“I want to be a Harvard student.”
Johnny is a 16 years old student who had unilateral cochlear implant surgery in 2006 to correct his congenital deafness. Let’s learn more about his world and find out how he creates beautiful dreams in silence.
❶He attended ordinary school from an early age, winning awards in both academics and sports.
❷He is a very quiet student, yet he still is very active with many hobbies. He won second place in the youth fencing league and represented China in the World Robotics Competition. His paintings won the gold medal of the Canadian Painting Competition and he plays goalkeeper on his school football team.
❸He never hesitates, and boldly pursues his dreams. Currently, he is studying at the United College of the World (UWC) Changshu, and will go to Norway in September to continue his studies.
Q: Let’s start with your ears. What’s makes them so special?
Johnny: I have special ears. The hearing aid carried in the left ear amplifies the sound around me to 100 decibels, which would severely damage a normal person’s ear. The full name of the device in the other ear is called a cochlear implant. It is an artificial electronic nerve that is inserted into my brain and connected to my nerves. It then uses an external microphone to convert sound into electrical signals and sends them to the internal implant. Then the internal implant transforms these signals into currents that stimulate my nerves and simulate sound signals.
Q: How is your hearing?
Johnny: I can really only hear in my right ear. Although the left ear has hearing aids, it can only pick up vibrations, which helps the hearing of the right ear. This does cause some trouble in my life.
Q: Does this impact your ability to play sports?
Johnny: It puts a lot of restrictions on my exercise options. Taekwondo is not permitted because it can easily damage my external equipment. I tried fencing. The protective hood covers my face, which protects my hearing aid, but because it covers my face, I sweat a lot, and the hearing aid is easily damaged by sweat and water. In the end, I could not continue fencing. Later, I became obsessed with football. Without being able to hear, collisions are always a danger and removing the hearing aid will limit communication, so I can only be the goalkeeper. However, I was surprised to find that when I removed the device, my attention becomes more focused than the average person
Q: How does turning off your implant affect your learning?
Johnny: When the place of study is particularly noisy, the average person may not be able to focus, whereas I can just remove my implant, and I have perfect silence. This is my superpower. Also, my vision is better than the average person.
Q: When you were an infant, how did you learn to speak?
Johnny: Perseverance. In 2005, cochlear implants were not as popular as they are now in China, and the rehabilitation training was not yet sufficient. Very few professional language training institutions knew how to teach children with cochlear implants. My mother gave up work and stayed with me at home to teach me. It was a very difficult learning process for both my mom and me. Especially difficult was when learning Pinyin. I encountered two sounds, “g” and “k”. I was two years old at the time of the cochlear implantation which is considered a little late, and my tongue had already started to stiffen, so I couldn’t make a “g” sound. At that time, my mother tried a lot of methods, such as pressing my tongue with my hand, hoping that I could control the back of the tongue and make a g sound. Later, she forced me to drink a bottle of water. Most people make g sounds when they drink water. The water will roll in their throats and they will be a slight tremble at the back of their throat, but I can’t. This made me particularly miserable. In order to learn, my mother asked me to drink constantly to practice the feeling. When I could feel the water in the back of my throat gurgling I knew that I was making the correct mouth position.
Q: Your elementary school was an ordinary public school. How were your grades? Did students treat you differently?
Johnny: My academics have always been strong, even in the upper grades, due to my mother. She would come home every day to give me to after school classes, so my grades in elementary school were still quite good. When I first entered the classroom, everyone was really curious about my equipment. I told my classmates about my device and what it is for, even letting them touch it. Very soon everyone accepted me into their group.
Q: Did you start studying at an international school in junior high?
Johnny: After finishing junior high school in a public school, I transferred to an international junior high school in Suzhou and took a two-year IB MYP course.
Q: Did you have plans to study abroad at that time?
Johnny: Truthfully, in the 5th and 6th grades of elementary school, my mother began to think about arranging my study abroad. But to be honest, at that time, I was very resistant to going abroad. At that time, I didn’t like environmental changes, and the concept of going abroad was not particularly clear to me. When my mother first tried to send me to an international school(primary school), because of my resistance, she was not successful in getting me into the school. The following year, the fierce competition and fast pace of public school made my cochlear implant and hearing aid very inconvenient, especially in the classroom. Teachers would speak faster and there was more and more content. I started to feel a little helpless. As a result, I had to stay up until twelve or one in the evening every day to keep up with school and maintain my top grades. I also had a lot of interest in history and humanities, and I often read books about these subjects in elementary school. When I entered junior high school, I had to learn English and three subjects in a single language. This made me study late into the night, and my time devoted to my hobbies decreased significantly. I gradually started to have a clear understanding of the curriculum of foreign high schools and lied that there is room for compulsory and elective courses. This allows me to avoid courses that are not suitable for my equipment as much as possible, and it also gives me the opportunity and time to explore some subjects that interest me.
Q: When you transferred to an international school, did you think about which university in which country you would choose in the future?
Johnny: At first, it was more about dreams. I have a strong interest in history, so I am interested in such well-known prestigious universities as Harvard, Yale, and Cambridge. On the one hand, they are famous, and on the other hand, they have deep historical heritage and are relatively strong in history and humanities.
Q: How is your high school life?
Johnny: In second grade, I already started planning for high school. Before participating in United World College Suzhou(UWC), I got a chance to experience the presentations from different international high schools. By chance, my mother found UWC. She took me to attend a UWC presentation, and later I also attended UWC’s summer school program. When I discussed with UWC alumni and seniors, I was shocked that they seemed more mature than normal high school students. They also have their own strong opinions on social services, and many had dreams for careers that can help people.
Q: W was the most memorable or difficult experience during the high school entrance exam?
Johnny: UWC’s entrance exam is divided into two parts, one part is the written exam, and the other part is a face-to-face interview, which is very similar to the university application process. The UWC written exam gave me an article and asked for my opinion on the future. This was the first time I wrote a serious article about this topic so I put a lot of time and energy into it. Before the final submission, with the help of my Curio Counselors, I completely changed my essay eight times, not including my multiple drafts. I really appreciated this experience. It really made me think about my future direction and the impact of my past efforts on my future.
“How can I used what I have learned already to better plan my future?” – Johnny
Q: What surprised you the most after entering UWC?
Johnny: The Diversity! UWC has students from more than one hundred different countries. The different types of people are still very well integrated. I am very comfortable with everyone there, and I can quickly exchange ideas and different ways of thinking. UWC is a pretty liberal school and feels more like a university, where students decide their own learning paths. For me, this is both an obstacle and an opportunity. I can communicate more freely with other people. When I study in the library, I like to ask older students questions. They are always very happy to help me and even give me additional tips or resources.
Q: How has UWC affected your growth?
Johnny: UWC has definitely changed the way I think. We learn from textbooks, but the test methods they use are very focused on individual thinking. UWC is very demanding on papers, writing two papers almost every week, and five papers during a busy week. We may also turn some of our ideas into PPT’s to later give a speech in front of the whole class. We must clearly state our argument and defend it in front of the teacher which is very similar to a university thesis. I use what I already know to find topics that interest me, which helps with motivation. UWC also increased the breadth of my thinking. In English class, we focused more on the use of English in different occasions and even other disciplines. For example, during drama class, the English Teacher leads us to compare the similarities and differences between Western and Eastern dramas.
Q: Why did you choose to study at UWC Norway?
Johnny: Wang Jiapeng, the founder of UWC Changshu University, became paraplegic due to an air crash. Like me, he used suffered a lot of pain and hard work to succeed in regular society. I have been admitted to UWC in Norway by my own efforts. He and I belong to the same group, and thinking of his successes gave me encouragement. I also hope to follow his experience and learn in Norway. UWC in Norway happens to share the campus with the local Red Cross Society, so there will be more opportunities for me to get in touch with hearing the rehabilitation, and even some medical knowledge. I think this may be more helpful to me, and it will allow me to better understand the difficulties the hearing impaired and future improvements.
Q: What are your expectations for Norway?
Johnny: My expectations for learning are boundless, outside of school activities and life experiences, I have already done a lot of research and even had conversations with current students already. I know all the different subjects that the school has to offer, and I truly feel that this is the best direction for my future.
Q: In high school, you need to start considering college. How did you find Curio?
Johnny: The year before I met Curio, my mother had already researched many study abroad programs. For personal reasons, I felt that it was too early to find an institution at that time. When I was ready she contacted Curio to set up a meeting. We met and talked with the founder Asher. I think we talked very speculatively, so it was logical to sign a contract with Curio.
Q: How is Curio’s assistance different from another study abroad institution?
Johnny: Curio pays more attention to discussing your future with you. They really try to draw out your inner reflection and dreams about your future direction. Interaction with students helps to cultivate own thoughts and inner potential. Before entering Curio, I didn’t have much interest in public welfare. But after many discussions with Curio mentors, I found that I still wanted to help this group of people. Of course, I still retained my interest in history and germinated ideas and actions on public welfare. This aspect has enriched my life experience, also enriched my thinking mode, and even enriched my psychological growth. When I communicate with people at famous universities such as Harvard University, I also feel the concept of service in them. They have strong enthusiasm in this area, are willing to act, are willing to do in-depth exploration, help a class of people or Some changes.
“Curio’s teachers try to inspire and guide me to realize my personal academic path. Through communication, they help cultivate me into a truly qualified college student.” -Johnny
Q: How does Curio help you find the right university?
Johnny: Curio takes care of this in two parts. The first part is helping me with the foundational aspects for my application such as standardized testing and selecting the best summer school activities. Based on my situation, Curio will screen some schools that meet my requirements and let me choose. And before I start my standardized testing Curio will give me a mock test to see what my level is. The second part is the most important. Curio helped guide and inspire me. The counselors and mentors encouraged and helped me to use my time effectively to explore my strengths and weakness, so now I have a deeper understanding of what I want academically. When communicating, the teacher will not just tell what they feel is right, but let me objective understand how my decisions can shape my future. What impressed me most was that Curio organized students to go on a school tour in the United States during the Spring Festival holiday. We visited ten local universities, including MIT, Harvard, and Brown. We explored each university with a walking tour and had the chance to speak with current undergraduates. You could feel the difference between each school, and learning about the campuses in person has definitely affected which schools I would love to attend.
Q: Which university impressed you most?
Johnny: When I went to Harvard University, I felt a deep connection. As a history-loving student, I am particularly fascinated by the cultural heritage and long history of Harvard. I was also surprised to find that this school is very inclusive. When I talked with the student guide, he said that the school would provide sign language courses for students like me and that students with normal hearing skills would also be happy to learn. The student guide told me that he was already enrolled in a sign language class. The strong enthusiasm of the people willing to help really resonated with me. I feel that Harvard students have a strong idea of their future careers. They attach great importance to thinking, thinking into action, and finally action into improvement. They often take part in public welfare activities, community activities, and even studies. I believe that learning is not just about learning, but about learning to do something so you feel accomplished. I want to be a person like this. This is why I am so attracted to Harvard University, and even think that I may be suitable for this university one day.
Thank you, Johnny, for talking about your time with us.
Your journey is tougher than most people’s, but your passion and hard work will always pay off in the end.
Curio sincerely wishes every student that is interested in studying abroad, can have the same transformative experience as Johnny.