Editor’s note: Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters recently sat with Nguyen Tuan Phong, a Vietnamese student celebrated for his numerous achievements in prestigious competitions, including an Olympiad gold medal, to delve into his journey and future aspirations. Phong maintained a remarkably humble manner throughout the interview, often characterizing himself as 'quite ordinary.'
While attending Bac Ninh High School for the Gifted in Bac Ninh Province, northern Vietnam, Phong achieved second place in the National Physics Competition in 11th grade, secured the top spot in the same competition in 12th grade, won a silver medal in the 2022 European Physics Olympiad, and claimed a bronze medal in the 2023 Asia-Pacific Physics Olympiad.
He won the gold medal in the 2023 International Physics Olympiad, which was hosted by Japan in July and featured 398 participants from 84 countries and territories, and was directly admitted to the Hanoi University of Science and Technology.
“I was born into a family that wasn’t very affluent but always managed to provide a conducive learning environment for their children,” Phong said.
“As early as high school, I became accustomed to an independent lifestyle, moving into a dormitory because my school was more than 30 kilometers away from home.
“It might come as a surprise to many, but my initial academic focus was on math, not physics."
During his middle school years, Phong, like many of his peers, primarily concentrated on mathematics, deeming it the most vital subject.
However, he found himself unable to keep pace with his teammates and ultimately finished last in the district examination.
Although he was initially taken aback by the outcome, he came to appreciate that failure as it became the turning point leading him to discover his passion for physics.
This newfound subject revealed to Phong the opportunity to apply his skills more intimately and approach problem-solving in a more profound manner.
Over time, his passion for physics blossomed, and he came to recognize that the earlier setback had, in fact, opened a more fitting door for him.
Phong never considered himself exceptionally intelligent, so studying was not as effortless as some might assume.
“I believe intelligence acts as a catalyst, facilitating a more thoughtful and less stressful approach to learning,” said Phong.
“However, achieving great success demands relentless effort, day and night, from anyone.”
In Phong’s view, even the most intelligent individuals cannot gain the kind of experience and understanding that takes months or years for most people to learn and research in just a few days. A lot of knowledge is intricately tied to life experiences.
Phong drew inspiration from a personal setback, which occurred during the 2023 Asia-Pacific Physics Olympiad.
In this competition, he ended up in second place within the Vietnamese team, a surprising turn of events as he had often outperformed a friend who triumphed this time.
Upon reflection, he recognized that the exam did not demand unwavering precision in solutions, and his innate meticulousness had become an unnecessary time drain.
“I learned that each competition has its unique rules, and, to excel, one should not fixate on perfectionism,” Phong recalled.
“Instead, the key is to comprehend the competition’s criteria and concentrate on aligning oneself to be the best fit for those standards.”
When asked if he himself needed any improvement, Phong admitted that during his final years of high school, he dedicated most of his time to his academic pursuits and team activities, which left him with limited contact with friends and little time for other social activities.
As a result, he recognized certain areas where he believed there is room for his improvement, particularly in English proficiency and communication skills.
Currently, he is committed to refining these aspects, along with many others.
“I value a tranquil life and consider success and happiness as having enough resources to provide for family and indulge in personal interests,” Phong said.
“Considering a more ambitious aspiration, it might involve earning a scholarship to study abroad at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, obtaining a doctoral degree, and contributing to noteworthy research or projects that leave a lasting legacy in people’s memories.”