How the #10yearchallenge showed this graduate student how far she's grown mentally and emotionally

By Tacye Hong, University of Cambridge

Forget cringey photos from years long gone – here’s how one Hongkonger used the popular Instagram challenge to examine her personal decade-long journey from shy to social

By Tacye Hong, University of Cambridge |

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I was one of the tens of millions of people that liked the photo of the egg on Instagram. It was part of my continuing efforts to be cool – to keep on top of the current trends and memes online. This article is modelled on another recent internet phenomenon – the #10yearchallenge.

I graduated primary school in 2009, with very little fanfare. That’s because swine flu had broken out at St Paul’s Convent School – the secondary school I was to attend after summer – and classes were suspended. That meant my graduation ceremony was also cancelled.

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In 2009, I was incredibly shy and awkward. Without a graduation ceremony helping to bookend my life at primary school, and without a mobile phone to keep in touch with my classmates, I lost touch with many of my primary school friends that year. I tried my best, when I started secondary school at St Paul’s, to meet new people and be everyone’s friend. It was a struggle – I found it hard to keep up with my studies, and I was intimidated by those who could speak English fluently. What followed was five years of me trying to become recognisable – but without drawing too much attention to myself.

Fast-forward to 2019. I’ve just wrapped up my first semester as a graduate student at the University of Cambridge in Britain. There are around 40 students in the programme and we’re all taking the exact same course, which wasn’t the case when we were undergraduates. The vibe feels less like that of first year university, and more like it did back in primary and secondary school. While I might have been expected to know everyone’s name back then, though, I have yet to learn all of my classmates’ names. It could be knowing that we are competing with each other for funding, for research opportunities, and supervisors that stops us from becoming friends with one another. It could also be that with age comes the realisation you can’t make friends with everyone. Even if you do, you aren’t guaranteed their friendship for life.

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I am surrounded by people who are passionate about their careers, and who are focused on their studies. They come from all walks of life and from many different universities from many parts of the world. Unlike 10 years ago, though, I try not to be intimidated by them – there will always be someone who knows more than you. I recognise what impostor syndrome is, and I try (and sometimes fail) not to doubt my own accomplishments.

The person that I am now is way more confident than the person I was 10 years ago. I have had amazing journeys that have taken me from Hong Kong to Toronto in Canada, and to Cambridge in Britain. At my core, though, I am still that freshly-graduated-from-primary-school girl who wants to make friends, who wants to hear their stories. I do, even though I know I shouldn't, still get intimated by my peers that seem more successful than me. I don’t think this will ever entirely go away. I haven’t changed that much. I can’t wait to see what the next decade will bring. One thing’s for sure, though, it will bring more grey hairs than I ever had in primary school. In fact I found one just the other day …

Edited by Ginny Wong