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My Immigrant Parents Sacrificed; I Slacked

I grew up in Hong Kong. One day when I was 12, my parents told me that we were moving to New York so that I could have a better chance at getting into college.
“Oh,” I said, and walked away, not thinking or feeling anything. It was so sudden that I couldn’t really absorb it. But soon I realized that what they said made sense.

In Hong Kong, we have only a few universities, and they’re quite competitive, so people often send their kids away for college. I realized that my parents were making a huge sacrifice by moving to the U.S., where there would be more opportunities for me. Just before my 13th birthday, I packed just one bag and walked away from my house without looking back.

A Guilty Conscience

It’s been about five years since we moved. After we were in New York for a while, it dawned on me that my parents had sacrificed a lot for this move. They’d quit their jobs, sold the car and the house, and handled all sorts of bank and insurance stuff just to move here.

We used to have a big house in Hong Kong, way bigger than our new house in Queens. My dad used to be the head of a famous glass company with about 350 employees under him. My mom, who did not work at all in Hong Kong, now had to work in a clothing company as a sample maker. Meanwhile, my dad stayed home and became a 24-hour “housewife.” Things were much harder for them, but my life was still pretty easy.

School wasn’t difficult either: Most of what I was taught here was stuff I’d already learned in Hong Kong, so I didn’t take notes or pay much attention in class. Even if it was something I hadn’t learned before, I could easily memorize every word and I was able to get decent grades. Because I felt like I knew everything, I would spend class time just eating or daydreaming. On my report card each semester, my teachers wrote comments like “has the ability to do better” or “easily distracted in class.” I knew I should be trying harder, but I was lazy.

After a while, my lack of effort started making me feel guilty. Whenever my mom complained that New York was uncivilized compared to Hong Kong, I felt that I was to blame. Because of me, they’ve stayed in New York. I saw their faces and thought about how I behave in school, and I felt like a jerk.

Since we came here, my parents have rarely said anything about school or studying hard. But, I feel pressure from myself because I don’t want my parents to have done so many things for me for nothing. Since the first day I arrived in New York and realized the reason we were here, I’ve had this stress; I don’t want to disappoint my mom and dad. Now that I’m a senior in high school, the pressure is really increasing. And finally, my parents are pushing me to take some initiative.

“This year will be the turning point for your future,” my dad told me earlier this year. “You are 18. Right now you are at the crossroads and you have to decide where you should go.”

The problem is, I don’t know what I should study in college or even what I am interested in. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. But I haven’t told my parents because I don’t want them to worry. I just keep it to myself.

Left Out

image by Erika Faye Burke, image by Terrence Taylor

My friends and I all submitted our CUNY applications at the same time. By March, my friends started receiving acceptance letters from colleges, but I got nothing, not even a rejection. Seeing my friends’ faces when they talk about getting those letters makes me feel left out, like I’m nothing. All I can do is offer a smile and wait for my own letter to come.

Recently, I went to play basketball with my friends after school. It was a sunny day and we were on our way to the basketball court when we saw a bus advertisement about a particular college.

“Oh, did you get any letters from colleges yet?” one of my friends asked. But before anyone could answer, he continued with his good news.

“I got mine,” he said, mentioning a selective university with a good reputation. “I got accepted two days ago. I can’t believe I got in. I wanted it so badly and I actually made it!”

“I heard it was very competitive! Congratulations!” said another one of my friends.

I was walking at the back of the group and I felt shame. I wished I had gotten an acceptance so I could relax and be happy. But I couldn’t. I pretended I didn’t hear their conversation and headed straight to the basketball court.

Finally, I received a letter from Baruch College. I came back from school and I saw a letter on my bed with my name on it. I opened it up and as I read through the message, I realized that I hadn’t been accepted. They rejected me because my grades weren’t good enough.

I was not surprised. I expected this would happen because of my scores and how I behaved in school. Later that night, when my dad was cooking and asked me about the letter, I told him it was just an advertisement. I didn’t want to upset him, or my mom.

Plan B

I still haven’t received word on some of my applications, but I think I might get stuck with community college. I am OK with that because I know I created the problem. My parents, however, will be sad that all the sacrifices they’ve made for my education haven’t prompted me to do better. So I’ve made a promise myself. If I do end up going to community college, I will do my best to complete a lot of credits in those two years and then transfer to a four-year college.

I know I am going to get bored easily and be tempted to focus on fun, but I will think of my parents and pay more attention and study harder for them. I know now that if I don’t try harder, I will have regrets later on. I want to work hard to repay them for their sacrifices, and to make up for the years of slacking off in high school.

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