Jessica Tang — who came to America and the Manteca Unified School District from China not able to speak any English — has received a full-ride scholarship to the prestigious Yale University.
She learned English and then taught it to her parents.
Tang’s grade point average to date is 4.48. She is now ranked in first place in her senior class. She has taken 17 honors and Advance Placement courses while at Manteca High.
School administrators and counselors gathered with her last week as she signed her offer from the East Coast school where she will begin classes in the Fall of 2016. Probably one of the most excited about her acceptance of the scholarship is her counselor Martha Dias who has guided her along her way. She took Tang to the Manteca Soroptimist luncheon last month for another honor.
Tang will officially be the Quest Bridge’s newest scholar at Yale – one of 657 high school seniors nationwide to be awarded the honor at 36 partner colleges.
Students who are selected for the College Match to a partner college are admitted with a guaranteed full, four-year scholarship including tuition, room and board and other expenses. Since 2003, the Quest Bridge College Match has successfully connected over 3,500 high-achieving, low income students to Quest Bridge colleges.
Dias said she has been counseling and recommending students to the Quest Bridge program for the last seven years and Tang is the first to be matched with a school. She said the goal of Quest Bridge is to improve leadership in America by finding the most talented low-income students in the country.
Some nearly 14,000 student applications were screened down to those offered college scholarships this year.
The nation-wide program in 44 states was initiated on a shoe string budget by founders Michael and Ana McCullough – both Rhodes Scholars. The idea for the program came in 1987 from students at Stanford University’s Medical Youth Science Program.
The caliber of this year’s College Matches is reported to be exceptional. In addition to an average GPA of 3.91, the middle 50 percent have received between 1890 and 2140 of the SAT testing and between 29 and 33 on the ACT out of a possible 36.
In her application for the scholarship Tang had to offer an essay on who she was and why she wanted to further her education at the college level.
She wrote that the “condescending stares” and the frustrated tones along with annoyance, anger and worry were shooting back and forth between the two cultures.
“And me – right in the middle of this war,” Tang said.
“It seemed so simple,” she said. “All I had to do was relay every word someone said from English to Chinese and then relay every word my parents said from Chinese to English. But everyone who has ever used Google Translate knows that translations never work that way.”
When she was 4 years old, her family emigrated to the U.S. from China.
Besides “yes”, “no” and “thank you”, her parents didn’t know enough English to express their desires to other people they met. They faced discrimination and scams with tight smiles, she noted, and they promised themselves to become smarter the next time.
“As a young girl I promised to help my parents overcome the language obstacle,” Tang noted.
Even in kindergarten she was motivated to learn English. She borrowed books from the library as she was adamant on only speaking English with her classmates to learn more English. All her efforts were worth the look of astonishment on her parents’ faces when she read the word “San Francisco” one day where it was plastered on a freeway sign. Soon afterwards she became her parents’ Rosetta Stone.
“As I grew older, I came to acknowledge that translating for my parents was a full-time job,” Tang said. “Leaving school early to interpret the medic’s diagnosis for my parents when my brother choked on popcorn? No problem. Sleeping at 3 a.m. on a school night after going to the emergency room because my mom had an allergy attack? I was used to it. Flexibility meant being able to cope with any type of emergency at any time of the day.”
Tang said that perhaps the hardest part of translating wasn’t the long hours but her own lack of interpreting skills. She said it was also a struggle translating difficult terminology – especially those medical ones – when she didn’t know the words herself.
“I became frustrated and confused when I either didn’t understand the doctor or didn’t know how to translate what I had heard to my parents,” she recalled. “This prompted me to work harder to become a better translator. I browsed through medical websites at home and looked up Chinese translations of unfamiliar medical terminologies I remembered from hospital visits. The more I learned the more I grew interested in medicine.”.
When her parents asked for the Chinese translations to a certain medical disease, she would often go off on tangents – as she referred to them – about its causes, symptoms and cures. She said she felt proud in taking the role of the doctor/medical encyclopedia in her family. She noted that over the years she realized it was useless to become angry with herself whenever she was unable to translate for her parents. She realized she had to handle the frustrating situations with a clear head.
“If I felt angry, I needed to stop, take a deep breath, and then evaluate my circumstance. I had to remain calm in situations where everyone else panicked. As agitated as I often felt, I knew that my parents felt even worse, knowing that no one understood what they were trying to convey. It was up to me to tame this whirlwind of emotions,” she said.
Speaking multiple languages is an important skill to possess, she said. She currently studies Spanish at school and Chinese, Cantonese and Mandarin, at home hoping that her skills will someday allow her to help other people like she has helped her parents.