British Columbia·Opinion

Second-generation kids can feel extra pressure from parents. Follow your passion, says student who did

To the graduating class of 2020, I want you to know that it is not only acceptable, but necessary for you to pursue what truly interests you — even if it goes against your parents' or community values.

To the graduating class of 2020: Don't accept notion there are only certain acceptable fields of study

At L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C., South Asian students are the majority of the student body. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Many people in my family excelled in math, sciences, and engineering. It's a common stereotype that South Asian and Asian families want their kids to pursue these fields of study because they're viewed as pathways to success. 

But there is truth to this stereotype, and many young people feel pressure to enrol in science, technology, engineering and math — also known as STEM — when they get to university.

Throughout my school years, I too felt this pressure. I didn't want to stray far from this goal because when my older sister chose to study arts at university, she felt like our family believed she had taken an easier route.

I didn't want to be perceived that way. 

This weight of cultural expectations made me feel that if I wanted to be seen as respectable and intelligent, the STEM fields were the only option. 

In high school, I took a science-heavy course load and ultimately gained admission into the University of British Columbia's science program. 

I distinctly remember the day I received my UBC acceptance. It was a feeling of validation and ecstasy like nothing I ever experienced before. But deep down, my excitement came not because I was passionate about science, but rather because it was what I was "supposed" to do.

Upon graduating from high school, Surat Singh began studying sciences at UBC — but his heart wasn't in it. (Surat Singh)

Within weeks of my first semester at UBC, I found myself struggling in a number of math and science courses. My lack of passion for studying science made it incredibly difficult for me to take on a science-intensive course load. University courses were far more difficult compared to high school courses. 

Along with my poor academic performance, my mental health also suffered. I no longer felt engaged in things I enjoyed, and I felt isolated from my friends and family. With both my academic and non-academic life spiralling, I realized I had to do something drastic.

Part way through this past academic year,  I developed an interest in the psychology electives I was taking. But it took a few months to come to terms with the idea that it was acceptable for me to transfer into this field which I enjoyed so much.

When I finally decided to switch to an arts degree, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I spoke to my parents, and they were understanding — a lot more than I thought they would be. 

They had witnessed my frustration, stress, and anxiety during the previous semesters, and they knew I needed a change.

Fast forward to the present, and I have realized that my decision to switch degrees has not only made my studies more engaging and meaningful, but I've gained a more optimistic outlook of the future.

So to the graduating class of 2020, I want you to know that it is not only acceptable, but necessary for you to pursue what truly interests you. 

Following your true passion won't be easy for everyone. Some of you may encounter criticism and backlash for your decision. But please remember that your academic career isn't about pleasing others. It's about finding what you love and working hard at it.

Ultimately, it is your passion which will sustain you when faced with challenges you are bound to come across in pursuit of your goals.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQIt's also part of a series called Pomp and Pressure, which examines the stresses and choices high school students in B.C. are facing when it comes to post-secondary education. 

About the Author

Surat Singh is a third-year student at the University of British Columbia, studying psychology. He is also an ambassador for the South Asian Mental Health Alliance, which raises awareness about mental health for the South Asian community in B.C.