Visiting Student to the University of Oxford: Phan Xuân Sao Khuê

Phan Xuan Sao Khue is a 3rd-year student at iCLA who is currently studying abroad at the University of Oxford’s St Edmund Hall. Originally from Vietnam, Khue moved to Japan to study Economics at iCLA.

A highly distinguished student, Khue stood out among the crowd as someone fitting to take on the rigorous academic challenges that a Visiting Student at Oxford would undertake. She was chosen as iCLA’s representative to study at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, a competitive program that only admits approximately 40 Visiting Students worldwide per year. On top of that, applicants are also required to have a near-perfect grade point average.

Khue overcame tall hurdles and was accepted to the program. Khue is the first student from a Japanese university since 2002 to be accepted for this program. She has since started her autumn semester at Oxford.

Read the first blog post of Khue’s blog series, where she will share her experiences at iCLA and the University of Oxford.

“Hi. My name is Phan Xuân Sao Khuê, with last name first, first name last.

As a full-time dreamer and a realist, I love arts, social science, mathematics, music, and I believe my heart still has space for more. I am a mixture of various interests, which can sometimes seem paradoxical to those around me. I came to iCLA believing this is the place where I can make sense of who I am. After one year, I found myself reading more about world politics, art, languages, economics, physics and musical theories. I worked hard, paid close attention to my studies to get a 4.0 GPA in my major while engaging in exploring my capacity in other fields.

I developed a love for literature, politics and how they help us define culture, history, and human interactions. I discovered the excitement of composing choral pieces and experimenting with perfect fifths and polyrhythms. Coming to iCLA taught me how diversity and multiculturalism require hard work and respect for differences. The years here nurtured in me an embrace for newness: I love swapping ideas, new perspectives out of pure excitement and intellectual curiosity.

Oxford, to me, is a challenge. I recalled how the difficulties that I have faced and have overcome in the past also brought me the same feelings. Coming to Japan at 17, alone. Learning yet another language. Integrating into another culture. It turns out that for me, newness never comes about without exhaustion, weariness, and even boredom. Yet in the end, I was having the best time in college, not despite, but because of having to confront my own inexperience, to live it deeply, and to address it when ready.

One evening, I made myself a cup of Japanese houji-cha after class. While sipping, I gazed from my window at Mount Fuji in the Yamanashi twilight and wondered ‘what did I ever do to deserve this sunset’. The taste reminded me of trà đá, a type of Vietnamese iced tea I used to drink every day after class the year before. I remembered how I felt then: frightened and overwhelmed about calling another land home, about not learning any specialized field, and debating over whether to settle for a singular passion.

Yet, here I am, contemplating the gap between what I searched for and what is available to me. Liberal arts education is about the integration of knowledge, the openminded-ness to innovations, as well as being critical of them. At iCLA, I recognized the importance of multipotentiality and finding connections between different fields of study. For that, I reach and grow every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire and not terrify me.

Sky’s the limit, and Elon Musk is already helping us expand it. As of this moment, I simply wonder what will I be sipping one year from now.”

This was supposed to be a blog-post to share about my application process to Oxford. But then I realized that the application itself was as straight-forward as it gets: you submit required essays, personal statements, transcripts, and wait for the result email. Some people will say the point is not to impress, but to simply be yourself. For me, however, the point is definitely to impress, but to do so in a way that is truthful to who I am as a person.

The essay above was a modified excerpt from my personal statement to Oxford.  I named it “In Search For Sunsets”. In which, I wrote about iCLA – how it was here that I met the best people and experienced the best days in life so far. I wrote about the night skies of Yamanashi and the sunrise on top of Mt. Fuji. I wrote about crunchy leaves and the changing seasons of Japan. I wrote about friendship and honesty: what it meant to me, what iCLA have taught me, and how there is so much more to learn about it.

And so it dawned on me: maybe the best way to convey all that through a blog-post, is to simply share the words I wrote a year ago.


Thank you for reading, and I’ll soon catch you on the flip-side.