• Olivia Halsall

OLEA Coffee Chats (3) with Alex, English & Humanities Mentor

Hi Alex, thanks so much for agreeing to participate in the third of our OLEA Coffee Chat series! In this 12-month series, we introduce the aspirations, study habits and hobbies of OLEA's outstanding mentors. With your plethora of tutoring experience, impressive academic record and love of literature, we are excited to have you join the OLEA Humanities Mentor team. First up …. What is your favourite coffee and why?

A: I’m not much of a coffee connoisseur, I’m afraid: more of a tea drinker. I usually have a strong cup in the morning to get me going, though!  

You have been mentoring students since 2012 with two of those years teaching in Shanghai. What is your favourite city in China and why? What was your impression of China, and how have you found mentoring Chinese students?

A: I would have to identify Shanghai as my favourite because of my memories there. I had a wonderful life in the city and was fortunate enough to get to travel around quite a bit whilst living in China, so I managed to see lots of fascinating places. Xi’an, Zhangjiajie, and Harbin, which I visited for the yearly ice festival, were standouts. Relaxing on the beaches of Sanya was also wonderful. In terms of the Chinese approach to education, I always appreciated the students’ dedication to learning – sometimes I needed to encourage them to take more time for themselves!

Both of your OLEA Masterclasses “The Power of Poetry and Place” (for GCSE students) and “How to write and communicate with success on issues that really matter.” (for AS Level students) help apply English Language and Literature into real-life situations. For many non-native students, learning English fluently seems an impossible task, which can mean many brilliant works of literature are perhaps overlooked for fear of being too difficult. What are some works of English Literature you would recommend to our non-native English students who want to pursue this passion, but don’t know where to start?

A: Where to start, indeed! To get a sense of the kind of things that are being circulated and talked about right now, it can be a good idea to check prizewinning shortlists, the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Costa Book Award, for example. The Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious in the UK. The Milkman by Anna Burns and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo are two winners in recent years that are particular favourites of mine. George Orwell, his journalism as well as novels, and Ernest Hemingway, although the latter is American, might be good options, because their writing is very clear, even if the deeper meanings can be very complicated. Jane Austen or Charles Dickens for those in search of more of a challenge. For poetry, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, or W. H. Auden offer great options.

Your OLEA Masterclass ““How to write and communicate with success on issues that really matter.” (for AS Level students) is a brilliant introductory Masterclass to OLEA’s University Essay Club that we will be running for year 12 & 13 students commencing in September 2022. Why is it important for students to learn how to plan, structure and develop their essays as early as year 12? Why is it also beneficial to learn how to write essays in groups, rather than one-to-one?

A: Working alongside peers in a group environment is an invaluable resource. The tutorial system works so wonderfully well because of the liveliness of the conversation and range of feedback. Planning and developing good essay technique is absolutely vital for best study practices, even in the sciences. Weekly essays are the lifeblood of the educational system at Oxford and Cambridge, so expressing your ideas well on paper is crucial to not only help you get into these or similar universities in the first place, but also making the most of your time while there. I often find that students struggle with structure to begin with, and that’s not only a non-native problem. Native speakers find it very difficult too! Lots of people have very interesting ideas about topics of study but it can be much more challenging to unfold those ideas in what seems like a logical and clear way to other people.

Tell us about your time studying English as an undergraduate student at the University of Oxford. Many non-native speakers might worry about being able to engage in intellectually-rich conversations (in English) - could you give us an example of a typical conversation topic during formal hall at Oxford to put their minds at ease?

A: I tried to pursue a number of things whilst at Oxford. There’s no getting around that it’s hard work, especially considering the term lengths: eight weeks, which absolutely fly by. Like all universities, however, it is a place that you should really look to make the most of the institutions available to you. It’s not often in life that you can draw upon such expertise or resources quite so easily. I played football for my college first XI and wrote for The Oxford Student newspaper, where I was also Deputy Sports and Deputy Features Editor for a term each. I was also involved in a couple of charity initiatives, tutoring underprivileged students in the city and distributing food to the homeless in the local area.

Typical conversations could be about literally anything – Oxford students are intellectually curious so anything that interests you will find a willing listener at formal hall, whether it’s a niche sport, an amusing Tik Tok, a difficult maths problem, or Ming poetry!

As a Humanities Mentor at OLEA Education Ltd., we often mash subjects together and provide students with student-led lessons that they wouldn’t otherwise get at school. What are some traditional school subjects that you would like to see blended together? I suppose my question is, what would your perfect curriculum look like and what are the values and knowledge you’d like to be installing into future generations?

A: This is a great question and an idea that I’m very invested in, so much so that I’m currently pursuing a PhD that is specifically termed ‘Interdisciplinary’. The Americans tend to do this better with their Liberal Arts education although of course there are many advantages, too, to studying something at a deeper level earlier on. I think we often artificially compartmentalise subjects and this is actually quite a modern phenomenon: going back a few hundred years, scholars thought nothing of combining scientific enquiry with history or writing poetry.

Self-care is something that I’d like to see more baked into study, especially with the amount of burnout and anxiety reported amongst young people at the moment. University is often stressful even at the best of times and we need to remember to live as well as work. Gardening is a great idea, too!

If you are interested in taking either one of Alex's OLEA Masterclasses, please do not hesitate to contact us on olivia@oleaeducation.com or +447563414137

OLEA 咖啡访谈 (三月,2022)

Alex, OLEA 英语辅导

Hi Alex!非常感谢你参与我们第三期OLEA咖啡访谈!在你的身上有太多的闪光点:丰富的教学经验、傲人的学术履历、以及对文学深深的热爱......非常开心你能加入我们OLEA人文团队。首先我想问:你最喜欢的咖啡是什么?为什么呢?


Alex, 你从2012年开始教学,其中两年在上海。你最喜欢中国的哪个城市呢?为什么?中国这个国家和教中国学生的经历给你留下了哪些印象呢?


你的两节OLEA大师课:针对GCSE学生的 “诗歌与地域的力量” 和针对AS学生的 “如何成功地写作和沟通至关重要的问题。” 有助于将英语语言文学融入日常生活场景。对于许多非母语学生来说,英语达到流利看似是一件不可能的任务,而这意味着许多优秀的文学作品会因同学们担心太难而被忽视。对于那些热爱英语文学、却不知道从哪开始的非母语学生,你会推荐哪些英语文学作品呢?


我们OLEA的大学论文俱乐部将于2022年9月启动,招收12岁和13岁的学生,而你的OLEA大师课“如何成功地写作和沟通至关重要的问题。”(针对AS Level学生)是OLEA大学论文俱乐部中出色的导学课。在你看来,为什么学生在12岁时就应该学习如何规划、布局和撰写他们的论文呢?为什么在小组中而不是一对一地学写论文也是有益的呢?






典型的对话可以包含任何话题,牛津大学的学生们求知若渴,任何你感兴趣的东西你都可以在正式晚宴去交流,无论是小众的运动、有趣的Tik Tok视频、困难的数学问题、还是明代的诗歌,你都能找到一个愿意倾听的人。




- Interview by Olivia A. Halsall

- Translation by Jiaqi Shang

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