By Seth Daniel
Three short years ago, Minting Chen, 18, was an exuberant middle schooler at one of the best boarding schools in Guangdong, China. She didn’t even know where the South End was on a map. She had left her small town in China two years before and had done well enough to get accepted into the best high school in that area of China. Then she got a call from her father in the South End.
He said she was going to come live with him at his Castle Square apartment. It was sad news for the young Chinese student, but three years later she finds herself at the top of her high school class at Charlestown High School, fresh off of a school-sponsored European trip to Iceland and excited to pursue her American Dream in the fall at UMass-Amherst.
She will begin that new journey on June 10 when she graduates as the Valedictorian of Charlestown High in a ceremony at UMass-Boston. “At first I refused to come here because I worked hard in middle school and got into the high school I wanted to go to,” she said. “Things were going really well and then all the sudden my father calls and says I have to come here. It was like I had to start all over here and I also had to leave my mom in China. That was not easy.”Though she does go out to a lot of restaurants in the area, Chen may not be a popular fixture perusing the streets of the South End, she said, mainly because she is mostly studying and spent a great deal of time catching up to her peers – and eventually surpassing them. That only came through discipline and hard work, she said.“When I first came here, my English wasn’t that good,” she said. “All my classmates spoke perfect English and I struggled but then I started to get used to it. My teachers and classmates were very nice. Before I came here, I went to the best middle school in our area of China. It helped me a lot to be ready for high school here.”Soon after arriving and being put in freshmen classes, Chen was able to complete classwork that promoted her to being a sophomore. After getting up to speed academically, Chen said she began to learn about the numerous other cultures in her school – which was much different than her Chinese school.
“There were so many people from different cultures,” she said. “In China, they don’t have that. It’s all the Chinese in the same school. At first, I talked to Chinese people only because I didn’t have a lot of English skills. My sophomore year, I was in a class with different cultures.
I had to try my best. I learned they were very interested in my culture. They wanted to share their culture with me and they wanted to learn about my culture from me.
I was a very nice experience I wouldn’t have gotten in China.”Chen is the rare student who accesses both sides of her brain – enjoying the arts, such as painting and drawing, and also having a serious passion for Calculus, physics and engineering. In the summer, she teaches a drawing class in Dorchester, and often in her spare time draws buildings and landscapes in the Public Garden on Charles Street.However, her passion is to pursue electrical engineering in order to invent something to help the environment, particularly the air quality in areas of the world like China.“I love drawing, but I decided to go into electrical engineering and I love physics too,” she said.
“I was advised that if I wanted to go into art, I might not be able to make enough money. I thought a lot about it and decided to go into engineering first and art can be my hobby. My goal is to create some kind of machine that helps the environment. I’m very interested in doing that in China. The air there is very bad, especially in Beijing. I have no specific ideas now, but I want to go into that field and explore what I could do.”Chen is the daughter of Yong Heng Chen, who is a cook in a local restaurant.Cutline – Minting Chen, 18, of Castle Square, came from China just three years ago with limited English skills and rose to the top of her high school class at Charlestown High this year. She will graduate on June 10 as the school’s valedictorian in a ceremony at UMass-Boston.