I had a very different childhood. I was born in Torrance, California, and moved to Shanghai, China where my dad was sent by his company to set up an engineering team. I was just age 2.
From age 2 to age 7, I was a local Chinese student, attending Kindergarden and first grade at a local school.
At age 8, second grade, I was sent to Shanghai American School, a school of mostly foreign students (or ABCs). I found myself unable to speak English at all, much less participate in class or at recess.
Yet, all was not lost when I made a best friend, who had a similar situation as me, though he came to China somewhat later than I did, and had an English tongue. We spoke and played in Chinese, and I even made two other Korean friends, who I played with and communicated in pantomime.
In third grade, everything changed. My best friend told me on the first day of school, “I am going to hang out with those other kids from now on.” Later I found out from my dad it was because his mom didn’t want him hanging out with a Chinese kid. I was heartbroken. The other two Korean kids formed a clique of their own, and so did anyone else I played with.
In fourth and fifth grade, nothing changed. My dad sent me to various, pointing out I looked polar opposite to a healthy kid my age, perpetually sulking and thinking to myself. I was chubby, introverted, and Chinese – a recipe for teasing and misunderstanding. I realized I could make weird gestures with my hand and body to make my classmates laugh, and soon enough, became known as the “kid who never talks.”
In high school, I acquired a very strong math background, having placed second in mathematics in the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), made the USA Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO) and got an above-median score, attended math programs.
I was overburdened at the same time with a heavy AP workload from school and being set in the college admissions game, and, frustrated with the lack of math enrichment opportunities, took it to the internet to discover AoPS, an online community of problem solvers that I substituted for my social life in high school. There, I made my best friends from around the world, including my ISEF partner who I felt understood me. It’s an amazing feeling exchanging ideas with others, so I started a blog and attracted hundreds of followers. I spread AoPS’s mission of teaching problem solving via math to my school by founding its math club, lecturing and spreading the passion for solving problems.
In senior year, I came to the realization knowledge, as society’s great equalizer, is stigmatized when used for competition. While my mathematically high-soaring peers go into quantitative finance or trading, I have decided to opt for a life of service for knowledge, knowing I will never be content playing in a zero-sum game. I tossed around definitions of utilitarianism and impact in my head, coming to a (temporary if need be) conviction that irreplaceability and solving problems are the two key ingredients of maximizing my impact. To bring irreplaceable value to the world is to build something lasting, and in this age, there is no better way to reach my own ikigai than feeling good by building software to solve others’ problems.