Breaking Cultural Convention with a College Degree - Ziyan Chen's College Prep Journey

By Aisha A. RSS Mon, December 8, 2014

Ziyan Chen is one of the few students that have consistently participated in both my SAT and College Application workshops, which focused on practicing SAT test strategies and introducing the college application process, respectively. She is a rising senior at Little Flower High School and a recent immigrant from China, who has resided in the United States for only about a year. Like most students back in China, Ziyan was very shy and quiet in class. Even when I called out her name to participate in class discussions, she spoke with barely audible voice and lack of confidence. She shared with me that, unlike most Chinese immigrants from Fujian province who run their own low-end restaurants in Chinatown, her parents worked as low-income local workers. There was no one from her family, who had yet made into American college, and there was huge pressure from close relatives and friends, which discouraged her from going to college. For those immigrants struggling daily at the margin of American society, college degree is expensive, unrealistic, and most of all, unworthy compared to the earnings they could make in starting their restaurants at an early age.

Despite these barriers, however, Ziyan is the only student who has attended every single workshop and completed all the required assignments. As many Chinese recent immigrants do, Ziyan had very good math skills but struggled profoundly with English vocabulary, reading, and writing. She devoted a lot of efforts into these areas. Her assignments were often full of marks and notes of new vocabularies and their dictionary definitions. Even beyond the summer program, she continued to work with me on her college essay after editing her first draft according to my feedback. And she was so studious that she would often approach me after the workshops with questions about the workshop materials and directions for college preparation. There were several occasions that she would come to me after the workshop, pointing out the errors in my presentation on ways of solving certain math problems. One day, it touched me the most when Ziyan and her friend, Jingjing Wang, approached me after our College Application workshop on building extracurricular activities and volunteer experiences in preparation for college. They asked me about volunteer opportunities at the Independence Branch Library as I encouraged students to do in the workshop. I was deeply impressed as my words indeed made an impact in the students’ mind and lives. They are now assisting the librarians in shelving books, which continues even after our summer program ends. With these efforts, her SAT scores in both math and English have risen over the summer and she starts to have a clear road map, with a refined resume and application ready, for applying to her dream colleges.

 Fortunately, her parents are supportive of her college dream. And she is so into science, rather than business, that she needs a college degree to break the cultural convention that tries to define her life path. Listening to her stories and witnessing her progress, it becomes easier to understand her reserved and unconfident attitude and, at the same time, determined and dedicated effort not just as something influenced by Chinese culture but a daily struggle central to the life of most Chinese immigrants. And I am truly honored to be able to participate in their struggles and make maybe a small, yet positive, impact.

Liu Jiang
College Prep Specialist - Independence Branch

For more information, please contact:

Free Library of Philadelphia
The Office of Public Service Support (TOPSS)
College Prep Program

1901 Vine Street, Room 5A
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Office: 215-567-2162
Fax: 215-686-5374
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