Building a Borderless Education

Imagine flying 20 hours across the globe to a strange place. You barely know anyone, the language is not your native tongue, and you’re in one of the top 20 biggest city in the United States. This is exactly what Isabelle Hung has done by coming to Boston for two weeks at only 17 years old. This is not, however, the first time Ms. Hung has made an extensive trip halfway around the world. The first time she was sent overseas she was only in first grade. That first time, she went to a summer camp in Toronto where she first began to learn English, a language she now speaks as well as her native Mandarin. Quite the world traveler, Hung has gone away almost every summer since first grade, visiting places like New Zealand, Singapore and the United States — all the while improving her English. She says while she was nervous the first time she left home, she now loves traveling

On her current trip, Hung is visiting the United States for the second time, this time for a two-week college program at Boston University. She explained to me how important education is in her home country, saying the attitude can best be described as, “if you don’t go to a good university, have a good job or career and the ability to ‘feed the family,’ then you’re basically failing at life.” Hung’s attitude, though, is a little different. She lost her dad just ten days before the end of ninth grade, and that’s one of her biggest motivations. She says she’s not sad when she thinks or talks about her dad because whenever she does it celebrates his life. “Whatever I do, I try my best to show him that I can be a better person because I know how desperate he would be to see me go to school in the States and have important achievements in my life.”

Growing up in Tainan, an area of Taiwan made up mostly of farms, her parents, she says, always wanted her and her two brothers to have a better education than they did, even though her mother has a college degree. Hung was supposed to attend high school (grades 10 through 12 in Taiwan) in New Zealand, but her plans changed with the death of her father. She now attends an international school 40 minutes away by train and says the commute is totally worth it. Hung described to me the difference in the local school she used to attend and her current school. At her local school, which uses typical Asian education methods, she was never encouraged to share her opinion and all studying was done by rote memorization. At her new school, everything is Western (including the food!) and opinions are encouraged. Hung says this was hard to get used to, but she now loves it!

Despite her drive and determination, Hung is really just an average teenager. She has a dog, she loves to sing, and she plays on her high school basketball team. Her friend and classmate, Nicole Chou, says “she’s talkative but mature… and outgoing.” Hung also describes herself as mature as well as driven and a perfectionist. No doubt that drive will serve her well in her ambitious future.