One of them

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True immersion means fully integrating into the life of a new environment. When my parents sent my younger brother and I abroad when we were 13 and 10 respectively, the plan was for us to live with our elder sister, who was already living in the UK. Never having been abroad before and not knowing much English, I was of two minds: to stay with my sister or to go to boarding school.I knew the only way I could learn the language was to live and breadth the same air as those English girls. My parents were shocked when I told them that I preferred to study and live in a boarding school. That’s how I earned the name, “The Black Sheep”.

Raising my son, Xavier (half Irish, half Chinese) in Hong Kong, making the decision of sending him to a local school instead of an international school, insisting that he could only watch the cartoon channel in the Mandarin language, taking him to the wet market and encouraging him to speak in Cantonese when helping me to buy groceries and not answering his questions if they were not asked in Cantonese; the list goes on. The thought of giving up tempted me like a delicious dessert, especially in the weeks ahead of preparing for school exams, the endless bargainings of how much Chinese he has to do before he can stop and how I laughed when he said, “Can I NOT be a Chinese person today, mom?”. The list goes on. That is how I earned the name, “The Tiger Mom”.

After almost 12 years of integrating his life in Hong Kong, Xavier is now proud to call himself, ‘born and raised’ as a Chinese. He looks proudly to me whether it is a stranger on the bus or the old lady at the newspaper stand look at him in wonder, “How did your ‘guai zai’ learn how to speak Cantonese? so fluently?” With a big smile and replying in flawless Cantonese, I could tells he knows his hard work has paid off. The glowing sparkles in his eyes shine through and warm my heart.

What I remember the most during those years in boarding school was NOT how I did in Math or Science but the weekends and half terms that I was invited by some of my teachers to stay at their homes. I have learned how some English people would eat before they brush their teeth in the morning, I also learned how to pick fresh strawberries and dipped them in the jar of water I carried and ate them right there and then. By the end of my boarding school years, I left with an English accent that lasted until I went to college in America. That English accent also became the laughing stock among my college friends the first year I was there: a Chinese face with an English accent.

In the many years to come, what I believe he will remember won’t be what he got for his Chinese dictation or that he came 3rd in his Chinese final exam. It will be how he often chatted away with the owner of the local breakfast place. The teachers who had motivated and encouraged him not to give up on his Chinese. It will also be how he got away with the candies that the wet market lady gave him for saying, ‘Jou sun’. He also will not forget how we stopped by the street hawker every time to have his favourite local sweet, ‘gai dan zhai’.

While Xavier looks paler and hair lighter than his peers, but he definitely does not feels lesser than them in every way. He does not look at himself as the odd one out. He does not struggle to understand or be understood among his peers. I am purely talking about the language barrier. There are of course other developmental areas such as social skills that are important in terms of the growth of a child. However, if our children can break the language barrier to begin with, it gives them the confidence to build on other areas. The foundation of the building blocks for a well balanced child comes from the ability to communicate. Communication comes from mastering the language skill. To master a language, what’s better than immersing in the life of the locals?

In his spare time, he loves watching the local TVB channel and recently he watched a documentary called, “我們的驕傲”.  It talked about the lives of Hong Kong born athletes and the stories behind their success. Not only was he fascinated with the athletes’ stories but was motivated to write about what he has learned from them and shared with his fellow readers and friends.

He is proud of these amazing athletes. He is inspired by them and more importantly he relates to them. He feels he is ONE OF THEM, born and raised in Hong Kong. I called that true immersion, don’t you?

I am sharing these articles Xavier wrote and hope you will enjoy reading them!

 

我們的驕傲


余翠怡

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Sandy Sinn-Hussey

Motherhood has been a long journey for me. Being a single mother for twelve years, I have learned the importance of mother and child's relationship. Raising children is a lifelong career and require patience, perseverance and love.

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