Becoming independent of society’s expectations
A Macanese student discovers herself during her time abroad in the opposite environment of what’s at home
Fleeing a stressful educational environment at home to discover another side of herself in a more individualistic society in the U.S., Venus Ieong came to realize that she can be more than what her society expected as her horizon has been broadened while studying abroad.
Ieong is a current junior management science major at University of California San Diego. Ieong is from Macau, the place where students are competitive in school, experience plenty of stressful situations and are under a lot of pressure from their family to do well academically, as she said.
“I didn’t make my (decision to go to the U.S.) until the last two months before I graduated from my fifth year in high school,” Ieong said. “My high school was so intense and I was so stressed.”
Due to parents’ and society’s expectations, it is very common for students in Asian countries to have a routine of going to school from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., working on homework until late at night and repeating those. Ieong was among one of those students. She said she had to put a lot of effort into her studies because she was in a high-ranked high school, which she got about eight assignments a day.
Ieong felt like she did not have time for herself because she had to dedicate herself to fulfill those expectations of others.
“That’s what mostly my life was about,” Ieong said.
“I didn’t really have much time to think of myself or like quietly sit down and think of my future.”
She said she did not learn much in the environment like that because it made her become uninterested in studies.
“We, as students, used all of the time to put into work but then when you didn’t understand something (a teacher) talked about at the class. We didn’t really want to find the teacher to make it clear, because we weren’t really interested in studying that much at that time, because studying made us a little stressed,” Ieong said.
She decided to come to the U.S. to escape that environment after she was advised by a friend with study-abroad experience.
Ieong felt the sense of the individualistic culture in the U.S., as she said no one told her what to do. She got to make her own choices of what she wanted to study as well as allocate her own time. But most importantly, she had time for self-reflection.
“(After I came to the U.S.,) I got some time to really think of myself or what I want in the future,” Ieong said. “I can make myself to realize more about my own characteristics.”
That independence came with a responsibility to be self-disciplined. She said it was difficult at first to make right decisions that would benefit her both academically and socially. She explained that when she was a freshman, she was surrounded by many international students who just came to waste their time as they went out a lot without caring much about their studies.
“How can I pursue the academic results that I want, and at the same time, maintain my friendships?” Ieong asked herself the question.
It was the question Ieong did not have to ask back in Macau because the environment there forced everyone to only focus on studying.
Another side of Ieong that she discovered during her time abroad was her introversion. Ieong said she thought she was an extrovert because she liked to hang out with friends and she was very involved with clubs in high school. She never discovered that back home because of its collectivist culture.
“I (was) raised under the environment, which I did almost everything with group. I mean people are usually (finding) themselves happier when they are with friends,” Ieong said.
“I never (had) the chance or even the thought of trying the more introverted lifestyle.”
She came to realize that she can be happy by staying at home alone, reading books and watching movies, instead of going out with friends.
“Going to the U.S. has completely changed my environment, which I am able to have more time being with myself and (exploring) myself, and that’s how I grow,” Ieong said.
Studying abroad for Ieong means broadening her horizon, and finding her true potentials of how good she can become and to what state she can climb up to. She said many people in Macau are still in their comfort zones under the society’s expectations. She encourages people to step out of those.
“I just think that they can be more, like they can break potential to a level that they (can’t) imagine at the time,” Ieong said. “They can have a bigger dream.”