Parental cheering-squads are vital, but peer role models are priceless, for a little bit of healthy competition and inspiration allows children to witness achievements in their own sphere of competence and hone their own desire to strive for excellence.
The following group of kids are already achieving contentment through strong commitment and a passion for what they love. May their achievements inspire your own kids to become all that they strive for.
Name: Hannah Brock
School: British School of Beijing
School Year: 4
Hannah Brock can play four instruments, and she’s just 8 years old. Hannah was only 3 when she heard someone playing the drums at her nursery school; she was instantly hooked and begged to learn. It took only an afternoon for her to figure out the basics, and nowadays she can perform a full drum solo. “My dad says, ‘If you start playing something, you have to commit to it.’” And so she did.
When Hannah turned 3-and-a-half, she started playing the piano. At the age of 4, when most girls her age were obsessing over Barbie dolls, it was the Chinese guzheng that entranced Hannah. “I liked the sound of it,” she says. “Whatever you play on it sounds nice.”
Hannah’s parents, Andy and Yang Jing, have always believed music is something their daughter must desire for herself. “We actually held her back for some time before we agreed to formal lessons, so she was more keen to do it,” says Yang Jing. “The teachers said she was ahead of other kids soon after she started.”
Music is never a chore for Hannah. “When I play, I don’t think about anything else or what I have to do next,” she says. At age 7, Hannah also started taking lessons in cello. She thinks she might next take up either the flute or clarinet, or both, since there isn’t a woodwind instrument in her impressive repertoire – yet.
Hannah has twice appeared on TV – once with her drums, once to play guzheng. But despite her musicality, she hasn’t taken part in many competitions. “We haven’t encouraged her [to enter competitions]as they can be quite boring and stressful, “ says Yang Jing. Hannah did, however, win BSB’s inaugural instrumental competition in 2007 with her guzheng performance. Her next challenge will be in October this year, when she will play at a city celebration in Cambridge, England. “I quite like the Beatles,” she says. “I like their song titles.”
Hannah says she might like to be a professional musician when she grows up, and if this melodious maestro is only just beginning her orchestral journey, it’s sure to be an incredible one.
Name: Hendrik Faber
School: Dulwich College
School Year: 4
When Hendrik talks about his passion for swimming, nothing else matters.
But Hendrik hasn’t always had a passion for the water. Ever since his father’s sister drowned at the tender age of 5, learning to swim was always a priority for the family. It was the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, however, that sent Hendrik straight into the deep end: Watching the Olympic swimming finals on TV, he was wowed by George Bovell, a bronze medal winner from Trinidad. “If he can do that, so can I,” thought Hendrik. Seeing champion swimmer Michael Phelps further cemented this passion. “After seeing Michael Phelps in action, Hendrik began listening to his swimming teacher,” Frits says. “Things grew rapidly from there.”
But when he failed to make the school swim team, Hendrik was devastated. Undeterred, he pretended he’d made the team, and went along to training sessions anyway, and his daring tenacity paid off. The team invited Hendrik to try out again, and – needless to say – he now trains with them six times a week.
At his first swim meet in 2006 at ISB, Hendrik didn’t make the finals; the next year, however, he placed second overall. In November 2007, Hendrik traveled to his first international swim meet, the Taipei City Invitational, where he placed third overall with four gold medals. One month later, at the Bangkok Patana Tiger Sharks “Feeding Frenzy” swim meet, Hendrik struck gold, coming in first overall with five golds, four silvers and one bronze. His next meets include one in Thailand in March, and the Manta’s Swim Invitational – the big one – in Hong Kong in May. “Swimming makes me feel happy,” he says. “I want to win the most medals in the world and be the fastest swimmer ever.”
Hendrik’s multitude of ribbons are framed and displayed along the family’s dining room wall. Proud father Frits and step-mom Deann even commissioned a special cabinet for their son’s medals, 28 in total – and that’s after only seven months of competing!
What does this dedicated and talented sportsman want to be when he grows up? “A swimmer.” What if he can’t become a swimmer? “I’ll try again until I can become a swimmer.” How would he make the world a better place? “By swimming for my country. Or instructing others how to swim."
The Math Whiz
Name: Kwan Hee Lee
School: Western Academy of Beijing
School Year: 9
Many an academic will tell you of the strong correlation between mathematics and music. If there’s any tangible proof of this, Kwan Hee Lee is it. This multilingual kid (he speaks Korean, English, Chinese and French) arrived in Beijing as an ESL student in 2002. Not only a top student, Kwan Hee has served on the student council, won a number of math awards and plays bass in a rock band.
“My mom used to be a math teacher so she’d teach me outside school,” says Kwan Hee, who has participated annually in Beijing’s Mathematics Olympiad. In Year 7, he achieved a perfect score in the Australian Math competition, travelling to Hong Kong for the award.
At 2-and-a-half, Kwan Hee knew the Korean alphabet, and reading came easily. In kindergarten, he began piano. By 5, he was taking piano lessons twice a week, and can now play the master composers – “you know, Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart” – pretty well. He’s also taken up violin, as well as the bass guitar. His band, The Taken, has played at several WAB rock performances as well as Rock in the Park, even winning first place last year in Battle of the Bands at Chaoyang Park.
The self-confessed shy guy says music is his creative release. “I love music,” he says.” It’s more interesting than math. We just grab guitars and muck around, trying to find a tune.” Music is his venue for socializing and gives him the freedom to be more outgoing.
With his maturity, humble nature and astonishing ability to meld the creative arts with smarts, this teen is cool personified. Parents Sung Min and So Yeong are proud that Kwan Hee has found a good balance in his life. “I want him to experience many different things so he can himself choose what he wants to do,” says dad Sung Min.
And what does he want to do? “Perhaps engineering,” says Kwan Hee, but this hard-working teen insists it’s too early to really know. “Right now, I just want to focus on getting good grades for a college which offers musical and math education.”
The Memory Maven
Name: Sophia Hinson
School: Daystar Academy
School Year: 1
Born in the USA, Sophia heard only Mandarin from her mom Huhe, while her dad Roger spoke to her only in English. Unlike many children exposed to two languages from birth, Sophia started speaking at an extraordinarily young age. At barely nine months old, her first word, “nana” – short for banana – signalled hunger. By 11 months, this astonishing little tot was already piecing together four or five words at a time. Very soon afterwards, Sophia could speak both languages with equal fluency.
Despite Sophia’s early linguistic skills, she was 15 months old before her parents noticed Sophia’s uncanny ability to memorize information. She could complete complicated puzzles designed for children twice her age, and by the time she was 18 months old she could recognize all 50 US states. “I would randomly ask her what state was next to another and she could identify it,” says Huhe. “Our friends were astounded.” Roger remembers a restaurant incident well. Huhe had torn off a piece of bread and handed it to Sophia – it was shaped like a dog’s leg, with an elongated lower half. From her high chair, Sophia proudly proclaimed, “Look, Mama: California!”
Sophia’s parents began reading to Sophia when she was three months old. “I would do actions when I read,” says Huhe, “And Sophia would do every single action, unprompted. She would memorize books and know what page was next.” By the time she was three, Sophia was reading. Currently, this 1st-grader reads at a 4th grade level.
When Sophia turned 4, Huhe decided to homeschool her daughter, who was already adding, subtracting and counting to 100 with ease. When the family moved to Tianjin in mid-2006, Sophia went to school for the first time. “The school recommended we put Sophia ahead one year,” says her mom. “We were worried, but she coped very well.” She also managed, in only one year, to pick up Tianjin hua – the local dialect of Tianjin.
Sophia started with the bilingual Daystar Academy in Beijing in mid-2007. Math is Sophia’s favorite subject, and she also loves to count, sing, do mazes and play the recorder. She also has interest in other languages. The moment Huhe mentions that her dad speaks Spanish, Sophia promptly counts from one to ten in español. “I would love to speak all the languages of the world,” she declares.
When asked what she would like to be when she grows up, Sophia unflinchingly says: “Chiropractor!” (her dad’s profession). “Or a doctor,” she adds. “Or a fire fighter. I want to save people.”
Name: Jorge Zárate
School: Dulwich College
School Year: 11
Jorge Zárate may be just shy of 16, but he has already has philanthropic accomplishments many adults only dream about. A high-achieving student, Jorge displays a maturity and self-awareness beyond his years. “Jorge is very aware of what is happening to other people,” says his dad, Jorge Sr. “He realizes others are not as fortunate as he is, and wants to give back to society wherever he can.”
The Zárates lived in Argentina for nine years before arriving in Beijing in August 2006. Multilingual Jorge (he speaks Spanish, English and French) can now add the study of Mandarin to his resume. He is a prolific reader, plays piano, sings in the chamber choir and loves to act. But it’s Jorge’s humanitarian work that really sets him apart. “You might not be able to change the whole panorama of the world’s problems, but even small actions can do a lot,” says Jorge.
Jorge’s first expedition into small but world-shifting actions began at the tender age of 11, when he travelled with a group to Santa Fe, one of Argentina’s poorest areas, to take provisions to underprivileged children. The group worked hard to raise money before arriving with their life-changing supplies.
In Beijing, Jorge became involved with his school’s Interact club, which strives to raise funds for local charities. The club organizes trivia nights and holds bake sales and raffles to raise money. Interact recently sent a group of students to Cambodia to work with Tabitha – a program that organizes volunteers to fundraise and help build basic housing. Jorge and his team not only raised funds – they also traveled to a destitute area just outside Phnom Penh to work with locals, building crude dwellings that seem palatial in such impoverished conditions. “Despite all they have been through, the people seemed happy,” says Jorge. “They were so thankful.”
In April 2007, Jorge participated in the Model United Nations Conference (MUNC) in Kuala Lumpur, where students act as UN delegates and debate significant global issues. Representing the African nation of Chad, Jorge researched and debated issues like collective security and the well-being of African people. Jorge will return for the 2008 MUNC, but this year he will be co-chairing the economic and social panel, something he is very excited about. “These are such rewarding experiences,” says mom Nora. “Jorge has never wanted to appear like a hero, but he does want to encourage others to make a difference.”
So, what would this inspirational teen like to be when he grows up? “I have considered politics and enjoy international relations, but my dream is to be a doctor for Médecins Sans Frontières or to work for the World Health Organization.” Jorge’s advice to other kids who aspire to such humanitarian accomplishments is: “Don’t give up.” He explains, “We’ve got what we need to change the world, we just need good will. If everyone does little things, you can get somewhere. Gandhi said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ If people want to solve it, they can. It’s an attitude thing.”