IT is a given that to be eligible for any scholarship, one has to be academically inclined. But what made Teoh Yun Xin stand out as a candidate for the inaugural YH2 Capital Scholarship last year was her indomitable spirit in the face of adversity.
As the first scholar of a Singapore-based investment company, Teoh was awarded bond-free full funding to pursue a three-year law degree at Magdalene College in Cambridge University, the United Kingdom, where she has just completed her first year studies with first class honours.
YH2 Capital Management founders and co-chief executive officers Tai Yen How and Barbara Yu, who sponsored the scholarship, said Teoh fully embodies the candidate they were looking for.
“She has proven that beyond our expectations in the past year. Many people can study well but obstacles in life, especially unexpected ones, will knock them down in many cases.
“If you don’t overcome and transcend the situation, then the amount of intelligence you have won’t make any difference,” said Tai.
Growing up, Teoh, who hails from Penang, dreamed of studying law at Cambridge University.
It was a dream she thought she would be able to achieve with her family’s financial backing.
However, when the financial situation of her family was revealed to her in secondary school, she knew she had to rely on herself to make her dream a reality.
At around the same time, she was beset with news that her father had been diagnosed with cancer.
“My father was a pharmacist at that time. Despite the medical insurance coverage, it took a toll on our finances,” the 20-year-old told StarEdu.
Her mother had to work three jobs to support Teoh and her brother, now 16. “I really have to thank my mother. She was the one who supported us through it all, even though she doesn’t have a university degree.
“But she couldn’t support my going to Cambridge. Even going to college was a burden on our finances,” she shared.
Fortunately, Teoh said, she obtained a scholarship to study A-Levels at Taylor’s College in Subang Jaya, Selangor.
It was there that she acquired the “correct tools” to apply to and enrol in Cambridge University.
“I also had the support of my peers and teachers, and gained the right mindset and tools to get a scholarship,” she added.
The YH2 Capital Scholarship programme, she said, came to her knowledge through a news alert notification.
“I am really grateful to Barbara and Yen for organising this scholarship with the intention of just paying it forward,” she said.
Describing Magdalene as “one of the best colleges at Cambridge”, Teoh said the community is close-knit and supportive of international students.
“It’s a middle-sized college, which means the community is not large. With a tight-knit community, it’s easier to know more people and be close to them,” she said.
Teoh shared that her first year had been enjoyable, even though she had to cope with the loss of her father, who passed away a few weeks before she set off for Cambridge.
“In a way, it was a blessing in disguise. I got to say goodbye and attend the funeral.
“I wasn’t distracted from my studies at Cambridge. I tried to enjoy my time, knowing my father would want me to do that. I’m sure he would be proud of me,” she said, adding that support from her family and friends had helped her tremendously.
Besides her law studies, Teoh has found time for activities such as volunteering at the National Human Rights Society’s youth division (Hakam Youth) and at Amicus, an organisation dedicated to providing representation for those facing the death penalty in the United States.
On her choice to study law, Teoh said it is an interesting subject that is connected to many of the issues she is passionate about such as Malaysian and world politics, human rights and social justice.
“Law has a place in most things and you can make arguments. What I’m learning now is very academic; real-life applications are not in my course but we learn that though extra reading and participating in activities such as Hakam Youth,” she said.
Paying it forward
Launched in 2019, the YH2 Capital Scholarship programme aims to offer outstanding Malaysians with exemplary academic and personal qualities but do not have the full financial means a chance to pursue a degree at Cambridge University.
This time, for the admission year of 2022, sponsors Tai and Yu are offering two scholarships, instead of one, in light of the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic to many families.
Having benefited from scholarships themselves, they believe in doing their part to help deserving candidates who are in need of financial help.
Tai, a Johorean, is an Asean scholar who studied in Singapore before earning his economics degree at Harvard University.
Yu, a Magdalene College alumna, is a Jardine scholar and recipient of the N. Diaz Scholarship for Law and the Norton Rose Prize for Commercial Law.
“A lot of it is inspired by our backgrounds and our experiences growing up. We want to pay it forward by helping those who really need the scholarship,” said Tai.
Yu added that they are very proud of Teoh and hope to help students like her to achieve their aspirations.
“We are looking for someone with high quality of thought and motivations. It’s the soft qualities that really differentiate the scholar from other applicants,” she said.
The couple also shared that last year saw the highest number of Malaysians being accepted into Magdalene College, a result which they hope will be replicated or surpassed with the double scholarship offering.
On advice he would give those selected for the scholarship interview, Tai had this to say: “We want to understand the person, his or her motivations, values and aspirations, and in the process see what kind of human spirit the person has that will allow him or her to thrive in the future and embody the whole spirit of our scholarship.”
“Try to be more introspective. Think not just about the practicalities of the world, but something deeper and bigger. Getting a degree in Cambridge doesn’t mean anything unless you do something about it and make a difference on a personal basis,” he added.
Teoh shared that no other interview had challenged her to look inwardly and examined her motivations as much as the YH2 interview. She recommended prospective candidates to think about their motivations and learn how to articulate themselves well.
“Also, be analytical and insightful. Show that you are able to break things down to a fundamental level, as well as think about things on a deeper level instead of just absorbing information.
“A lot of students might not be used to this at first. I definitely did not develop my own opinions all by myself. As a start, read up on other people’s evaluations on things and build your own ability to think,” she shared.
Teoh added that applicants should make the most of the interview.“Barbara and Yen are really down-to-earth people. They give a lot of life advice which is really valuable as they are two of the smartest people you can find. If you get an interview, it’s important to appreciate that.”