In primary school, my parents always pushed me to do well. I’d go to tutoring for maths and English on the weekend from as early as Year 3 and applied to do all the ICAS assessments that the University of New South Wales ran. But at that primary school, it wasn’t ‘cool’ to like maths. The cool kids liked sport and Xbox, and putting effort into academics was unheard of. To fit in, I would support a footy club, join the cross-country team and smile when my friends talked about CoD. Never would I talk about my classes or my certificates. Now, don’t get me wrong – I had a great childhood and enjoyed primary school, but I distinctly remember one friend saying to the others ‘Nah, Chang’s cool though. He doesn’t like maths, he’s just good at it.’ I had told him as such when I received particularly good test results and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure if it was a lie.
It wasn’t until high school that I discovered how I actually felt. Moving from a year level of 14 people in primary school to over 300 in Year 7 was a big shock, and with all these people came the resources for the school to run special programs. I was placed in the accelerated mathematics stream with an absolutely wonderful teacher. It was no longer cool to barely scrape by; my peers all pushed each other to get the best results, and not just in maths. They were sporty, musical, friendly, helpful. It was here where I realised: truly ‘cool’ people didn’t have a criteria to fulfil; a list of likes and dislikes which must be conformed to. Instead they were welcoming of everyone, regardless of their hobbies.
My time at that high school was short but influential. I moved to a select entry school in year 9, and this attitude was even more apparent. Here, I really grew as a person inside and outside the classroom. I had great maths teachers who always encouraged effort and curiosity, and this enjoyment of the maths classes in VCE lead to my decision to do a maths major in Uni. That was the right choice, as I finally realised that it wasn’t just a combination of an aptitude for studying plus an engaging teacher that got me to where I am. At the core of it, I do like maths. The more I learn, the more interesting it is. I like the elegance of equations describing complex ideas. I like the abstraction of seemingly fundamental properties into new fields of mathematics. I like the challenge and sense of discovery that it brings.
There was no clear moment that I became interested in mathematics. If some things were different, perhaps I would be in a completely different field. But we are a product of our experiences, and my experiences have led me to here.
Chang Yu Wang was a recipient of a 2018/19 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.