The experience that I received from attending the International Mathematical Olympiad was both enjoyable and undoubtedly irreplaceable. I feel very privileged to have been given the chance to represent New Zealand in such an important and remarkable event. It all started for me several years ago when I just 15 and attended my first training camp in Christchurch. Back then I thought of mathematics as a fun toy to play with rather than an area of knowledge with which a serious contest can be formed. Unfortunately I did not even make the training squad in my first two years of trying, but I guess that the saying “third time lucky” really worked out for me. Before I knew it I was attending lectures and training beside the best mathematicians in the country. It was truly an honorable feeling.
The trip to the IMO itself began with a flight to Hong Kong, where we stayed for several hours before finally flying off to Vietnam. Unfortunately during our stay in Hong Kong we were only given the option to explore the wonders of the airport rather than of the city itself. Shortly after, we left for Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and our final destination. When we arrived and I took my first step into Asian territory, the heat was already just about enough to make me second guess whether the trip was a good idea. However we all quickly adjusted to the new climate and began exploring the hotel and the general vicinity in which we stayed to discover that there really is an enormous gap of cultures between New Zealand and Vietnam.
On the evening of the second day was the opening ceremony to the 48th International Mathematical Olympiad. The show was spectacular with a wide variety of traditional dances and other performances, followed by insightful speeches given by the head figures of the organizers of the IMO. The following day (giving us only one and a half days to adjust to our new environment) the contest began and the sweat really started to pour. After the two days of competition we finally felt like we could relax somewhat and socialize a little more with the other teams. Almost every day the guides took us to different historical and natural sites, including Halong Bay (a fantastic natural wonder sculpted by nature and time over millions of years) and a superb silk market where I acquired a fabulous green tie to take back home to New Zealand.
The results from the Olympiad eventually started to arrive and I remember the feeling I got when one of my team mates rushed into my room and said I won a bronze medal. I was shocked, surprised, overjoyed and relieved all put together. As a whole, the New Zealand team did relatively well, winning a grand total of three bronze medals and two honorable mentions; a performance worth congratulations in my opinion.
So overlooking the few bumps we had along the way, the entire experience was extraordinary and without a doubt an amazing one. I do pity the fact that I will no longer be allowed to compete next year, but I hope I will be given the opportunity sometime to pass on any knowledge that I acquired to future contestants who are just as eager about mathematics as the members of our team were. It really is a shame to say goodbye to Olympiad mathematics, as I grew quite fond of this fun version of math, and I hope that the future participants of this competition will enjoy it just as much I did.