From a young age, most Lynbrook students have been raised and conditioned in a competitive environment. In school, the pressure is on, and at home, even more so. With many parents hailing from Asian backgrounds, the Bay Area culture is rife with values of hard work, perseverance and competition that permeate each aspect of students’ lives and contribute to what many call a Bay Area “bubble.”
At first glance, Bay Area high schools may seem like all other typical American high schools. Students take AP classes, join clubs and sports teams and participate in school events like homecoming and prom. A closer look, however, reveals several prominent differences that distinguish schools in the Bay Area due to the local culture.
Common conversations around Lynbrook provide insight into this unique culture. When walking under the wings of building overhangs, students can be heard joking about the burden of work and studies, not to mention the pressure from those most influential in their lives — their family members. Students complain about test grades, gossip about the SAT scores of their peers and compare the amount of sleep they get.
At one point, it begins to become a competition — survival of the fittest — the word “fittest” exchangeable for “smartest,” “most hard working” and other titles “ideal” Bay Area students should have on their trophy shelves. The competition even extends to vying for minor, trivial titles such as “most sleep deprived.” Lynbrook’s culture runs rampant with competition and hunger for first place, no matter what the categories may be.
At home, most students face high expectations, a constant source of stress and anxiety. Much of this pressure comes from parents, many of whom emigrated from Asian countries that demand academic excellence from students.
“A lot of Lynbrook culture revolves around STEM,” said freshman Amory Gao. “This has to do a lot with families of Asian descent because they mostly came here for STEM opportunities, and they want their children to be successful. I feel like nothing else is really an option for me because of the way my parents think and how that’s influenced the way I think. So, I think [this culture] has a pretty big impact on what I want to pursue during high school and what I feel like I have to pursue later on.”
Of course, no student is left untouched by such a harsh culture. Like many others attending competitive Bay Area high schools, Lynbrook students are influenced by both their school and home environments. They find their identities shaped by their peers and the expectations that they hold.
A freshman who enters Lynbrook confident about himself may find his self-assurance worn away by too frequently comparing his grades and test scores with those of others. On the other hand, a quiet, introverted girl may find her place in speech and debate and grow into an outspoken senior by the end of her high school career. No matter how people change throughout their high school careers, however, it is undeniable that their identities are shaped by the people, the values — quite simply, the culture — around them.
When students graduate and leave for college or take a gap year, this still holds true. Their identities undergo yet another transformation as they enter drastically different environments from the bubble they leave behind. The freedom away from home allows many to discover new aspects of their identity.
Coming to CMU has definitely allowed me to explore. There’s a certain openness in college.
— Alex Xu, Lynbrook alumnus
“There are a lot of opportunities for you to discover yourself at college,” said Lynbrook Class of 2017 alumnus and current Carnegie Mellon University student Alex Xu. “For example, I’m part of an acapella group, and I’m also in a dance group. Once you get out of the Bay Area bubble, you really start to open up your mind, explore and have fun.”
In the process of becoming immersed in a different culture, some find that their experiences away from the Bay Area, or just away from Lynbrook in general, shed new light on familiar matters, whether it be college majors or the future. Being among different people allows many to make realizations that they would never have drawn at Lynbrook.
“[During my gap year] my worldview was broken, and now I’m rebuilding it,” said Lynbrook Class of 2017 alumnus Will Shan, who is currently taking a gap year before he begins studies at Stanford University in the fall and also volunteered at a communal farm in France the summer before his senior year. “When I began this gap year, I thought it’d be really nice if I discovered what major I wanted to pursue so that going to college, I’d know what I want to study. Now, I’m not thinking that at all. Now, what I’m thinking is, ‘Why does it matter what major I take? What will actually have relevance on my life? Why does learning have to occur on paper or at school?’ At Lynbrook, I never thought beyond one week. Now that I’m taking this gap year and interacting with much older people, I’ve started thinking about my life in terms of years. I did not know all that I did not know before, and because I now know what I did not know, it makes me think much more long-term, and it makes me think much more about the type of life I want to lead.”
For Lynbrook students, there lies a question: who are you? Identity is no easy concept to grasp; it is perpetually in a fluctuating state, easily influenced by changing circumstances. What is one’s identity, however, throughout the change? Who is that person, underneath all the grades and critiques in red pen? The answer lies in the individual. Yes, culture plays an important role in shaping identity, but it is ultimately up to the confident freshman or the shy girl to define his or her own identity. Culture can only change an individual as much as he allows it to change himself.