Letters from the Dorm: Sink into sadness, or build your own parachute

Chloe Lau
  • One junior reporter writes about the difficulties she had when she moved from Hong Kong to attend boarding school in the US
  • It’s only natural for obstacles to appear, and it’s fine to ask for help
Chloe Lau |

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Sometimes, it’s up to you to prevent yourself from falling!

By Chloe Lau, 16, Blair Academy

Plummeting through the air, I fumbled for my parachute … but it was gone, and I was tumbling to the ground without any help.

Although my misgivings for skydiving prevented any possibility that this nightmare could turn into reality, it was was exactly how I felt at the start of my second year of high school.

I was excited for my new classes when I transitioned from a Hong Kong public school to an American boarding school. As I strode towards the Maths building on the first day, I remember thinking, “Algebra should be a piece of cake!”.

Boarding school 101: A survival guide

However, as soon as the lesson started, so did my descent into confusion.

To my horror, the board was filled with mathematical concepts I did not recognise. Back at my old school, learning approaches were completely different. I grew up thinking that the solution was the most important part of a math problem, and was calculated by simply using an equation. Here, understanding the process behind the solution was the most essential concept, including how equations are formed, how many ways a problem can be solved, and what steps led us to the solution.

It felt like I had to explain how to make a parachute, when I only had experience using one.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed - what matters is how you handle it.

The same situation happened in my other classes. In English, I had to analyse literature by crafting a thesis instead of giving model answers. In history, I needed to write essays expressing my personal opinion on historical events instead of memorising facts and dates. All of a sudden, everything was open-ended, and I was thoroughly lost.

Just like that, the fall began.

Unfortunately, things did not improve after the first month. Seeing my peers flourish in class, I felt too self-conscious to ask my teachers for guidance, worried they would belittle my academic skills. One dreary night, I found myself ranting about my struggles to my sympathetic father, who studied in the US for university, over the phone.

How to make friends in boarding school

“Wouldn’t it be nice if everything had black-and-white answers?” I huffed.

“Would you still call that life?” he replied.

I was left in a stunned silence, torn between crying and laughing at my foolishness. I was already facing culture shock and social differences - I should have expected disparities in my classes as well. When you start a new chapter in life, it is natural to run into obstacles, and academics is just one example out of the many you will face. But then realised that I could control what I did next, and I could either keep sinking into desolation or build my own parachute.

Do students need homework to learn?

The next day, I stayed behind after class, finally opening up to my teachers. To my surprise, none of them expressed any disappointment about my troubles. Rather, they were glad I reached out, and eager to help me get acquainted with American learning methods.

Of course, this was easier said than done: it took many extra-help sessions, and lots of self-revision, progress feedback, and practice. Eventually, my class materials and assignments no longer confused me. Besides receiving several commendations from my teachers for my improvement, I even won an Outstanding English Award at the end of the year.

Look beyond academics to avoid feeling lost

Not only do these achievements motivate me to continue working hard, but they also remind me what I am capable of.

With my third year of high school starting in one week, I know I can expect more academic challenges ahead. But I am ready to plunge into the sky, find my balance, and enjoy the exhilaration of the journey.

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