Graduation Post Pic

A Tribute to My Brother

December 11, 2016 / by / 0 Comment

Dear hKUDOS readers,

Regardless of whether you are a current HKU student; a prospective one; an alumnus, or a sideline supporter of HKU and hKUDOS, I hope that this post can serve as a reminder of how important family is and that everyone around us has a different story to tell.

It has taken me an incredibly long time to write this, for it is something I have let on to very few around me and is very personal.

On 26th of November, 2016, I graduated from HKU with a Bachelor of Engineering in Engineering Science. The quest to earning this degree has been challenging, and there have been many occasions where I wondered if I could graduate at all. Thankfully, many have accompanied me throughout this journey, but one in particular has been an everlasting pillar of support for me.

I would like to make this post a tribute to my elder brother who is currently serving in the air force in South Korea.

We grew up in a family constantly struggling to make ends meet. Borrowing off relatives to pay for education was common in our household. Even before middle school, we had come to terms that there was no way our parents could afford tertiary education and if we wanted to further our studies, only a full scholarship would suffice.

I transferred to a public elementary school after a few years studying the international curriculum. The sudden change in curriculum and medium of instruction was difficult to adjust to and I was failing every subject possible, including P.E. At that point, I just thought I was stupid and doomed for. In the meantime, my brother sat for his O-Levels. Not only did he achieve straight A’s, he also came first in his entire grade and received a full scholarship for his A-Levels. Only then did I realise, ‘oh, there’s someone smart in the family!’ He went on to complete his A-Levels with flying colours and was admitted into the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore on a full scholarship complete with living allowance.

He’d done it. He’d managed to pursue tertiary education without help from our parents. He’d done what I thought was impossible.

Which got me thinking, “We share the same set of genes, if he’s so smart, I can’t be that hopeless.” And although our family never condoned sibling rivalry, I found myself silently comparing myself to him. My brother’s achievements unconsciously became my goals. He had set the standard annoyingly high, and I had to really push my limits to come anywhere close. It wasn’t easy. It was probably due to my lack of discipline, or my overflowing self-confidence (though I really don’t know where that came from), that I always fell a little short of his achievements. I had to retake A-Levels to match my brother’s grades and I was rejected from NTU 3 years in a row before I finally gave up.

Four years ago, when I received an offer letter and a 50% scholarship from HKU, I was thorougly disappointed in myself because I knew full well that in our family, 50% meant a no. Our family was in no means to afford anything and education-wise, we were very much on our own. At that time, my brother had almost completed his Masters in Europe and had been planning on returning to Korea to serve his mandatory military service which he had already postponed for a long time. But when he heard my news, he changed his plans. He applied for a PhD in Singapore. He said the stipend and scholarship he would receive would be enough to cover the remaining 50% and told me to accept HKU’s offer.

And today, I am a HKU graduate. My brother granted me the opportunity to earn this title, but could not witness me receive it at my graduation because he is finally serving in the military, a decade later than others.

I cannot thank my brother enough for his sacrifice. He has put his future on hold for my future, to make sure I receive the best education possible.

I cannot thank him enough for believing that I was worth the investment. He put aside two-thirds of his monthly PhD stipend and scholarship for four years without a single complaint to pay for my tuition.

I cannot thank him enough for always being the overachiever, because without him to look up to, I would never have pushed my limits so far.

Lastly, selfish though this may sound, I cannot thank fate enough, that I am not the eldest in the family because honestly speaking, I don’t think I could have done as good a job as he did.

My mother says there is no such thing as debt between siblings. But I feel that I will forever be in debt to my brother. People around me know that I am a strong-headed person with a rebellious side, but I will always trust my brother’s advice whole-heartedly, for my HKU degree has shown that he has my best interests at heart.

My brother has always acted on the saying where there’s a will, there’s a way. He has taught me to hold my head up high and dare to dream big regardless of the circumstances. It will be two years before he can pursue his dreams again. I hope that when that time comes, I will be doing a good job pursuing my own dreams, so he knows I was worth the sacrifice.

오빠야, today, as a HKU graduate, I salute you!

P.S. Congratulations to all my fellow 2016 graduands for making it. It has been a tough four years where we have shed many tears but also had much fun. There has been many a time when we were less than satisfied with the way things were run, but I trust that we can all agree that our HKU journey turned out to be much more than we anticipated, no? During this festive graduation season, let us toss our graduate caps in the air not only to congratulate ourselves, but also to thank those who have been by our side all this way, for we know better than anybody else that we could never have done this alone.

GIF credits to Jia Yin Seow, feature image credits to Pamela Choi

Officially signing out,