Brainy Immigrant Kids
By CWK Network Producer
“We are different by culture but not by genetics. It’s all about the messages the children have been sent over time.”
— Deborah Christy, educator
Where will the next Nobel-winning scientists come from? Look at the finalists for the major math and science competitions, and you’ll see a long list of kids of immigrant parents.
Josh Jeng is one of those kids. He’s an A student. He’s won awards for karate, wrestling and piano. But most nights, his priority is homework. “On average I’ll probably spend at least an hour and a half doing homework and studying. If need be, maybe I’ll go up to three hours at times.”
Josh is a child of immigrant parents. “My husband came from Taiwan. I’m Chinese but was born and raised in Korea,” explains Jen Yu, Josh’s mother.
A new study says kids of immigrant parents excel not only in school, but in all sorts of competitions, ranging from music to science fairs to spelling bees, and not because they are inherently smarter.
Deborah Christy, an educator who has taught immigrant kids, says, “We are different by culture but not by genetics, and so there is no biological difference. It’s all about the messages the children have been sent over time.”
Such messages often are rooted in their struggle just to get to America, a trip often paid for by their families in their homeland. “For them to support us to come to this country to get that higher education was an enormous burden for the family. Then, in turn, we felt like we have to do our best to get the results,” says Jen Yu.
Deborah Christy says that family history is a major motivation for immigrant families. “On some level, they have passed that drive onto their children. Do this one thing, and do it absolutely the best. Not the best of your ability. But the best it can be done.”
So Josh works hard, because his parents expect it. And because his vision of the future isn’t tomorrow or next weekend, it’s the rest of his life. “So it’s whether you want to have a hard life now, and invest in the future,” he says, “or have an easy life now, and then have a hard future.”
Top of the Class
The children of immigrants are becoming the top math and science students in the United States, dominating academic competitions and representing the strongest hope the nation has of keeping an edge in high-tech and biomedical fields. The National Foundation for American Policy found that foreign-born professionals and students are contributing more to American society than first thought, and that their children are the nation’s rising intellectual superstars.
- Children of immigrants account for 60 percent of the finalists in the 2004 Intel Science Talent Search. In 2003, three of the top four finalists were foreign born.
- Children of immigrants account for 65 percent of the U.S. Math Olympiad’s top scorers.
- Children of immigrants account for 46 percent of the U.S. Physics Team members.
- Over half of the engineers with doctorates working in the United States are foreign-born.
- Forty-five percent of math and computer scientists with doctorates were born outside the country.
What Parents Need to Know
Family emphasis on education is nothing unusual for immigrant families. Experts agree that the only differences between children of foreign and domestic parents are cultural. Since no biological differences exist, the only element for these youngsters’ success is the values instilled from their families. Many immigrants site their struggle to have a life in America and the blessings of our country’s freedoms as driving factors in their success.
- Encourage your child to participate in academic, not just athletic, groups and clubs at school.
- Parents can read newspapers or books to model educational behavior.
- Set aside learning time every evening. Adults can read or finish work brought home from the office while children study and tend to their homework.
- Reward your child’s academic achievements.
- Demonstrate a strong work ethic. Children will see that academic and financial successes are interrelated and important in the future.