Personal Reflections on the Pursuit for Education

Today, it is increasingly common for students to travel from their home countries to study abroad. In particular, China is the largest origin of mobile students, with 712,157 studying abroad as of 2014[1]. However, this is not new, with Chinese students traveling to other countries for education ever since the turn of the century[2]. Here, I will tell the story of one man who has traveled several times for study and work, which I can relate to, myself, as an international student.

Photograph of Professor Stephen Kah-Sun Sim working in the Plant Lab at the College of Pharmacy, University of Washington, in December 1950. Courtesy of the University of Toronto Archives & Records Management Services.

Migration is complex—it is not always straightforward or linear. Here, we begin at the middle of Stephen Kah-Sun Sim’s journey in the Plant Lab at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Washington, when he was working on his Master’s degree. His intellectual journey led to important scientific discoveries—in this instance, researching pharmaceutically important compounds, which are still used in many drugs today. How did Sim get here, and where did he go next?

Sim’s Migration Story

Over the course of his life, he had traveled several times for education. The Singapore-born scholar first went to his ancestral hometown of Hua-Mee in China, back to Singapore, then China again, where he moved between different cities for his studies, including Teo-Aan, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Although his studies were interrupted by World War II, he was able to complete medical school later in Guiyang. After a period of serving in the war, he began to look into pharmacy programs at universities in North America.

The United States was a popular destination for Chinese students because they considered America as a leader in the fields of science and technology[2], despite the 1943 immigration legislation—the Magnuson Act—allowing only 105 Chinese into the country per year[3]. Sim was one of those 105, and he was admitted to the College of Pharmacy at the University of Washington in 1947, where he completed his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD degrees. Dr. Sim went on to gain employment at the University of British Columbia, then the University of Toronto.

Parallels with My Own Path

Looking back at that photograph of Professor Sim, I am reminded of similar experiences as an international student and a frequent traveller. I also think of my own nostalgia for doing scientific research. Most importantly, it makes me think about how the enriching exchange of knowledge in many different fields is facilitated by international travel. In a 1946 essay[4], Dr. Sim had expressed a firm belief in improving international collaboration through gaining deep mutual understanding, which is something that still resonates today.


Napat Malathum has some experience traveling internationally for education, being born in Thailand, moving temporarily to the United States as a child (following her parents’ own pursuit of higher education), then moving back to Thailand where she stayed until completing a B.Sc. in biology at the Faculty of Science, Mahidol University. She is currently a student in the Master of Museum Studies program at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto.

1 UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2014). Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students. Retrieved from

[2] Lai, H.M. (2004). The Chinese-Marxist left, Chinese students and scholars in America, and the New China: mid-1940s to mid-1950s. Chinese America: History and Perspectives, 1. ISSN (10517642).

[3] Japanese American Citizens League. (2008). An Unnoticed Struggle. Retrieved from

[4] Sim, S. K. (1946, December 7). A Chinese Arrives in the U.S.A. [Essay]. University of Toronto Archives, Stephen Kah-Sun Sim Personal Records, B2009-0017/003(03).

Looking back at that photograph of Professor Sim, I can recall somewhat similar experiences as an international student and a frequent traveller.