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Adapting to the Best of Both Worlds Through School

Eric (Kailin) Chen has learned a lot about facing and overcoming adversity since the beginning of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The Grade 12 student at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) was in his native Beijing when the coronavirus struck in March 2020.

Then he was stuck.

"I began my remote learning when COVID first hit," says the 18-year-old." I finished my second half of Grade 10 and the entire Grade 11 [year] remotely, which was about 12 months."

Eric Chen, Gr. 12 SMCS student

Shortly after the coronavirus took hold, SMCS pivoted to full remote learning for all of its 900+ students. As government mandates changed, the independent school for boys in Grades 7 to 12, adopted a hybrid model (in-person and online) to ensure uninterrupted learning. For Chen, online learning became his academic lifeline.

"It was challenging going through this experience," he says. "The 12-hour time difference made my learning even harder."

For a year, Chen attended Grade 10 and 11 at SMCS via Zoom. He would connect to his classes at 8:30 p.m. until 3 a.m. (Beijing time), then go to sleep and wake up at noon to pursue his other passion — hockey.

"The experience taught me how to stay on task and manage my work," says Chen, who plays for the St. Michael’s Buzzers Jr. A team. "I learned the responsibility of being a student-athlete and had a better understanding of my ability to adjust in difficult situations. Besides attending school remotely, I was able to keep up with the daily hockey practices and participated in multiple national tournaments. Time management was one of the most important things I learned about myself."

Eric Chen, Gr. 12 SMCS student

In 2020, during his challenging Grade 10 year, Chen earned a top academic award at SMCS for receiving an overall average of over 90 per cent. That same year, he was also drafted into the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

"Eric is an incredibly smart and dedicated student," says Michael Ross, mathematics teacher at SMCS. "He was taking the hardest level of Grade 12 math that we offer, AP calculus, as a Grade 11 student. This would be challenging enough but he completed the course online from Beijing overcoming the 12-hour time difference. Extra help sessions, which Eric enthusiastically and regularly attended, were held at 2-3 a.m. Beijing time."

As travel and other restrictions eased, Chen was able to begin his graduating year at SMCS in person. He returned to campus in September 2021.

"The transition to in-person learning again was smooth," reflects Chen, who plans to pursue a career in business or finance. "I was very excited to meet all my teachers and friends whom I had not met in almost two years. SMCS was supportive and kept me connected to the community as much as possible, so I was able to make the transition easily. However, it still took me a few days to adapt to the new policies at SMCS and get used to daily school life."

Michael Ross, math teacher at SMCS
Michael Ross ’86 is a math teacher at St. Michael’s College School, and one of Eric Chen’s teachers.

Adds his math teacher Mr. Ross, "Having Eric in my Grade 12 data management class this year, you would never have guessed that he missed a year of connecting with his peers."

With plans to take a gap year after high school graduation, Chen intends to pursue his post-secondary studies at an American university and play hockey in the NCAA.

And as he enters the next chapter of his young life, he looks back on his high school experience in a foreign country with deep appreciation.

"I’m most grateful for becoming a SMCS man during my four years of high school, as well as the excellent teachers and staff that helped me along the way," he says. "I learned goodness, discipline, and knowledge, and the spirit of the Double Blue. Being a student at SMCS taught me how to become a better person and set the foundation for my future development."

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