|Rosalind Corlin and her high-achieving kids, Estephe (left) and Perrine, back in Kuala Lumpur for a short break, showing off the kids’ book, ‘The Roar Of The Tiger Cubs’.|
By Dr GAN SIOWCK LEE
ESTEPHE and Perrine Corlin, twins aged 10, were in Kuala Lumpur recently to visit their mum’s family, and to promote their new book The Roar Of The Tiger Cubs to help raise funds for their favourite charity project. The children reside in Hong Kong with their Malaysian mother and French father.
Estephe and Perrine shot to fame when they sat the Cambridge University International General Certificate Secondary Exam (IGCSE) Mathematics for 16-year-olds last November, and scored As!
Since then, their mother Rosalind Wong-Corlin, 43, who hails from Kelantan but grew up in Kuala Lumpur, has been unofficially crowned the “Tiger Mother of Hong Kong”, coming hot on the paws of the original “tiger mum”, Amy Chua.
The Chinese American author and law professor’s gruelling and no-nonsense parenting approach extolled in her bestselling memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, released this year, is alternately viewed as oppressive by Western parents and effective by their Chinese counterparts.
Now, everyone wants to know the Corlin children’s story and formula for success, too. Not only do the twins excel in their studies, they are also champions and medal winners in sports such as swimming and judo. In this respect the Corlin kids are very different from Chua’s two children, who are not encouraged to do well in sports.
Here’s a chat with Rosalind, who contributed to two of the 26 chapters in the book written by her twins, during her recent trip home:
Let’s start with a brief life history of the kids ….
When the kids were born in Switzerland, we hired a nanny for the first two years. Then we spent a year in Boston (United States) and then back to Switzerland for another year before going to Hong Kong when they were five years old, where we have lived since. As my husband (a top executive of a US-based medical technology firm) travels constantly on business and my job was equally demanding, I decided that it was time for me to stop work so that I could “watch” them grow and develop.
So, you gave up a promising career in finance and a big salary to adopt an active approach to parenting? What are some of your personal sacrifices, if any, in moulding your kids into what they are today?
To me parenting is a big responsibility that should not be delegated to someone else, not the grandparents, not a nanny, certainly not a maid! Financially, it was a more painful decision as we were down to a single-income family. I soon found out that my journey in motherhood was not so easy. My children were more than a handful. I found a Chinese nanny to help out, and to speak Mandarin with them. I thought it was essential they master one more language and speak Mandarin like a Chinese native speaker.
My challenges today are different; I have to keep them motivated to do their best. It’s tough and requires a lot of time and dedication.
You exposed them to another new language, i.e. Mandarin, at an early age.
That was a good decision because research findings have consistently indicated that bilingualism enhances and strengthens cognitive development in young children.
How did you come to recognise and develop the potential of your kids to achieve what they have managed so far?
Their kindergarten teachers had mentioned that Estephe exhibited an exceptional ability in maths. My father-in-law, a specialist in tuberculosis, who spent a lot of time playing mental and maths games with my children during the holidays, said the same thing. In Hong Kong I got to know Horatio Boedihardjo, the Hong Kong maths genius who went to Oxford at the age of 15. He was doing his PhD at 17 when we started exchanging e-mail.
I asked him if he would meet Estephe and Perrine and show them some maths. When Horatio came back to Hong Kong for the winter holidays in 2007, he spent some time with the kids. He brought me some maths books and quizzes for the kids, and since then I have personally tutored them in maths and science with the help of some university students.
You found them a role model, so to speak. But how did you stimulate/accelerate your kids’ all-round development in the cognitive and psychomotor domains when they were still toddlers?
Just a couple of examples: When we were in Boston we lived at the top of a hotel so the kids would dip in the pool every day. They had floaties but I would remove one individual square foam every week so that by the end of summer they could float by themselves in the water naturally. My father-in-law is an avid reader, he bought them many books which they enjoyed.
My husband and I would read to them every day when they were little, in both French and English. Now, reading is one of their favourite hobbies.
As they grow up and go to school, how do you ensure that they are NOT excluded from the normal socialisation process that takes place in schools? How do you encourage a healthy all-round development that also includes the social and affective domains?
Take swimming, for example. They have good friends in our swim club so this helps them endure the training sessions. They are popular with their peers and the kids in their school. When the National French TV M6 visited their school to film them in class, the crew interviewed their friends to ask if they were “normal” and the response was positive.
They also have many friends from the swim team, the judo club and rugby. I think sport is very important in ensuring a wellbalanced lifestyle and education for the children. It strengthens them emotionally and develops their character. In sport they belong to a team. They learn to respect one another, to have good sportsmanship, to value and build friendship, and to share. I think this is great.
I try to inculcate a positive attitude in their daily life in everything they do. There are times when they may not feel like going for swim training at 5.30am, or doing homework, but they know they have to get these things done. I instil in them the notion that life is a challenge and results or success
comes with some effort and self-discipline.
The same attitude has benefited them in their studies and helped them achieve the academic results they have today.
What else are you doing to structure a stimulating environment for them to develop in the cognitive domain?
I provide opportunities for them to master different languages. They go to the French School, currently in the bilingual section – 50% English and 50% French. They have Chinese tuition at home. The school caters for French nationals whose mother tongue is French. We will move them to the Island School in August, one of the English Foundation Schools in Hong Kong. For maths and science, they will be in higher level classes or given work at their level because they are ahead of their peers in these subjects. In Mandarin they will be in the class for native speakers.
It’s great that this school has this flexibility to cater for kids with different abilities in certain subject areas. This certainly is a way of putting Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences into practice! What about their moral and values education?
I try to inculcate good values by involving them in worthy causes. They now know they have a social responsibility. Writing the book has been a good start as this has allowed them to contribute the proceeds to a nonprofit organisation, “Bring Me A Book Hong Kong”, which promotes literacy in children (www.bringmeabook.org.hk).
It is widely acknowledged that human potential, some extraordinary, remains largely untapped in most people throughout life. As far as academic pursuit goes, what is your main focus?
When they were younger, the focus was on developing their minds, consistently encouraging them to ask questions both at home and in school. In the past year, they have matured a lot and acquired a lot of knowledge.
They can now combine both, applying the knowledge they have acquired in novel situations, to solve problems, synthesise new ideas … they have shown this in their book.
This reminds me of what Confucius advocated, that learning and thinking must go hand in hand. “Learning without thinking leads to bewilderment; thinking without learning is futile.” One last question for the “tiger mum”: How would you describe your relationship with the kids?
I am strict with them, but there is a very warm and close bond between us. I organise both fun times and work times for them. Whatever I do they know that it is for their good. They know I sacrifice a lot of my time for them. For me the most important thing is that I will always have a close relationship with them. In my opinion, strengthening and sustaining this bond is the biggest challenge for parents as the kids grow up.
I SHOWED up for my appointment with Estephe and Perrine Corlin at Kuala Lumpur’s Royal Lake Club swimming pool where they were training with their “tiger mother” Rosalind Wong-Corlin.
According to Rosalind, the kids were preparing for an open water meet in France in August, and their coach did not want them to miss three days of training even while holidaying in KL! So, Rosalind, herself a former Malaysian national swimmer, had to take over coaching duties here.
The children were in their swim gear, complete with caps and goggles. They were adorable and, yes, “normal”, coming across as perfectly well-adjusted, with a healthy tanned complexion and cheerful impish smiles.
Estephe is the older (by a few minutes) and more bubbly and chatty of the two, while Perrine is like a little lady, demure and sweet.
We started out talking about The Roar Of The Tiger Cubs, their new book that details their lives thus far and their drive for success.
First, tell us why you wrote the book.
Estephe: We want to share with the other kids that if you think you can, you will! Everything can be done if you put in your effort.
Perrine: Yes, I want to tell other kids that “the world is your oyster” ….
Estephe: In the book, we tell stories about our lives, precious moments that we will always remember ….
Perrine: … and experiences which have helped us in growing up.
What’s the writing process like?
Estephe: We worked over three months, we used materials from our diaries, our collection of photos and drawings.
Perrine: We discussed, shared ideas … Mum always helped and encouraged us.
After these few initial questions which broke the ice, the kids opened up and there was no telling who was saying what … each had so much to offer.
To sum it up, their outstanding achievements in both studies and sports notwithstanding, Estephe and Perrine are very much like other kids their age. They got very enthusiastic and excited once they started talking about their hobbies which include playing chess, skiing, watching DVDs and hiking with their parents, sailing with Dad. In short, just spending time and having fun with their folks.
Like kids their age, they use the computers and the Internet for their school work, but said they have no time for social media such as Facebook. Estephe loves playing rugby, and Perrine likes singing and is a fan of Lady Gaga.
Since the interview was conducted in English, I decided to test their Mandarin. I was impressed to find them speaking like mainland Chinese, and having already read quite a few Chinese classics.
They also offered to show me their Chinese names by writing them out.
Before we said goodbye, I gave them a little pocket book of Chinese proverbs and idioms illustrated with cartoons. They were quite thrilled as they are familiar with many of the phrases. At this young age they can already appreciate the legacy of this priceless language that is deeply rooted in history, culture and tradition.
* Dr Gan Siowck Lee is an education specialist and consultant, and former associate professor of Universiti Putra Malaysia. The Roa r Of The Tiger Cubs is available locally at all major bookstores.