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Born in China but now a citizen and resident of New Zealand, Silas Xu ’05 was one of three students awarded the New Zealand Rhodes Scholarship in a ceremony in Wellington last week.
The Rhodes Scholarship allows each recipient to study for two years for free at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Xu, who is also a Crimson editor, is among eight Harvard students or alums who have won the scholarship this year.
An applied math and economics concentrator, Xu described the United States educational system as very different from the system in New Zealand. He said Harvard has been “quite a good experience in the sense that you get to see another way of looking at education.”
McKay Professor of Computer Science Harry R. Lewis ’68, who wrote one of Xu’s recommendations, described him as a “remarkable” student.
“He is an amazing guy. He is extremely smart [and a] very good student in my computer science class,” Lewis said. “But he is most interesting because of his background in coming from New Zealand to Harvard and then really becoming deeply interested in international affairs and how they relate to the national affairs of his country.”
Currently Xu is spending the semester abroad in Paris, where he is working as a research intern at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and taking two art classes.
“That really took some initiative to line up and go do,” said Lewis of Xu’s work at the OECD.
“The thing that makes him really remarkable is the breadth of his international interests on top of his very significant technical and scientific knowledge and expertise,” Lewis said. “He is a genuine citizen of the world.”
At Oxford, Xu plans to pursue an M.Phil. in economics with a thesis based on capital flow between advanced economies and developing nations.
After Oxford, Xu is unsure what he will do. “In the short run, I am looking to keep my options open. Maybe I will continue studying [or] maybe I’ll work after my time at Oxford,” said Xu.
But his long-term goals are pretty clear.
“In the future, I will go into public service in New Zealand,” Xu said. “A good place to start is the Reserve Bank or the Treasury.”
Xu said he applied for the scholarship on the advice of his host family, a local family that Harvard assigns to help ease international students’ transition to Harvard.
“About this time last year, I was talking to my host family and they suggested I look into this,” Xu said.
Xu described a long application process that included the submission of a lengthy resume, six references and an application essay—as well as an extended interview process. Because Xu is an international student, he did not need approval from Harvard College to apply.
“There were seven people in the [final] round of interviews, one of whom I sat next to on the airplane going to the interview,” said Xu. “There were also seven people in the selection committee. After a whole day of interviews, they put everyone in a big room. The Governor-General came forward…and read the names of three people [who had won the Rhodes Scholarship]. It was very tense.”
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