Three months ago Chung Wai-lim was using his 180-centimetre frame to his advantage, playing basketball for his school in Shenzhen. Now, after five years of living with relatives in the special economic zone and three years of living there on his own, the 15-year-old has been allowed to join his mother in Hong Kong. In April, he entered Sheung Shui Government Secondary School. But his new Hong Kong school life offers no time for sports and Wai-lim does not think he will be playing serious basketball again for at least six months. He is bright and top of his class in mathematics, but he battles with English. His new school is one of many secondary schools in Hong Kong that are 'English medium'. Weekends are spent watching English-language television, relieved only by short sight-seeing trips to satisfy his curiosity about Hong Kong and its 'efficient' Mass Transit Railway system and 'so many department stores'. Wai-lim's classmates did not go out of their way to welcome him and he struggles with the Hong Kong teenage culture and the easier-going attitude to school work compared with that in mainland cities. 'My classmates are not very serious about studying,' Wai-lim says. 'They talk loudly in class which influences me.' Sheung Shui Government Secondary School and others perceived to be at the lower end of the academic ladder are the only schools accepting mainland immigrant students. Wai-lim's district education officer warned him that the only school willing to take him had a poor reputation, and he was advised to contact schools himself. The school was the third one he applied for. 'I am and grateful to have found a place here,' he says. 'The teachers are good.' Mainland students from the countryside, where the academic standards are generally lower, also have a tough time adjusting. Yung Han, 12, from a small town in Fujian is luckier than most. Han came to Hong Kong with his younger siblings in January to join their father. He now attends the Christian Sheung Wan Primary School. Although he is still trying to adjust academically, Han likes his new school because 'the teachers are nicer than in Fujian' and 'the other students don't beat you up'. Xu Yan, 14, from Guangdong province, entered secondary school in Western district in March this year. Like Wai-lim, Yam also struggles with English. 'I'm top in mathematics and bottom in English' she says. The others students were not very friendly at first and her best friends remain two other mainland immigrants who started school about the same time. 'Most of the students here are not very had working. They talk and laugh during class,' she says. 'Some of them smoke cigarettes.' Yan is no more impressed with her new teachers. 'Compared with my teachers in China, they are lazy,' she says. A September 1996 survey conducted by a Hong Kong non-governmental organisation, The Boys and Girls Clubs Association, showed immigrant children needed more help to adjust to Hong Kong life. The survey, Life Adjustment for New Immigrants Children, provided a comparison between Hong Kong and the mainland. The survey discovered that about 80 per cent of a sample of 260 students were very satisfied with Hong Kong teachers on most fronts. However few were willing to take their problems to their teachers and most felt discriminated against by their local peers. The association's executive secretary, Fu Suk-yin, said unless new immigrant children adjusted quickly, they might not be able to adjust at all. With that in mind, some teachers have suggested establishing special schools for new immigrants. Mainland parents shouted down the proposal, however. 'Parents want their offspring to integrate into mainstream Hong Kong society as quickly as possible,' said Ms Fu. This was one reason why more mainland students did not try to enter Chinese-medium schools as their mastery of Chinese generally excels over that of Hong Kong students. Things could change next year when the majority of Government or subvented secondary schools begin teaching in Cantonese. Until now, according to Ms Fu, parents have considered English-medium schools to be more 'mainstream', believing they would provide their children with greater opportunities for universities and employment. Many of the so-called band-five schools are more than happy to accept mainland immigrant students, says Ms Fu. 'Many band-five schools have their share of behavioural problems and mainland students are welcomed because they are seen as a stabilising influence in the classroom,' she says. Philip Lee, the Government officer responsible for the co-ordination of support services for immigrant children, agrees. Schools have been accepting more mainland students compared with a few years ago, he says. In the 1995-1996 school year, 13,000 mainland children were admitted to primary schools in Hong Kong and 2,000 to 3,000 to secondary schools. Media focus on schools refusing to accept mainland children prompted the Education Department to send a circular to headmasters in August last year encouraging them to change their policy. The diligence and success of some mainland immigrant students have also helped to convince principals that mainland students can be more of an asset than a liability, Mr Lee says. Although the Education Department estimates more than 60,000 school-aged children on the mainland are waiting to come to Hong Kong, it is frustrated by its inability to predict when they will be coming and exactly how many, says Professor Cheng Kai-ming of the University of Hong Kong. 'Mainland immigrant children have traditionally done best in the school certificate examinations,' he says. 'This is because mainland immigrant professionals who found themselves unable to work in their original professions in Hong Kong ended up placing all their hopes on the second generation.' However, now that many immigrant children are the offspring of working-class men who have sought brides on the mainland, this may not be as true today as it was 10 years ago. Instructors are concluding that the biggest hurdle new-arrivals face is within themselves,' Professor Cheng says. 'If they have the feeling that their peers don't accept them, that they will always be at the bottom of the class with others looking down on them, then they may never catch up.' This is why Wai-lim's mother and grandmother often urge him to 'put his head down now' and study to ensure he will gain entrance to university after he finishes secondary school. His parents separated some time ago so the family's main source of income is his mother's low-paying office job. His mother and grandmother constantly encourage him in other ways too, Wai-lim says. 'My mother tells me, 'Don't worry, take it slowly,' or 'Don't expect everything to be perfect at once.' '