A young student works diligently at his desk in New Taipei, Taiwan. He must finish conjugating verbs for his after-school English course. Not to mention the mountain of homework he needs to complete for his regular classes tomorrow.
He glances at the clock. Midnight. There is no way he is going to finish. He can't call his fellow classmates for help, because they won't give it to him. And why would they? With high school entrance exams looming in their future, no one wants to give the competition an edge.
Eventually, he shuts his textbook. This assignment will have to wait.
Across the house, his mother sighs, worried. She cannot bear to see her 11-year-old son suffering through so much stress.
• • •
The summer before sixth grade, Timothy Chang moved around the globe to Tampa from his home in Taiwan. His mother, who had lived in Seattle for six years before, decided an American education would ultimately be better for her son.
"The educational system in Taiwan is getting worse and worse," said Chang, a freshman in the Robinson High IB program. "In (America), the focus is on finding the area that you're really good at. But in Taiwan, they want you to be good at everything, so it becomes really stressful in the end."
To illustrate, he described a typical school day in Taiwan.
"After a stressful day of school, I go home. Then I have to go to after-school (classes) and do extra work. Then I would return home around 9 and do homework until 12 o'clock . . . or later."
The most significant characteristic about studying here instead of in Taiwan's biggest city?
"It (is) less stressful. Definitely. And friends are easier to make."
Taiwan's high population of committed students and an inadequate number of schools makes competition among classmates fierce, even at an age as young as 10.
"It was really competitive," Chang said. "Nobody feels happy for each other, because it's either you succeed or I succeed."
The relaxed atmosphere that welcomed Chang when he started at Davidsen Middle came as a complete shock. With an incredulous tone, he recounted the lack of urgency he witnessed among his sixth-grade classmates.
"In middle school, there are people who don't do their work and get away with it."
That is one aspect of the American educational system he would change: Middle schools should be stricter.
Nevertheless, Chang said he is much happier here.
Though his situation is different from the thousands of Central American children who have crossed the Texas border, whether you come looking for more security, a better education, or purely a more fulfilling life, America means the same thing to every person seeking its opportunities.
"This country is a fresh start."