Zain Zafar Solving Equations

Zain Zafar Solving Equations (Jodi Fillingame)

Zain Zafar, a grade 12 student at the International School Westpfalz GMBH is this year’s recipient of the International Cambridge Education’s “Top in Country (Germany)” Award for Mathematics.

a color picture of a student with the mayor of Landstuhl being presented an award

Landstuhl Mayor Ralf Hersina preventing Zain Zafar with Cambridge Award (Jodi Fillingame)

I had the pleasure of speaking with him and principal Jodi Fillingame. When asked how one becomes nominated for this award, Zain responded that it actually came as a surprise. He took an internal Cambridge exam and did exceptionally well on it. This exam placed him on a nomination list and he was eventually notified of winning the prestigious award. Upon listening to him speak about his curriculum in A-level mathematics. I could instantly tell how driven and focused Zain is.

I asked Zain what got him interested in Mathematics. He expressed that his dad, a mathematics professor, is his inspiration. Zain said that it has been very helpful in his journey to have his dad’s guidance and support and to witness his passion for mathematics. He shared, “Because I moved a lot in my childhood years, about four countries, I’ve not had much of a base subject I could study just because of different languages and voices except for mathematics which has been the same throughout.”

I also asked Zain, what goes into training for the award. Although the award came as a surprise, getting to the level of advanced mathematics Zain is at took some serious discipline. He conveyed a huge part of it was scheduling. He decides what he wants to learn and makes a schedule to practice it. In preparation for the exam, he would choose one topic a week and after completing a set of problems, he would redo them until he was confident in the area.

Not being afraid to ask for help was another aspect, getting as much help as possible from his dad and other staff helped him to grow. He said, “To me, success is not to do extraordinary things. It is to do ordinary things at an extraordinary rate, because you really want to keep the basics grounded.”

It’s not common to hear about such advanced mathematics being taught at the high school level. However, after listening to the way principal Jodi Fillingame spoke about her and the rest of the staff’s support for Zain, it is clear that the International School is unique and the programs are authentically about each student.

a colorful picture of a student and his principal with a certificate of award

Zain Zafar and Principal Jodi Fillingame with Award (Jodi Fillingame)

She emphasized how proud she, and the rest of the school are of Zain’s achievement. When asked how the school offers support to their students she replied, “Students are in the center… we really try to stay true to our motto, ‘Dare to do what you dream.’” The school works hard to help students realize their dreams and create a game plan to help them achieve those dreams. They instill future skills, resilience, and the drive to be self-starters. This is evident in Zain’s hard work and the things he has on the horizon.

What’s next for Zain? The award has helped him enroll into a nearby university where he has started studying Aviation Management. In the near future he hopes to be accepted into the prestigious Technical University of Munich where he wants to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace. This would be another outstanding achievement. Principal Fillingame has no doubt he will succeed in his future in advanced mathematics. She and the rest of the faculty extend their support to Zain and other students in any way they can even once they become alumni.

I asked Zain if he had any tips for other kids who want to get better at math. He shared how important it is to explore all avenues in mathematics to continue to grow. That it truly is about putting in the work even when it is mundane. He said, “There are no cheat codes or hacks,” and referenced Kobe Bryan saying that to go all the way “Never ever rest in the middle. Rest at the end.”

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Katie Wells is a writer and mixed media artist with an MFA in Creative Writing. She is passionate about nature, travel, and yoga. When she’s not writing or getting lost in new hobbies, you can find her cuddling up with a latte and her two dogs Zuko and Baymax and Fern the cat.

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