I was 13 years old when I first heard about UC Berkeley. My older sister had been stressing about college decisions for months and was excited to finally announce to our family that she was accepted to and would be attending UC Berkeley. At UC Berkeley, my sister majored in economics and graduated in 2016 with a job lined up for her as an accountant at Ernst & Young, one of the Big Four accounting firms. On top of this, my sister was a first-generation, low-income student who truly had to navigate her own way through college. My parents rightfully praised my older sister for her accomplishments — as any Chinese parents would do — and set their focus on me to do the same, especially since I now had a model to follow.
As a result, my high school career was spent doing all that I could to follow the same route as my sister: get into UC Berkeley, major in economics and graduate with a job lined up at one of the Big Four accounting companies. Once I got to campus, however, and stepped foot into Economics 1, I knew that this (economics) was just not it. It’s safe to say that most of my freshman and sophomore years were spent having mental breakdowns about supply and demand and how to integrate different variables.
During my sophomore year of college, I enrolled in Political Science 1, “Introduction to American Politics.” I’ve always been interested in politics, but with the topic being taboo in Chinese culture, I never felt comfortable enough to dive into it nor did I actually get any formal introduction into what politics was. Sure, I took a few high school courses that skimmed through it all, but taking a course in college about politics was eye-opening.
At the same time, I was also enrolled in Economics 100A — which was absolutely heart- and soul-crushing. I would go through a rollercoaster of emotions in a single day because I would be excited to go to my politics class every week but absolutely dread going to economics just a few hours later. Although political science sparked something in me that economics just couldn’t, I still held onto the latter to hopefully find the will to get an economics degree and please my parents.
In the end, political science is what I want to do in life. At first, my parents were confused and not as happy about this choice. I was constantly asked about other majors like public health, computer science and even engineering — you know, those majors that only exist to most Chinese parents. It was difficult to get my parents to understand that 1) I’m just too stupid for STEM and 2) I live for the drama that is our political system.
After declaring political science, I felt a sense of relief but also a huge weight of guilt. Even though I knew I made the right decision, I hated that I couldn’t stick to economics and that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my parents in the same way that my older sister now does. As I continued to pursue political science, the weight of guilt became lighter and lighter. I came to the conclusion that although my parents play a large part in my academic decisions, I was ultimately the one who had to live with the decisions. With the support and guidance of my older sister, my parents eventually came around to the idea that political science was worth the stamp of approval (it helped that I threw around the idea of law school). Along with this, my younger brother will be entering his first year of college next year and can have the opportunity to redeem the Cam family siblings by studying engineering or computer science, which is something he is actually passionate about — thanks, Aaron!
As a child of Chinese immigrants, it’s hard to make decisions that you want instead of decisions that you should make. It’s hard to follow your own path when you have older, successful siblings that help lay out a path in front of you. It’s tough making decisions that you know won’t make your parents happy, but it’s even tougher to live a life just to please your parents. If I hadn’t taken a leap of faith and pursued political science, I would probably be crying at a supply and demand graph right now and trying to figure out the price elasticity of a certain market. At the end of the day, I’ve realized that getting into college — especially the No. 1 public university in the world — is a huge win for myself and for my parents. Who knows, maybe I’ll be the first Asian president of the United States someday.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected].