Richard Tam “I felt really left out at home, so I just pushed my energies into school. It’s a kind of dual life that’s the story of a lot of immigrants.”

Richard Tam responds to competition, and reports that SMC students provide him with all he can handle. “This is not a ‘normal’ US education that you’re getting here, because there’s such intense competition coming from the international students,” he says. “It’s different than anyone could imagine. You hear that Asian and European standards are really high, but you have no concept of this until you study with them. They’re very disciplined, and that’s a great thing, because it forces you to bring your own performance up to a level with theirs.” But Richard adds that it’s also a joy to be involved in SMC’s international climate.

“One of the key things at the college is its diversity. You find yourself opening up to students from all corners of the world. And as a result, you gain some of their perspectives on education, and that just forces you to do well.” But when Richard’s impoverished family arrived here from Hong Kong when he was 2 years old, he reports getting off to a rocky start. “There were a lot of complex family issues, because we couldn’t adapt,” he recalls. “We lived a very sheltered life—I wasn’t even allowed to go outside to play, because my parents were afraid of everything.” So Richard decided that school was the one place where life—as he understood it—could be lived. And he excelled to the point where he plans to transfer to UC Berkeley or UCLA.

“I’ll be in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, and I hope it’ll be at UC Berkeley,” he says. “They’ve got a program there where you develop your own interdisciplinary studies. I’m evidently a science person,” he adds. “But I love the humanities as well. And I think you need to branch out if you hope to become a well-rounded person.”

Read more stories from present and past years in the SMC Student Spotlight Archive.