I was still shy and apprehensive, but I felt like I had finally found my people.
Yen-Rong Wong

15 Oct 2018 - 4:15 PM  UPDATED 11 Dec 2019 - 8:15 AM

I only ever knew I was smart because other people told me so. I started school a year early, but my parents didnt really tell me it was anything special, or that I was anything special. I just loved learning, and school was a place to do as much of that as I wanted. Unfortunately, school also taught me that children, adults, people in general, can be mean.  

I learned to hate the word smart, because I felt like that label only ever brought me grief. I quickly began to associate smartwith different, and as a result, I tried to be as innocuous as possible, which only served to make me a bigger target. I didnt even know the word giftedcould be used to describe a person until my parents stumbled across GERRIC part of the University of New South WalesSchool of Education that is devoted to the education of gifted and talented students.  

GERRIC administered a test every year for these gifted students. There was a primary school version and a high school version the Australian Primary Talent Search (APTS) and the Australian Secondary School Education Talent Search (ASSETS). It consisted of four tests English, maths, reading, and science, that were to be taken over a period of about five or six hours. I was seven when I sat my first APTS test, and I dont really know why my parents thought it would be a good idea at the time but it would be one of the best decisions theyd ever made.  

One in 5 students don’t feel they ‘belong’ at their school
A low sense of belonging is associated with negative behaviours including misbehaviour, drug and alcohol use at school, violence and dropping out of school.

Based on my results in one of the APTS tests I took when I was nine, I was invited to a one-week residential camp at the University of New South Wales to attend a weeklong workshop on the subject Id scored highly on. It took place in January, over the school holidays, so my parents decided to take us all on a family holiday for a week before the workshop started. 

It was my first time in a city other than Brisbane. We went to Paddys markets, and mum bought me a green and white handbag that I really liked, with the proviso that I didnt bring it to camp. (I did). I was unbelievably shy at the time so shy that my grade six and seven teachers told my parents they thought I was socially inept. Looking back, I think I saw that bag as some kind of safety blanketor at least a good luck charm.

I was one of the youngest children there, thanks to a combination of starting school a year earlier than usual and the structure of the Queensland school system at the time compared to those in New South Wales and Victoria, but it didnt seem to bother anyone. No one treated me any differently, and there were kids there who loved maths and reading and science just as much as I did.  

Returning to Chinese school as an adult
My second-chance Chinese class brought me closer to my parents.

I was still shy and apprehensive, but I felt like I had finally found my people. 

There are certain events and people I can pinpoint in my childhood and young adulthood that I can very earnestly say, They saved my life. That very first APTS camp, and the people in it Kim, Wes, and Yael —  saved my life.  

Kim was in charge of the whole camp kids and all but still found time to come to my room and teach me a technique to calm me down when I was homesick and couldnt stop crying.  

Wes was a tall guy with bleach-blonde hair, and my RA (resident advisor). He pulled me out of my shell, and even managed to convince me to play soccer, a sport I would usually not choose to participate in, by virtue of my very poor eye-foot-co-ordination skills, at 7am every morning. Yael, another RA, sat and chatted to me, even when I didnt feel like responding. She put up with my horrible sense of humour, and she gave the best hugs.  

I went to three other camps, one in Melbourne, and two others at a ranch-type place somewhere in New South Wales, and each one built my confidence up just that little bit more. I continued to see Wes at these camps, and on my very last camp, I wrote him a note saying how much I appreciated everything he had done for me. He wrote me one back, in sparkly purple gel pen, saying how much hed loved seeing me grow and develop in the years that hed known me. It seems a little silly, but I still have his note.  

Why migrant kids do better at school
Migrants are motivated to exploit opportunities that aren’t available in their homelands, with the ultimate goal of increasing their social standing.

On my third camp, we were asked to write a letter to ourselves. This letter would be sealed, and we could nominate a date that we wanted it sent to us, at a particular address. I filled four pages, double sided, with words. I cried as I wrote it. I chose my twenty-first birthday, and I waited for it to arrive, but it never did. Thats okay, I think.  

I dont remember the exact details of what I wrote, but I do remember writing that I was proud of myself and how far I had come, how I should keep looking forward and not to lose faith in myself. If only I could go back and tell 12-year-old me what Id be doing in another twelve years.  

Yen-Rong Wong is a freelance writer and the founding editor of Pencilled In, a magazine dedicated to showcasing work by young Asian-Australian artists. Follow Yen-Rong on Twitter @inexorablist.

Four-part series Child Genius Australia will air weekly from Wednesday, 20 November at 8.30pm on SBS. Catch up anywhere, anytime after broadcast on SBS On Demand.

Follow the conversation on social media using #ChildGenius