For many families moving from China to P.E.I., different opportunities in the education system for their children were key to their decision to immigrate.

Bella Zhu moved to Charlottetown three years ago, and is now in grade nine at Birchwood Intermediate. Every second afternoon Zhu works as a waitress at Splendid Essence Restaurant, something she says would amaze her friends back in Jiangsu, China.

"They would never imagine that. They would think it's impossible," she said.

"In China, like my age in China, they're all studying in school. They don't even have free time."

And that is just what her parents were hoping for, to get her away from a school system some feel values academic success so highly that it leaves room for very little else.

It's a system Tina Xu, who moved to P.E.I. a few months ago with her husband and two young sons, is very familiar with. She was a kindergarten teacher in Jiangsu, and now works at an early childhood centre in Cornwall.

"I want to give them freedom, and relaxing," she said.

Xu's sons, Yong and Bei, are just four and six years old. But Xu said even at that age, in many parts of China, the pressure is on.

"Sometimes in kindergarten teachers will give them freedom to play, but parents will give them some homework or take them to some institution to study," she said.

It's a pressure driven by numbers. There are 1.3 billion people in China, and Xu said, a limited number of good schools, universities, and ultimately, jobs. In many areas of the country, from an early age, it is students' test scores that determine the path they follow.

Richard Liang - custom

Richard Liang believes he will have better opportunities to attend university in North American than in China. (CBC)

Bella Zhu wrote her first important exam before she started elementary school. It was an entrance exam, and her results were a big factor in the quality of the school she attended.

"Everybody wants to be the best," said Zhu.

"The parents give you pressure to do lots of work. They want you to have a better future when you grow up, to have a wonderful life for yourself."

Richard Liang has keen memories of that pressure. He's a grade 11 student at Colonel Gray now, but last year he was still in Beijing.

"There's a lot of people in China," said Liang.

"We need to have a better grade than the other people, then we can go to a better school than them … We study all the time.  It's a lot of pressure."

Coming into the P.E.I. education system gives the Chinese immigrants a big head start in some areas. Even Tina Xu's six-year-old son Bei, despite his limited English, is feeling good about grade one at Sherwood Elementary.

Tina Xu

Tina Xu brought her sons to P.E.I in the hopes her sons would be able to lead a more balanced life. (CBC)

"He told me, "Mom, it is easy with the math.  I can do it easy.  But my classmates do it, it's difficult,'" said Xu.

Over at Birchwood Intermediate, Bella Zhu is feeling the same advantage.

"The students in my class are always like, 'Wow, Bella, you're so smart.  You're a genius.' But I'm like, 'No, it's because I learned it already.'"

But there are other aspects of school in Canada that Zhu has to work harder at. There is the obvious need to continue improving her English, but she said she's learning other skills she just wasn't taught in China, things like critical thinking, debating, and working with her hands.

"We don't have sewing, cooking, or woodshop in China," she said.

"There's more action. You can do your thing by yourself."

Bella Zhu

Bella Zhu says she would never have time for a part-time job in China. (CBC)

Richard Liang is facing many of those same challenges, but like Zhu he is also finding time to do things apart from attending class and studying, and enjoying having the time to do that.

"I joined the double A basketball team this season," said Liang.

"I have time to relax so I'm more energetic every day, and I can do things well, and do things better."

One thing hasn't changed for Liang and Zhu. They are both still aiming to get into a good university, likely in North America.

Zhu said while her goal hasn't changed, the big difference is she has the time to enjoy her life right now.

"I feel I'm lucky," she said.

"I'm so glad I moved to Canada."