Walking down the hallway to the cafeteria, with blood pumping in my head and sweat pouring down my forehead, I remind myself that I am almost at the end – and that this was my last final exam. Breathing heavily, I decide to do some last-minute cramming, figuring that while I do not necessarily need this, it would ease my nerves. This in fact did the opposite, showing me that I did not understand most of the content. Panicking, I pulled up Crash Course on YouTube, only to find that the lunch bell just rang, with everyone leaving in flocks to their designated classroom. Really, so short? Has lunchtime always been this short? Did I really study enough to score well?

Snapping out of my thoughts and rushing to the classroom, I realized that I only had 2 minutes to spare. Sitting down on the cold and unwelcoming chair, I could not help but think about my review and its adequacy– or inadequacy for that matter. No matter, I could not dwell upon this any further since the test had already begun. Taking a deep breath, I slowly flipped over the first page and began to work on the seemingly never-ending biology questions.

After a grueling 90 minutes of calculations, writing, and recalling, time was called. After hearing the ear-splitting ringing of the stopwatch, I took a look around and realized that I was the only one still working. Everyone else seemed bored out of their minds, either reading, doodling, or sleeping lazily with their heads plopped on the desks. In a short-sighted panic, I quickly arose from my chair and handed in my test to the teacher, embarrassed that I had taken so long to complete it. After we were dismissed, a couple of my classmates came up to me and started talking about the test, and where they think they went wrong. I was only half paying attention when one of them said something that has still stuck in my head to this very day – “Hey Evan, why did you take so long to finish that test back there? I thought you were gonna finish first, given you’re smart and all. I mean, you’re Asian and all…”

That took me by surprise. A lot of surprise.

After hearing this, it got me thinking. Why were Asians associated with being smart? Other people who were not of Asian descent were also clearly smart, so why were Asians the only ones who got “credit” for this intelligence? Or was this mockery of sorts?

After thinking about this for a couple of weeks, still not being able to come up with a coherent answer, I received an email from my teacher. Clicking it open, it read — “Congratulations, Evan! Your final exam score is 98. Have a great summer!” After reading it a first, second, and finally a third time, I visibly tensed, confusion etched onto my face.

“Only a 98?” I thought to myself, still conflicted if I should be proud or disappointed in my final score. On one hand, I felt proud of my score since I managed to score really highly despite not feeling fully confident in my review. On the other hand, I felt disappointed since I had not gotten a full 100%.

After a while, I thought to myself, “why should I be disappointed that I got a 98? That’s only 1 question wrong, and it’s really close to the max score of 100. Why am I not happy with myself?” Sitting down at the dinner table, I thought of many theories about why this could have happened, but the one that stood out most to me was something that reminded me of my previous experience. Despite my relatively high score, I was disappointed because of my background being Asian, and therefore being smart.

Now, don’t get me wrong, currently, I would happily take a 98 as a final exam score. But, looking back over this event, my past need to fit into “Asianess” stopped me from fully appreciating the efforts I put into studying, which ultimately paid back in my excellent final exam score. I was so obsessed with fitting into the Asian norm of being smart that it stopped me from realizing the large payouts of my countless hours of study.

This experience showed me that, while fitting into cultural and racial boundaries or norms is not inherently a bad thing, not fully appreciating everything you have done because of your race is a big hindrance. Ever since then, I had become fully appreciative of my efforts, even if it was not the results I was expecting, and realizing that not fitting into racial norms was a valid option as well.

Don’t feel discouraged if something you had done did not align with cultural norms, and instead take that opportunity to break free from being normal and create a new environment altogether. Yes, we are all Asian but don’t forget that we are also American, and therefore need to appreciate both sides of the spectrum.

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2 thoughts on “Cultivating New Cultural Environments”
  1. Evan,

    One aspect of the “model minority” myth is Smart Asian. This label denies personal differences, preferences, and efforts. Rip off this label, just be the best of yourself.

    Xi

  2. Evan, being unique is better than being perfect. The theme and idea of the article are excellent.

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