Gone for Five Years

Reflecting on my changes from five years of international schooling


Collin Qian, Web Editor

It was impossible for me to look at my dad without drenching my collar in tears, knowing it would be a full year until I would see him again. I endangered many trees by soaking paper towels in the car, at the check-in desk, at the airport and on the airplane itself. I was probably as annoying as the typical cry-baby oh wait, I was that cry-baby.

Before moving from California to Shanghai, life was simple. I was carefree as a child, not having a say and not wanting a say in what direction my life was going. I had two older siblings who I looked up to, and on top of that, two parents who spoiled me and made my decisions for me. I simply complied with my parents’ decisions and remained comfortably in my siblings’ shadows, taking the path they spent their whole lives carving. Whether it was the sport I played or the classes I took, the course of my life was a result of my two siblings’, Angella and Bill. I played tennis because of my sister, and played the piano because of my brother.

Me living in Cupertino during 3rd Grade

I went to the same tennis practices as my sister, and she was always at the top court while I was the youngest — trying to do my best to not embarrass her. But unlike most people who would’ve been discouraged for not having their own spotlight, I had no problem as I took pride in being related to my well-recognized sister.

As an elementary school student, my daily routine was to go to school, eat food and go to bed. I enjoyed it, but it suddenly changed in fourth grade when my mother was offered a job relocation to Shanghai, China to take the role of CFO in the Chinese branch in her company. The benefits of the offer were too great: it covered living expenses and school tuitions. My mother only agreed to go if my siblings and I were to go with her, and so really, it was up to us. My sister was the first to say yes, and because I didn’t want to be separated from my siblings, I agreed to go too. My brother ended up agreeing to leave too, and we left our dad behind. I hoped my efforts to stay in touch with my siblings were going to prevent our separation, but we were separated anyway. Like smoke on a breeze, we slowly drifted apart.

The plane landed, and I stopped crying. It was so dry and warm that my tears probably evaporated before leaving my eyes. This was it, I was past the point of no return. I was in Shanghai, China. Settling down wouldn’t be the hardest. I mean, it was fifth grade, how hard could fitting in be? It was an international school, so I had little fear of being the only American.

And I was right. I seamlessly fit in and made friends quickly. So, why would I be writing about my change from fourth to fifth grade? They were practically the same, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Little did I know, my life changed drastically. Certain skills like decision-making were now a necessity for me. I searched for those skills like I used to search for missing toys in my bedroom; I ran miles in circles within my underdeveloped brain only to find the words, “listen to your mom and dad” and “follow Angella and Bill.” What mom and dad? How can I follow Angella and Bill if I rarely see their faces anymore?

I was holding my breath, blowing all of my problems and disturbing thoughts into my balloon of comfort. But a balloon can only grow so large before it pops. First, I was separated from my dad, someone who laid out my whole life like a map, pinpointing all the destinations and goals I needed to achieve in order to be successful. Then, my mother became too busy with work to show mental or physical support to her 10-year-old son who was dropped in a pool with sharks. The final breath of air that tipped me over a breaking point, popping my balloon, was my detachment from my siblings. I left Cupertino because I was so scared of being alone. I grew up with my siblings and would’ve done anything to stay with them, so that’s what I did.

They were going through their last two years of high school, and I didn’t blame them for them sticking their heads inside textbooks instead of following my life; I just felt lonely. After I spent a whole day with new classmates, I came home hoping to find some comfort and familiarity, but instead, I was greeted with locked doors and signs reading, “Do Not Enter, Practice Testing.” I quickly made friends in school, but they weren’t enough to repair the giant tear in my balloon. It had already burst, echoing the sounds of a bang throughout the house that I figuratively lived in alone. The echo taunted my naive self thinking that life was going to be fine as long as I was by my siblings. I was a stranger to my own home; I was lost.

I needed to change — I couldn’t live life like I used to. No one was there to carve the path for me anymore. No one was there to make every decision for me. I had to step out of my shell and stop relying on my family to do everything for me.

I started becoming a little more defiant. I stopped bothering to tell my mom or my siblings what I was doing or where I was going. They were probably too busy to care anyway. I reached a point believing that I could do things on my own, thinking that their help would only slow me down.

I used to tell my mom everything related to school, my friends or anything that was happening in my life, but I was usually returned with neglectic “mhms” and periodic nods. I realized she didn’t have the energy to care, and so I did her a favor and took out the option. I wanted to make her life easier, and I even remember her even telling me, “You need to learn how to be independent.” Those words stuck with me.

My mom forcing me to take a picture in front of some place in Taiwan

At first, I was hit with a barrage of emotions: sadness, that I wasn’t the son my mother wanted, anger, that my mother didn’t seem like she wanted to be apart of my life, and confusion between the two emotions. The emotion that hit the hardest was sadness because I was left alone, with no one to help me figure out my life. Eventually, I learned that I could accomplish tasks by myself just as well, if not better than with the help of family, and this really boosted my confidence. Being distanced from my family left me feeling empowered, and after a while, I was pretty much over the sadness of not communicating with my mom often.

Once in a blue moon, my mom would be in the mood to talk with me or take me out to dinner, and sometimes I would give in and spend some time with her, but most of the time I would use the excuses of “I have too much homework” or “I already ate” (even if I didn’t). I used to gratefully accept when my mom offered to help me, but I started rejecting those offers, realizing my potential as an individual.

I had to carve my own path. I couldn’t mimic my siblings, especially because they went to different schools. I was completely on my own and I mainly just tried to fit in. My interests in tennis and piano slowly diminished as I used to only find joy in those interests because of my siblings. Without them pursuing those interests beside me, I didn’t feel any motivation to continue, so I stopped.

Instead, I started playing basketball and joined some academic competitions like the World Scholar’s Cup, and suddenly, none of the activities my siblings were a part of mattered to me at all; it’s not like I could just

My friends and me winning 1st in SEA and 4th overall in the World Scholars Cup Hanoi Global Round

copy them anyway. I, instead, just explored interests through my friends, hoping that luck would help lead all the nice and smart people to me. This time period changed my life forever and is a large defining factor of who I am today.

I realize that although I felt lonely and sad during that period of time, I’m grateful that it happened. Now that both my siblings are in college, I’m practically an only child, and I’m used to it. This process of me being detached from my family was going to happen to me sooner or later, so I feel like it is better that it happened earlier. I have found my own path, and even though I obviously still have some influence from my siblings and my friends, I am able to say that I went off the path my siblings dug for me and picked up my own shovel. I have found my own interests, and they are things that bring me joy without me needing someone beside me to enjoy it; I can now enjoy life as it is, without needing my family beside me every step of the way.

This was the first time I ever encountered any form of change, and it was too heavy and fast for my 10-year-old self to withstand. In a flash, I lost my home, my parents and my siblings. I never wanted to change, but I was forced to. Even though I didn’t completely enjoy the experience, I feel like the independent traits I developed as a result play a significant role in who I am today. Maybe change isn’t so bad after all.