Alston Yam is a Tuakana Teina Mentor from Mansfield House. He is well-known around Macleans for his academic excellence, having emerged triumphant among 150 finalists in the New Zealand Physics and Maths Competition just last year. In addition to this, Alston also supports many students around the school in their own academic studies through the house tutoring programme and his executive position in Mathex.

We asked Alston about his thoughts on his personal academic journey at Macleans, and this is what he had to say:

When people think about academics, perhaps “enjoyment” is not the first thing that comes to mind, and understandably so. Coming into the school as a year 9 I was petrified by the sheer amount of options that the school provided, and the classes that I was in soon proved to be a lot different than what I was used to during my times in intermediate. However, there came a turning point during my year 9 journey when I started to enjoy the process of learning new content, which drastically shifted my perspective from treating classes like a mundane task to treating them as a gateway for my own self-improvement. 

The realisation that there’s more to the curriculum than just cramming for the next exam definitely had a big impact on the way I approached my classes. 

I was fortunate enough to meet my current friend group who definitely played a huge role in supporting my academic journey through the school. Associating with them brought friendly competition between us as I strived to reach their heights, however simultaneously, they taught me that there can be more than just one approach to the school’s curriculum. Interestingly (and perhaps strangely), they taught me that classes in the school can indeed be ‘enjoyable’; whether it be organising class notes as a group or quizzing each other, it was the process that mattered. 

For me personally, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of finding the right group of people whom you share common goals with that motivates you to become the better version of yourself. 

“You learn something new everyday.” – Chloe Zhong, year 12 student


The NZESC took place last year in August. Initially, it was just a simple text from my friend that was something along the lines of “yo wanna join this comp?”. By some miracle, we managed to scramble together a team just before the registration deadline. Come competition day, we were understandably nervous just thinking about how tough the next 8 hours would be. As expected, the first three hours were anything but productive — we spun around in circles. However despite the hardships we managed to pull through the day, and we left the school feeling satisfied about the work that we had produced, which in my opinion is the most important thing. 


The New Zealand Olympiad in Astronomy and Astrophysics came from a blend of my personal interests as well as my wish to share the vision that learning can indeed be enjoyable. It started with me cold-emailing any universities that I could find, and eventually I had managed to reach an agreement with the Victoria University of Wellington as an official partner for my Olympiad. Admittedly, as this is the first year for this competition, a lot of the intricacies in running such an organisation were discovered through experimentation. Thankfully the feedback was positive, and throughout the planning process I had acquired many new skills which solidified my shift of mindset. Now after 10 long months of preparation, we have a team ready to represent New Zealand at the 17th International Olympiad in Astronomy and Astrophysics.  

Ultimately, it was because of the enjoyment I find in learning new content and challenging myself that keeps me motivated. Perhaps looking back ten years from now, I’ll realise just how fortunate I am to meet the people around me right now.

7th June, 2024
Written by Alston Yam, edited by Aaron Huang
Photography by Joseph Zhang

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