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When I moved from China to the Philippines during my sophomore year, my world turned upside down. Instead of ancient Chinese classics, Chinese geography, and Chinese history, I studied Shakespeare, geography, and U.S. history. In China, catching up to these humanities classes was largely possible because the Chinese education system emphasized memorization rather than critical analysis. However, when faced with such a large gap in cultural and historical references, I found it very difficult to fare the “slings and arrows of my outrageous fortune.”
Such a quandary, however, was not without a solution. Instead of opposing my two binaries—China and what was not China—I focused on what remained constant and found solace in Math and Chemistry. When I encountered familiar equations and symbols, it felt as if I had found the lost key to the Tower of Babel. Without translation, I knew how to appreciate the undulating waves on the chart expressing the ideal gas law, the precision with which p-orbitals enveloped the x-y-z axes, and the Rosetta stone upon which life has sprung: the Periodic Table.
After a year or two of adjusting to an international school in the Philippines, I eventually grew comfortable with the humanities. My English improved, and I learned how to astutely analyze different texts. I realized that as I learned the underlying principles of critical analysis, I could apply them in the same way that I applied the rules of math and chemistry. As I began to tackle more advanced content in my IB HL math, physics, and chemistry courses, I saw how even STEM subjects required me to evolve: calculus, engineering physics, and materials sciences also demanded the ability not only to recognize patterns and follow rules, but also to apply a nuanced analysis to complex situations.
Over the years, the STEM subjects have acted as a lighthouse that guided me through a sea of academic upheaval and transition. I have grown to rely on them as the source of comfort and continuity, and they have shown me how to remain reasonable and calm in the face of any challenge.
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