Many readers of these pages will be familiar with Hong Kong-based private tutoring group BartyED, but did you know that a student of theirs recently won a global essay competition organised by the John Locke Institute in the UK? We asked the 14-year-old Chinese International School student about the experience, his essay, and how his private tuition at BartyED has helped with his writing and academic skills.
André Chung Cheuk-hei took out the competition’s junior category, with a panel of judges from the University of Oxford deeming the Hong Kong contestant’s written submission to be the best of the best. Aside from the prestige of the victory, André received a scholarship worth US$2,000 to be spent towards any John Locke courses in Oxford, England. There were seven different essay topics available in André’s category; he chose the following: “If you could travel by time machine for your next holiday, which time and place would you visit? What preparations would you make for your journey? What challenges would you face in the first twenty-four hours, and how would you handle them?”
Congrats on your win! Tell us about the essay competition – how did you hear about it and why did you decide to enter?
I first heard of the John Locke Essay Competition from my parents, who believed it to be an excellent opportunity to show my potential. As I ventured onto the website and read their prompts, I recall some primordial feeling stirring at the bottom of my chest, some inkling that glorious things were to come… But I had no idea I would win – I didn’t think I was good enough. I’m glad I was wrong!
What was your essay about, and what gave you the idea for the topic?
On the surface, it was about time travel, a trip to the past, and some of the things I would like to experience during the first 24 hours. The setting was London in 1735, just before the premiere of Nicola Porpora’s opera Polifemo, whose plot was from Homer’s Odyssey.
I chose 18th-century London and the world of Baroque opera seria (“serious opera”) because I strongly believe that high art deserves more recognition. There are few modern operas being composed these days – even classics such as La Traviata and The Magic Flute are becoming more obscure. I plan to study music in university so that I might compose as well as write. I deem it my solemn duty to do my part in the propagation of so noble and beautiful an art as opera.
Was it a prepared essay competition or under exam-style conditions?
Oh, if it were “under exam-style conditions,” I’m not sure I’d have won! It was a prepared essay competition. Many drafts went in and out of the trash.
What do you think was the main strength of your essay?
The main strength of my essay was its originality; the judges said as much! In writing this essay, I believed I could offer some new and original thoughts of my own on a subject I care deeply about.
Tell us about your time at BartyED and how the private tuition has helped you grow academically.
I feel I must credit a significant part of my intellectual development to the team at BartyED, and one person in particular: the Danish-JewishAmerican educator, adventurer and man of letters (and the very image of the “romantic hero” archetype), Nicolai Nielsen!
Nicolai must be the most interesting person I have ever met; he has bivouacked with Bedouins, partied with aristocrats, dodged the Iranian secret police, and speaks, to varying degrees, Persian, Spanish, Arabic, Hungarian, Italian, French and, of course, English. It’s Nicolai who instilled in me the appreciation and love of all things classical that forms so great a part of my identity today. Even though he doesn’t really care for opera (at all), he gave me, through his tutoring, through his musings and wisecracks, the rock-solid intellectual foundation that allowed me to be where I am now.
Furthermore, before I sat the IGCSE English examination (which I chose to sit in the 8th grade, two years early), I also worked with Mark Malone, one of Nicolai’s colleagues at BartyED. I must say, I’m not the best at following instructions and I get easily distracted. Against all odds, however, Mark did for my test-taking skills what Nicolai had done with my intellectual curiosity. I proceeded to pass with flying colours on the IGCSE English examination.
A word from André’s mother, Ping
I heard about BartyEd private tuition through the referral of an education consultant. It was back in October 2018 and André had just started fifth grade. I felt that he would benefit from being challenged on terms unavailable in conventional classrooms, so I sought opportunities by asking around resourceful friends and acquaintances and I got connected to BartyED. Jerome, the head of the institution, and Nicolai came to my place and arranged an assessment for André. A long and pleasurable collaboration then started and continues until now.
As a parent, I adopt a pretty laissez-faire policy when it comes to his lessons with BartyED. Jerome invests in selecting only the best tutors and is constantly involved in assuring the teaching quality too, so I am not too concerned about that. But my husband and I do reach out for regular exchanges about André’s learning objectives and progress. For example, at one point, we felt that while André’s strength in humanities was definitely an asset to be continuously cultivated, he would also benefit from exposure to wider perspectives. So we compiled a book list and had Nicolai spend part of the lesson time encouraging André to read some of the books we recommended. (They included Eat Move Sleep, What It Takes, Atomic Habits and Mindset).
André has a fun-loving and boyish demeanour and outside the classroom he is much like other boys his age. He enjoys the company of friends and eagerly immerses himself in basketball, fencing, archery and kung fu. In his spare time, in quieter moments, he enjoys reading, watching documentaries, browsing the internet on his favourite topics, listening to classical music and playing computer games.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.