Comparing educations between generations

February 20, 2021

Across counties, states, and countries, school systems vary in terms of grading scales, homework loads, and environments. These gaps, as well as generational differences, may lead to assumptions about how taxing school may be, including misconceptions that parents may have about their child’s workload. Although first-generation children may have parents who learned about factoring and literature in a completely different language, just how similar are their educational experiences?

My mom graduated from high school in China and attended college at Tsinghua University before immigrating to America. While I push myself to do my best, I wondered if my parents experienced the same academic rigor that seems to parallel my peer’s and my school schedules.Although balancing academics and extracurriculars may be difficult, there has always been a fine line between a heavy workload and an unreasonable one. In school, I push myself academically and love to get involved in new clubs and outside activities. However, there is a generational and educational gap in my parents’ schooling in China and mine in America. I have heard that academic excellence is heavily emphasized in China, while in America, there is an emphasis on a more well-rounded education in terms of pursuing interests and hobbies alongside academics.

A timeline of Alena’s and Fang’s academic educations. (Alena Zhang (’23))

For my mom, she loved to run track and would often spend hours in the sun, participating in her school team. Since my grandfather worked at the school she went to, she lived there on campus and would walk to school. She tells me of the hours she spent studying for exams and classes.
In China, your admission into colleges rides heavily on one factor: the score on your National Higher Education Entrance Examination (Gaokao). Grueling hours and weeks and months are spent poring over materials in the test, which will ultimately be your ticket into what colleges you are accepted into.

My mother often told me how she wished she had the opportunity to play an instrument, enroll in art classes, and pursue her own hobbies. However, technology and financial limitations prevented her from taking lessons. It is odd to think that the things that have settled into my everyday routine were once her greatest wish, and I feel incredibly grateful for the chance to delve into my interests. I am not saying that my mom lived a hardship-ridden life with no prospect of joy, but I am saying that the opportunities that have been presented to me are far greater than hers during her middle school and high school years.

Although the school systems may be different, our experiences boil down to our yearnings for our interests. When I think of my mother’s school years, which she spent studying intensely in a competitive environment, I feel a sense of awe and gratitude that her work ethic has helped inspire mine.

While we may have been learning in different countries and decades, I think we are both intrinsically connected in our spirit and desires, and they are what continue to push me in school.

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