Reflecting on what it means to be successful

By Korean expectations, I would have been considered a failure.

By Singaporean standards, I was absolutely average.

Growing up with a Korean mom, “success” was always defined by academic achievements. I hated it but I don’t blame mom because in South Korea, grades are an obsession. Relatives constantly compare scores on report cards while society judges you based on the course you take and university you get accepted into. For some, college entrance exams are potentially a matter of life and death.

I was educated through the Singapore system from Primary school to University. Before I could write sentences, the pressure was already on.. my sister studied in Raffles while I was enrolled into one of the other Top 10 Primary schools in Singapore (Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School).

My primary school was the kind of school where you’d have a pretty good chance of making it to a “better” secondary school. In fact, a lot of my primary schoolmates made it to the elite, prestigious schools down the Bukit Timah stretch (Hwa Chong, Nanyang, MGS, SCGS, ACS).

Sadly for mom, I never quite lived up to her Korean expectations or even Singapore standards.

While my peers did well academically, I was more of a directionless primary school kid who just wanted to play football or Counter Strike at the LAN shop opposite school. Mom had hopes and plans for me to enroll into ACS(I) because one of her Korean friend’s son was already studying there.. but the day I got my PSLE results, that option was instantly dashed.

I ended up in Queensway Secondary school. My parents and I had never even heard of such a school before. I chose it only because it was one of the schools closer to home.

From directionless primary school boy, I became a notorious secondary 1 kid. Disrespectful, uninterested, disruptive, doing stupid things, getting into fights.. at the end of Sec 1, I was even transferred out of my class to a different Secondary 2 class.

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