “I just like stacked the shelves - not the counter work, because then I had to talk to people!”
He had a year at Stratford High School in Year 9, then a year at Francis Douglas College in New Plymouth before the family moved back to Auckland.
His parents wanted him to study sciences, but he also enjoyed them.
“Chinese parents want us to do the best jobs,” he said. “Engineering or medicine was what they wanted me to do, either of those top-tier jobs. But then I actually felt I wanted to do medicine.”
He will study medicine at Sydney University and Kevin will take a similar course at Auckland University.
“I wouldn’t say there was competition [between us],” he said. “I became the top and he started just doing normally.”
Particularly in the last year, Henry devoted himself to his studies.
“I just spent my free time at the desk,” he said.
His advice to others? “I’d say to not procrastinate, basically to spend your time efficiently,” he said.
“I remember in my earlier years I’d always be on Facebook whenever I was studying. At the end, I didn’t stop procrastinating, but I minimised the time that I was.
“And when you are trying to study, you have to understand things, rather than just memorising, and do a lot of practice.”
He also recommends getting plenty of sleep.
“Before an exam I always slept early,” he said.
He has kept up an interest in basketball, which he plans to play in Sydney, but regrets not spending more time on other activities at school.
“My message is to find a good group of friends to hang out with, enjoy school, because it’s not all about academics, and to involve yourself in extracurricular activities,” he said.
He has not yet decided what area of medicine he will work in, or where he will live.
“Long-term I don’t really know,” he said. “It might be in New Zealand, it might be in Australia, it might be anywhere else. I’m not sure.”
Other NZ students who topped the world in their Cambridge subjects in 2017 were:
* Aimee Erskine, Pinehurst School, Environmental Management.
* Lara Hodgson, King’s College, Literature in English.
* Jessica Wu, ACG Parnell College, English Language.
* Jessica Cowie and Sam Anderson, Cashmere High School, Global Perspectives.
* Shray Kamath, St Peter’s College, Religious Studies.