By Jingwei Zhang
At five years old, I moved thousands of miles away and across an ocean, from a village in the Guangzhou province of China to Oakland, Calif. My parents were farmers who wanted me to have a better life, and they had heard that America was a land of opportunity. But it wasn’t until many years later that I realized the difference between my new home and the world I left behind.
When I visited China as a child, I cared only about flicking marbles and eating LiangFeng, my favorite Chinese dessert. Ten years later, I started to understand how poverty was affecting my home village. My older cousin in China devotes himself entirely to his studies, knowing that his household depends on him. Meanwhile, my younger cousin also tries his best, but a 10 percent on an elementary school math test is more typical. Sadly, it is not my family’s lack of talent that is the problem, but the poor environment in which they live. In rural China, adequate teachers—much less excellent ones—are hard to find.
America, however, couldn’t be more different. In ninth grade, I began tutoring middle school students in math and English. By the age of 14, I had learned enough to become a tutor and could earn as much money in one hour as my family in China makes in two or three days. Though I was pleased with my new earnings, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I was compared to my Chinese relatives. But my sadness only caused me to realize that in order to help those without opportunity around me, I had to obtain a higher education.
There is a Buddhist saying along the lines of “You come to this world empty-handed, and you leave empty-handed.” In other words, no matter how wealthy one becomes, the wealth is meaningless at death. What is important is how one lives one’s life and what legacy one leaves behind.
For me, it is to provide a better life for the generations that follow us, just as my parents have done for me.