"Oh my god, you must be so good at Math!” For every new incomer in this free and diverse land, we each have a different experience of culture shock. Well, the line above was mine. Before coming to the US, I’d never heard that my skin color has the words “good at Math” and “overachieving” attached to it. Oddly enough, those two phrases will always be the last ways I would describe myself.
For every young adult arriving in the US from around the world, we each have a different background, a different path to follow, and a different story to share. Thus, mine cannot apply to that of everyone else. My story is rather an ordinary one, but I hope it is still worth sharing!
When I was only 5, my mom already drew out for me the dream of studying abroad. When I said “dream,” I meant, it’s not a choice. For me at the time, studying at a large, well-known institution with peers varying in ethnicity and mother-tongue languages seemed to be the most fascinating idea ever. I was aware that going and studying abroad is almost impossible due to my family’s financial condition, yet I’ve never let anything destroy my dream and my desire of outgrowing my own comfort zone. The world can maintain its cruelty, I will forever keep my dream still and fresh in my heart.
Little did my 5-year-old self know, almost 10 years later, I was given the opportunity to study at a boarding high school in the Grand Canyon State. The mystery of how my mom has taken that opportunity and would support me the next 4 years remains unknown, but I could never thank her enough for her sacrifices, only to give her daughters an unimaginably beautiful life.
When I first encountered a number of Americans as soon as I arrived, from the employees in the airport and in Walmart to the teachers and students at my school, I was quite surprised by how cordial they all were. I could have sworn I have never felt such friendliness and genuineness from a stranger before. The best thing about that friendliness, is that it came from everyone that I met, regardless of their jobs, social status, and skin colors.
Being in high school is onerous enough, but I could never quite imagine the difficulty of living almost 14,000 km away from home and creating a new life with a whole new language (dear 5-year-old self, for surviving the first month in the US, your 9 years of learning English will not be sufficient to superbly socialize or study at school). Despite all the hardships that a newbie could face, I tried my best to remind myself every moment, how lucky I was, and how I should make the most of this opportunity. People can say Asians are smart because we are Asians, but not everyone knows the motivations and the hard work behind our humble successes.
I was surprised by how some of my native friends were taking their wonderful education for granted, while so many young people in other Asian countries that I have met would exchange anything for an opportunity like that. They grumbled about how “bad” the teachers were, while I cannot be thankful enough for never having to worry about being insulted, destructively criticized, or even beaten, in front of all my classmates. I envied their freedom of speech and expression, for god-knows how many times I have been yelled at or slapped for speaking up for myself, only because my act of arguing was against the tradition of “respecting adults.” There is so much more to appreciate out of this “crappy schooling system,” as my friend would say, so I hope everyone, not just some of my native peers, can start being grateful for what they are freely given without having to fight for it, such as the right to express your opinions and to make mistakes.
Besides the pressure that high school is putting on us, we are occasionally thrown at rough rocks called “expectations”: the expectation of getting all A’s in school, while maintaining a range of extracurriculars, and still being an obedient kid who knows nothing but listening to the grown-ups. Our major and job wishlists might only contain those practical occupations, such as engineer, doctor, and lawyer. Moreover, it is considered a “waste” to come all the way to America and not be accepted to top-tier universities, the only places that our parents could be assured that will guarantee a proper job and a proper life for us. I hope this is a good thing to do for us kids, but it would be so much better if there are more parents who would let their children determine what they want to achieve for themselves and contribute to society.
I would like to, throughout this article, congratulate and thank all those international students who are studying in the US for their hard work and determination. They deserve more recognition than they are awarded and need more emotional support than they are given. Going abroad is definitely not always luxurious as many people might think. Thus, if you are one of us, there’s no reason not to feel proud of yourself, even if you’re not good at Math or don’t plan to be a doctor. Please, for the sake of humankind, keep your heads up and never be ashamed of your Asian backgrounds, for everyone is a genius in their own way, and we are not an exception.