Cyrus Lee, Hong Kong

It was a cloudy, Thursday morning. He was all packed, ready to go. With a boarding pass in one hand and luggage in the other, Junior Cyrus Lee was prepared to take on a new life in America.

In the summer of 2014, Lee emigrated from Hong Kong to live and study in America. His parents sent him overseas in hopes of giving him a better education and the opportunity to attend a four­ year university.

“The first thought I had was [being] sad because I was already missing my friends. I recall that I was crying at the airport that morning and my friends came there to say bye to me,” Lee said.

But the hardest part of Lee’s move was adjusting to the American culture. Lee was scared of the way people dressed and talked ­­ scared because he knew his peers would laugh at his accent and his fashion.

“I think [Cyrus] adapted very well because when I first met him, he was very shy and I thought he was lame. He would act really awkward around others and he would dress really badly. But now, I think Cyrus [fits] with the culture because he is constantly speaking English and he doesn’t dress oddly. His behaviors were deemed as unusual, but in the end Cyrus is still a great friend,” Lee’s friend, junior Ryan Hu said.

Lee left was he wasn’t comfortable with Hong Kong’s education system. The school system separates students into one school for primary one to six (first grade to sixth), and the other, form one to six (seventh grade to twelfth). This annoyed Lee because the maturity level of primary one students were different from those in primary twelve.

As the form six students finished up secondary school, they were required to take the High Stakes Testing, which consisted of math, English, Chinese, liberal studies, physics, chemistry, biology, history and economics ­­ a total of nine different test subjects. If Lee failed the testing, it would prevent him from choosing his major or even going to a college at all.

Lee had to work three times as hard in Hong Kong to maintain his grades and his rank in class, but in America the class work wasn’t as rigorous. In those classes, Lee would be learning two years ahead of the average American schools, and had more than six subjects to study for.

“My cousins told me that the exam was time­-consuming because it required [rigorous] amounts of studying. My parents always said that there was no future in Hong Kong ­­ the opportunities you can take are limited, and there are only three or four majors that are popular. Also, they didn’t want me to stress out so much and study from seven to eight hours everyday just for an exit exam,” Lee said. “I was really scared to take the exam because I heard how hard it was and how much I would have to study to pass.”

Lee only had limited school majors and job choices to pick from, and the ones he chose affected his entire college course and future career. Lee had to make sure the decisions he made would still be the ones he would stick to in the future, as he was only 15. Many teenagers often change decisions as they grow up, but Lee was forced to settle on one earlier. Changing majors in Hong Kong was very troublesome, and it required many scholars to drop classes just to start a different path they want to pursue.

Lee had a friend who chose computer engineering as her major and career, but after a year or two, she realized that it wasn’t fit for her. She didn’t want to drop out of her class because she already made so much progress, and it would be difficult to start again. This made Lee realize how hard it was to achieve success in Hong Kong and how a one ­time decision can lead him into something he might not stick with in the future.

“In America, if you don’t like what major you choose, you can easily switch to another one that fits you more. My desire will change as I get older because I will find out what I actually like and what I don’t, plus I’m a person who can’t really make up my mind,” Lee said.

Lee began to blend it with the school culture and adapt to the new living conditions.

“The [education] pace here is much slower and it’s more relaxing––you have more time to do things you want on your own,” Lee said. “Back in Hong Kong, you didn’t have time to do things on your own that you enjoyed.”

Even his weekends were really stressful because of all his extracurricular activities. Lee attended piano lessons, basketball games, and was tutored in many of his school subjects.

In addition to the heavy workload, the Hong Kong students were very competitive and usually compared test grades or class rankings. The pressure for Lee built up as he tried to impress his classmates as well as live up to his own expectations.

“The good thing about the competition is that it motivates you to work hard and you push yourself to aim higher than the other students. But on the other hand, it also builds up pressure because you’re constantly studying so you pass the final exam,” Lee said. “During the tests there’s the sense of achievement when you score well, but there’s also the sense of disappointment you get when you study so hard but receive a bad grade. I tried really hard so I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of my peers.”

Besides the academics, the environment was different as well. The gray skies, dark clouds and gloomy weather in Hong Kong affected his mood. The outdoor environment makes Lee feel comfortable because of the cleaner air and the abundance of trees.

“[The weather] gives off bad vibes, especially when it’s always raining because it prevents me and my friends [from going] out and [from doing] something productive. It gets boring because the sun rarely comes out and I normally have to do something [else],” Lee said.

With the nurturing learning environment in America, Lee can focus on one thing at a time instead of studying for multiple subjects at once. He is also encouraged because the teachers are more lenient and are willing to help students in need. In Hong Kong, homework and tests weren’t worth many points, while the final test accounted for 70 percent of the students’ grades.

“The Hong Kong school environment made me feel really stressed out. I had to basically lock myself in the house one time to study for the final because if I messed up, my grades would look horrible, ” Lee said.

Because of the never-­ending homework assignments in Hong Kong, Lee often found himself struggling to manage his time.

“Back in Hong Kong, I got pretty mad sometimes because I was always so occupied with my work, and I didn’t have free time to do anything else. Everyday I was just doing homework and studying and even if I did have a bit of time on my hands, it was used towards music lessons,” Lee said.

As Lee began to assimilate with the students at Walnut High School, his social circle expanded. He is able to interact with his friends along with other students during passing period and lunch, instead of cramming and studying for numerous tests.

“Though it was hard to make friends at first, I eventually gained the courage to talk to other people. Everything here is so easy-­going and I learned that to be successful, you need to be brave enough to interact with others,” Lee said. “It also takes time to adapt to everything but now I enjoy being around others. All in all, moving here was the right decision to make.”

By Albert Law, Feature editor
Photo by Jeffrey Tran