Rissa Ho, an 18-year-old college freshman, was born in Singapore and has lived in Hong Kong for two years and four years in China. She has honored us by sharing some of her story. She is currently an international student at Wheaton College, interested in studying international relations. 

When first interviewing Rissa, she was a little shy. Her shimmering eyes kept me hoping that she would eventually open up. Within the first five minutes of our interview, Rissa employed the word family over seven times, reminding me of Princess Diana, both believing,  “Family is the most important thing in the world.”

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Rissa’s school uniform in China

Rissa and her family often moved around southeast Asia due to her dad’s employment. Once in China, she attended a local school, “where everything was in Chinese (Mandarin),”challenging her to learn a  new language, her first language being English. She greatly enjoyed the education she received there. “Being so young, I picked up the language very fast, and at home, my parents spoke English so I had a good balance between Chinese and English,” Rissa explains. Returning home, to Singapore, and integrating back into the educational system there was surprisingly harder for Rissa than the previous experience in China.

When asked about her greatest regret, Rissa said, “It’s not having kept touch with the friends I made while being outside of Singapore, especially the ones in China.” Sometimes, she thinks about it and it still hurts her. Rissa explains that since China’s Facebook is censored , keeping touch is particularly difficult. Additionally, at the time she was in China, between the age six and ten, not many people had internet and social media accounts. “I don’t think I could ever talk to them again. But if I could meet anyone once again, I’d like to meet with the friends I made in China, have dinner and catch up for all these years.”

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On the way to school in Hong Kong

Nothing was more difficult for Rissa than moving to the U.S. to attend Wheaton College, she explained. Even though she had traveled to the U.S as a child, she didn’t remember much.“It was hard because I was older and had invested in relationships. Coming to the U.S. with no friends and no network,” in addition to the “drastic cultural differences,”  her adaption to her new home was difficult. Wheaton College was not her first choice. She wished to attend a local university in Singapore, but due to the extreme competition, she was denied. She murmured, “It’s that competitive.”

“There will be times that I will be so sad for the entire week because of homesickness.” Last week, she cried while talking to her parents on Skype. “We are meeting in Canada for winter break. I am looking forward into that.” This thought motivates her to finish the semester strong. Rissa believes that she “can’t back out,” there is a reason why “I’m here and not back home. I don’t know the exact reason why I am here but I am praying so God will show it to me.”

Rissa recalls the best moments of her life the Friday nights she would spend at her grandparents’ house. “Three generations lived in that house,” Rissa explained. She and her cousins had  a blast running and playing around the spacious garden. “There was even a swing and a porch where we rode scooters,” she excitedly told me.

In Rissa’s family, unity and closeness have always been the cornerstone of their relationships with one another. “We would gather every Friday without fail for dinner, on a good day there would be 18 people all eating together at the round table.” Everyone would enjoy her grandparents home-cooked dinner. Everyone ate around a circular table, which allowed everyone to interact and see each other. The house had always brought joy to anyone who entered its doors, Rissa says.

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Rissa’s dorm room at Wheaton College

“One day, grandpa decided to sell the house to pay for the grandchildrens’ education, including myself.” This was an exceptionally hard time for Rissa since the house represented all her childhood memories. I could see some tears as Rissa was expressing her feelings about the house. “I wish he didn’t.” Rissa desired for her children to have a taste of the little heaven she had enjoyed. According to Rissa, the new owner renovated the house, “it’s a completely different place now,” she sadly explained.

Nothing motivates Rissa more than the desire to make her family proud. “Education is not cheap in the U.S.. My grandparents had to sell the house for us. I want to make it all worthy. All this money, sending me so far, everything else.” Rissa defines success as the ability of  supporting her family one day.

Rissa’s life has always been filled with many blessings. She does not remember a dramatic childhood experience except the day she was diagnosed with appendicitis, at the age of 13 in Singapore. The pain started while she was at school and it persisted for three days. After the third day, her mom, very worried, took her to the hospital. “When you push on the area (with the fingers) there’s no pain, but when you stop pushing and release the area, the pain is real.” This is how the doctors knew she had appendicitis.  Rissa’s very first hospitalization ever was the day the doctors performed surgery. “It was very dramatic! This was a big thing. I had never missed so many days of school before, but a lot of my friends from school came to visit, which was really nice.”

As Thomas à Kempis said, “The acknowledgment of our weakness is the first step in repairing our loss,” and Rissa demonstrates this when she shared her greatest weakness. “I am very indecisive. I always need someone’s help to make the final decision.” Her weakness plays a role on a daily basis. She insists that if she enters the international affairs field, especially, “I really need to work on this.”

If I had enough time, I would have like to question Rissa for hours. She has the kind of life story you always want to dig deeper because the tunnel is endlessly filled with different surprises. In her last minutes of our interview, Rissa said that if she was going to die tomorrow, she would like to travel with her family to South America. “I always wanted to go to Machu Picchu in Peru, there are so many places, but I’d like to go there, particularly.”

Rissa does not seek nor need to be famous, but “I really want to make a difference, starting in Singapore, my home country.” Family and friends are essential to Rissa’s happiness. “This is what makes me happy. This is what I live for and my dream is to have my own family. I am still working on finding my future husband,” she humorously replied. But more than anything, “I want to make a tangible difference, make the world a different place because I was here.” Rissa would like “to work in international relations field, help Singapore’s foreign affairs and bring what she has learned in the world back home.”