The summer of 2009 was one of the scariest times of my life. I should have been excited about heading to Northwestern University on a scholarship. Instead, I struggled to sleep. As a first-generation Chinese immigrant with a precarious immigration status, my future rested on my academic performance. I didn’t have safety nets if I fell short.

I was born in the historic city of Nanjing, China. My family was not particularly wealthy, but we were established in society and considered an “intellectual” clan.

“Nothing is more important than learning,” declares an ancient Chinese saying, underscoring the pervasive Chinese belief that education is foundational to self-development and success. That pressure is heightened by intense competition among millions of students vying for limited spots at Chinese universities and prestigious universities abroad.

In fourth grade, I immigrated to the United States to join my mom, who had moved there five years earlier in 1994. My mom struggled to learn English in her 30s, but she persisted and completed a master’s degree. Her education helped her land a job immediately after graduating, which led to a dependent visa for me. She did it all for me, and I wanted to make her proud.

After overcoming significant language and cultural barriers, I caught up in my American school and began to excel. I wasn’t the smartest kid around, but I studied hard to honor my family. I thought that if I got good grades and got into a good college, then a good life would follow.

My mom and I came from an atheist family, but by God’s grace, we experienced biblical hospitality and heard the gospel from a few Americans who ultimately led us to Christ. Still, while I pronounced ...

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