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Cultural expectations impact success


Throughout history, our country has indoctrinated the entire world with the idea of the “American Dream” — the hope that through hard work and determination, one can achieve happiness and prosperity.

The United States, dubbed the “Land of Opportunity,” fosters more immigrants than any other country. Immigrants come here in search of a better life, opportunity and education for themselves and their families. Many have moved specifically to Palo Alto due to high paying jobs and great schools for their children to go to. Although the decision to move here yields many long-term benefits, most migrants, if not all struggle with assimilating into the customs and lifestyles of their new country, especially if they have Eastern culture due to different values and languages.

Consequently, many migrants from Eastern cultures are ridiculed for being unable to follow cultural norms. This has spawned a stereotype for people specifically from Eastern regions — fresh off the boat — typically characterized by people from Asia.

In today’s culture, “fresh off the boat” culture is typically defined as exhibiting inadequate or broken English along with lack of appropriate manners. But at Palo Alto High School, it is also tied with pressure to succeed due to the long lengths that families have traveled to receive a westernized education. Many parents come to America to receive a higher paying jobs and expect their children to earn as much when they grow up.

Junior Hua Zheng’s family’s motivations were discrete. Zheng emigrated from China to Canada in 2010, first moving to Milpitas and then to Palo Alto. Both his parents still work in China, but they had bought a house here for Zheng to attend high school in the United States.

“My family moved here for a plethora of reasons, but it was primarily to grant me a western education,” Zheng said. “In China, a western education has more prestige. Even when I still lived in China, my parents sent my brother to a British boarding school.”

Due to parents going to great lengths for the sake of their children’s education, students are overwhelmed by unreachable standards that Asian parents hope will result in the direct compensation of their struggle to move to the United States.

“Parents don’t understand student life here. They have unrealistic expectations for me when it comes to academics.”

Jerry Yang, Junior

Contrary to most places in the United States, the struggles of pressure far outweigh the struggles of transitioning to a new culture in a diverse area like Palo Alto.

The high-pressure and result-based lifestyles that are seen in many Paly mirrors that of Eastern cultures. The Bay Area has been touted as among the most diverse areas of the United States, which is consequently reflected in its schools.

“The cultures between here and Eastern countries are more similar than people think,” Zheng said. “People have same values and  a lot of the things they do in there are the same as in the United States.”

In addition, most schools have an English Second Language (ESL) program which provides assistance for those adapting to the new language. However, the ESL program has many flaws and for the most part, isn’t really helpful. Students are bound by the program until they are able to pass a language test and therefore declared English proficient. During this time, students of the program are limited in their ability to take certain classes even if they are fully qualified to do so.

“ESL program initially was helpful for like a semester but became pretty useless later on,” said an anonymous Paly student. “I think it actually hinders progress to an extent.”

As a matter of fact, most immigrants who come here learn much more through other activities, like books and TV shows. Resources that are directed towards younger children could prove to be valuable for those learning a new language. Nevertheless, languages are still best learned by speaking the language, which ESL programs provide a haven for immigrants to speak English with confidence.

“A lot of [ESL] programs don’t really help. I could have learned more from it, but you have to work harder,” Zheng said. “I think I learned more from watching Cartoon Network.”

On top of that, ESL programs allow students of similar international backgrounds to meet. Consequently, many new immigrants become friends with other immigrants, forming communities and cliques dedicated to such backgrounds.

“I feel closer to other immigrants since I have more things in common with them,” Zheng said. “When my brother was in Britain, he hung out with other newly immigrated people, even if they weren’t from the same region he came from.”

Even though many view those stereotypes as negative, they are not as radical as people would seem and many are actually admittedly true.

“Most of what the public thinks is actually true,” Zheng said. “I don’t really think too much about them.”

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