My journey to America started when my daughter was 2 ½ years old. I came to America to start a new life for myself and my daughter. My ex-wife suffered from post- partum depression and as a result, my child was the main victim of her abuse. Since my child was so young, she couldn’t verbalize her pain and suffering. After a meeting with my lawyer and child psychiatrist in Singapore, I was advised to relocate abroad for a better life for my daughter.
Singapore is half the size of Cuyahoga County but with six times the population. I remembered the day I landed at Pittsburgh International Airport in the evening carrying my daughter in my arms and towing along my luggage with the other hand. Those days, pre-9/11, were a breeze going through the airport security and a very friendly immigration agent.
My first morning in America was unforgettable. The whole place was covered with snow. We came from a very hot and humid city-state. Through our hotel window, we sighted a bus stop across the road. What attracted our attention was a handicapped person in a wheelchair. The bus pulled up and a ramp came out to welcome the person. The person wheeled himself up the ramp. A long line of cars had developed behind the bus but nobody was honking. Amazing America! I told my daughter later that in many other countries, such services are not provided by the bus and you hardly see handicapped people included in society.
We next trudged to the McDonalds for our breakfast. McDonalds is the iconic symbol of America overseas. We ordered our breakfast and I wanted some “chips.” Oh boy, what a puzzle. Our first lesson in American English taught us that we could have saved a lot of time if I had just asked for French fries.
My daughter looked forward to her first day in pre-school. It was based in a church in downtown Youngstown. She enjoyed her lessons. However, the break time disappointed her because she couldn’t make new friends. The class just divided up into white and black kids and she found herself out of place. Thereafter, she did look forward to seeing her teacher and enjoying her lessons every morning but break times were hard. That soon changed when a boy of mixed parentage [Pakistani-Hispanic] showed up one day. The boy had also been missing school for several weeks because he “could not fit in.”
Initially, kindergarten was tough going for my daughter because she spoke about six languages when she was young and sometimes she would mix the diction. There’s a big difference between the education systems in Singapore and America. Singapore has a very rigorous education system. Whether you become a doctor or an engineer or a lawyer or a teacher or you will work in a factory is decided by the time you attend kindergarten. There are no second chances in the Singapore education system. Kindergarten is the first step of elimination. If you are lucky and you get through the six years of elementary school, you will have to sit for the national examinations. These examinations decide what stream of education you get into – whether you will go for technical skills [ITE, Institute of Technical Education or vocational skills] or you move into a science stream, or an academic stream. Singapore has the second highest teenage suicide rates in the world. Each year a few elementary school students will commit suicide by jumping off their high rise apartments when the results are announced.
My daughter enjoyed her elementary school in America especially when she was admitted into the gifted program. In Singapore, the students experience tremendous stress even in elementary schools. I guess that’s the price Singapore pays for getting top grades in the global PISA education rankings. If you’re successful in the primary school, Singapore students go through another four years in the secondary school, equivalent of our high school. At the end of the four years, Singapore students sit for another national examination to get through their GCE O Levels. This pretty much decides whether you get into their two-year colleges or you are streamed into a polytechnic or again, channeled into the ITE. After two years of college, the students sit for another national examinations, the GCE A Levels. These examinations not only determine whether you get into the four local universities but also decide whether you get into a program of your choice. I guess that’s what globalization is all about, competing with the world for educational prowess.
In the Singapore education system, students study to determine their life. My daughter was lucky to study in America and enjoy her education. As an Asian-American, there is also the social pressure to perform well and get into either medicine or engineering or IT. I am proud of my daughter that she managed to perform well in her school and get into a coveted a 6-year accelerated medical program. From a very young age, my daughter was interested in becoming a family physician and I believe she is on target!
Update September 4, 2018:
My daughter has now finished the first two years of her program and is now preparing to start her formal medical training. She does not know in what area she wants to specialize yet.
After getting my LLM from Case in 2014, I have been working as a legal professional at Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC Cleveland Office for the past two and a half years.