Before this interview, I had not expected such a laid-back attitude, casual laugh and humility from Siraput Jongaramrungruang. After all, his resume is a three-page list of academic achievements, extracurricular activities and international awards. But it was a pleasant surprise to see that the 20-year-old appeared to have very high EQ to match his evidently sky-high IQ _ a rarity in today's competitive society.
Siraput, now a sophomore studying natural sciences at Cambridge's Trinity College, cannot quite believe the path is he walking today. Coming from a financially challenged background, with his father driving taxis to support the whole family, and his mother responsible for the never-ending chores at home, his life as a student was not packed with tutoring classes, simply because he felt they were too expensive and financially burdensome for his father.
He once enrolled in a tutoring course following a friend's advice, but felt that it was not very useful.
"It was very expensive for me, so I wrote down everything because I didn't want to waste a single moment. It turned out to be more stressful and less useful than I'd thought, so I decided that tutoring courses just weren't for me," he said. His humble life took an upward turn when he received a scholarship from the Royal Government of Thailand following his success in the International Physics Olympiad, in which he received a gold medal.
Siraput said while his family had some financial difficulties, what he never lacked was opportunity and support.
"My parents have worked very hard to make sure that I don't miss out on education, and I just think I don't want to waste any opportunity," he added.
Growing up, he said his grades had always been decent, but it wasn't until secondary school that his talents in maths and science started to shine. He has won many competitions and awards as a student, represented his school in academic contests, and joined many activities in school.
Interestingly, Siraput did not spend his free time in tutoring schools like most kids do _ his favourite pastimes are riding his bicycle and talking to his grandmother. Siraput credits his success to the fact that his parents have never pressured him about his academic achievements, and said they hardly ever ask about the results of his exams.
"My parents are more concerned about whether I'm stressing out too much, whether I'm sleeping and eating properly, basic things like that. They never have any plans for me, and I am very thankful for that because I am not pressured to follow anyone else's dreams but mine," said Siraput.
It was not easy for him to concentrate on his study when he was in secondary school. His home environment was not conducive to study. His family home is located near a loud factory, and his aunt always watched TV with the volume up high. There was no private area for him to study in peace and there was no air-conditioner. He still recalls the days when he read his books and drops of sweat would dampen the pages. What kept him going was his eagerness to learn and to answer the questions he had, which, he admitted, were never-ending.
Siraput had never really been stressed out about his grades _ he only focused on doing his best. It all changed when he went to the UK. The biggest shock for him was his first lecture at Trinity College, which he compared to teaching a person how to swim by pushing him into the pool.
"Everything was so fast, as everyone is expected to do the learning on his own outside the class. I could not catch up with what the lecturer was saying and it felt like an impossible struggle. I was so shocked by the speed of the class that I was depressed for a while," he said. However, soon he realised he did not have to compete with anyone to define his success, and that a person's value does not lie in the grade report. Moreover, he felt that his ego _ the feeling that he had to be on top of everything _ was holding him back.
"With that realisation, I felt free, and without the big ego I could just walk to the teacher and say that I didn't understand it, not fearing that I would appear dumb. From there, things improved gradually," said Siraput, who eventually received a First Class result in his first year, and the highest marks in physics and maths the same year.
Now he is enjoying his life in the UK and hopes to return to Thailand with enough knowledge and experience to make a difference. He has no dream career at present, and said he's learning new things every day, so he finds it hard to decide what he wants to be in the future.
Parents have flocked to him asking for advice about how they should plan the future for their kids so they can be successful like him. His answer is very simple _ don't.
"Planning everything for them only makes them weaker. Don't tell them what they should do, because kids don't follow what parents say, but what parents show them. Most importantly, don't compare them to other people and don't define the word success so narrowly _ people have different talents, and no one should be expected to be a replica of anyone," he explained.
About the author
- Writer: Napamon Roongwitoo
Position: Life Writer