Whenever I am asked to describe a major turning point in my life, my mind always drifts back to the autumn of 2006 – the start of my senior year at The Western Academy of Beijing (WAB). It was college application season, and the entire school was abuzz with fear and excitement. I tried to be as unaffected as possible, and I thought that by applying to colleges that were well within my reach, I would be safe from the brewing storm of anxiety and ambivalence. My one and only ambition then was to study Western classical music in a Western country, and I thought that was a relatively easy target to achieve. And so when my music teacher Mark Armstrong approached me one fine September morning to say, "The OxBridge application deadline is approaching. Why haven’t you asked me for a recommendation?" I stared at him incredulously.
"Me? You must be joking!"
"I’m actually not. Why aren’t you applying?"
"You are talking about one of the top universities in the WORLD. I’m never going to get in."
No matter how he tried to coax me to at least try, I refused to be persuaded. My straightforward route to happiness had already been planned, and I was sure that simply venturing out of Asia to study my favorite subject would be sufficient for me. I saw no point in reaching further than that, because in truth, I was afraid of setting myself up for disappointment. I did well academically and I knew I was musically inclined, but I was convinced that I was only "good enough to know how bad I am.” I had some form of inferiority complex ingrained in me, probably stemming from when I used to flounder in a competitive Singaporean education system before moving to Beijing. If I didn’t even have the guts to audition for a school choir, why would I dare to apply to universities that only accepted the crème de la crème?
A week later Mr. Armstrong and Vice Principal Robin Klymow appeared at the door of my physics classroom at the classroom asking if they could borrow me. They grabbed me by my arms, dragged me out of the classroom and into the cafeteria, and set me down in front of them. "You HAVE to apply to Oxford. We’ve already written your recommendation letter,” they jointly declared. I sat there in stunned silence, shocked that anyone should have that much faith in me at all, and moved that they were willing to go to such lengths for me. I knew that it was my turn to make the effort for myself, so I finally agreed to give it a go.
Nine months down the road, I found myself on a plane to the UK, ready to spend the next three years of my life at Oxford alongside the most brilliant minds I would ever come across. Determined never to deny myself of opportunities, I was also willing to try everything possible at university and at work, and as a result I sang at Madison Square Garden and Edinburgh Fringe Festival with my college a cappella group The Oxford Belles; interned with the San Francisco Opera and took a bow on their opera stage in front of 3000 audience members; served as orchestral librarian to the the Dunshan Symphonic Wind Orchestra in Beijing; and worked as a freelance arts administrator and piano teacher whilst songwriting and busking in London.
Had it not been for that fateful intervention six years ago, I would not be the person I am today, no longer afraid to continually push myself out of my comfort zone and to dream big. In moments of self-doubt, all I have to do is think back to the time when someone once believed in me so much that it changed the course of my life, and I start to believe in myself all over again. I am eternally grateful to Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Klymow and everyone else at WAB for teaching me such an invaluable lesson in self-belief, and I should hope that some day I too will be able to touch someone else’s life in the same capacity.
Born in Singapore, Jasmine Chin moved to Beijing at the age of 16 and joined the first graduating class of WAB. After finishing her undergraduate degree in music at Oxford University, she went on to dabble in arts administration, music pedagogy and performance in Beijing, San Francisco and London. Now back in Beijing again, ready to pursue a public relations internship with music-making on the side, Jasmine hopes to rediscover Beijing through new eyes and continue her personal quest in giving back to the community through the arts.
Photo by Flickr user Rick Payette