Her facial expression drops. Senior Ashley Fung had just been told that her mother canceled their plane ticket to fly back home and that she was going to stay in the U.S. forever—a country over 3000 miles across the continent from her hometown of Barquisimeto, Venezuela.
Although she was born in Los Angeles (LA), Fung moved to Venezuela when she was three months old. She grew up there, occasionally visiting her relatives in LA for vacations. During her last two-week trip to LA, her mother asked her if she wanted to move to the U.S. because of the better educational opportunities available. Fung agreed, and at 14 years old, she left behind her immediate family and started life in a new country with a new education system.
“I remember how nervous I was when I stepped into Garvey Intermediate School and started filling out papers,” Fung said. “When I was little, I used to watch movies about being in American high school, and I saw that people would get bullied, so I was really scared I would get bullied too since I was going to be the new kid. I thought I wouldn’t make any friends because I didn’t know English fluently and didn’t understand American culture. However, everyone was actually very welcoming.”
Fung immediately moved into her new household, which included distant relatives. During her first year in the U.S., she struggled to adapt because she was unfamiliar with the American educational curriculum, which was more fast-paced than that of Venezuela. Although she knew how to speak some English, she lacked the confidence to speak it in school. She spent most of her lunch time in the classroom doing the assignments she had missed instead of socializing with others.
“In school, I knew that I had to work twice as hard in order to get the same results as my classmates,” Fung said. “I had a difficult time trying to understand content like U.S. history, since it was very foreign to me and I had not learned U.S. history and politics beforehand. I used to ask a lot of questions after school because I had multiple questions all the time.”
When she started high school, Fung would spend her free time constantly working on and redoing assignments out of fear that she was completing them incorrectly. In order to catch up on her classes and learn course material, Fung would study for two to three hours every day with her friends in the College and Career Center.
“I learned how to manage my time better and to be focused when I needed to be,” Fung said. “At times, I also went to the library or my nearby Starbucks to do my homework or study for a test, because there was nothing distracting me there. The most time I have ever spent doing this was 12 hours.”
Fung pushed herself to persevere through her studies by thinking about her family and how they were working day-in and day-out to support her. She wanted to work just as hard as they did to make them proud.
“Before my mother left for Venezuela, she handed me a very powerful and wise Chinese poem that she wrote,” Fung said. “Whenever I was at my lowest points, I would read it and push myself to do better because I knew my parents were working hard in order to sustain my living in the U.S. I tell myself that I have to persevere because, otherwise, all of my parent’s sacrifices and mine would be in vain. I have kept that piece of paper for almost four years now.”
After making new Spanish and Mandarin-speaking friends, Fung finally adjusted to living in the U.S. She believes that her struggles of immigrating and learning in a foreign country have taught her how to be self-sufficient. After reflecting on her immigration experience, she plans on attending college either in the U.S. or Hong Kong, where her immediate family currently resides.
“During my education process in the U.S., I’ve matured and learned how to be independent, which I consider to be my most important value,” Fung said. “I have learned so many things not only from the classrooms but from the people and their cultures as well. I’ve met many people who have their own dreams that they want to achieve, and they work hard for it, which inspires me to do the same.”