Freshman shares experiences living in China and Philippines

September 17, 2015 — by Caitlin Ju

Owen Keogh attended international schools in both countries.

Freshman Owen Keogh, then 8, and his younger brother had recently arrived in Beijing, China. His family was at a museum when suddenly his brother tripped.

Though his brother’s face was badly hurt, some people standing nearby were laughing. Keogh could not believe the people’s reaction until he later learned the laughter came not from cruelty but from nervousness, one of the first cultural differences he would learn as he spent the next six years in the country.

Six years later, Keogh has now moved to Silicon Valley, where his father has been named the director of finance at a Apple office in Sunnyvale.

Keogh has been packing and moving quickly like this since an early age because of his father’s career. Born in Arizona, he first moved to Malaysia for less than a year before leaving for the Philippines. There, he attended the Philippine Montessori School before moving to China. In China, he first attended the Montessori School of Beijing for four years and then the Western Academy of Beijing for two years.

Keogh believes attending international schools in the Philippines and China has had a strong influence on his development.

“[International schools] taught me to learn about different cultures,” Keogh said. “[They go beyond] your country, and you have to think about other things in the world. We often forget [that] other things outside our bubble matter.”

China, for instance, turned out to be different from what Keogh expected when he first arrived.

“When I went to China, I thought it would be 99.99 percent Chinese people,” Keogh said. “But China isn’t what people think. It can be secluded a bit, but it’s still very advanced. Where I lived there were international students from other parts of the world, like Europe.”

Though Keogh lived in China and the Philippines for most of his life, he is neither fluent in Mandarin nor in Tagalog, the language spoken in the Philippines, because he attended English-speaking international schools.

In China, Keogh participated in many cultural events such as Chinese New Year, which he had not had much exposure to when he lived in the Philippines.

On Chinese New Year, Keogh would hear fireworks all day and all night, and after the holiday, there would be fireworks covering the streets. His family would have to drive over “roads and roads of ashes,” but Keogh noted it was fun buying his own fireworks and going to the beach because there was no school during Chinese New Year.

While in China, Keogh had the chance to travel to different parts of the country outside of Beijing, where he saw “an immediate contrast” between the urban city and more rural areas with smaller roads, called hutongs, and crumbling houses.

“Other places were [far] worse off,” Keogh said. “There were different temples, different styles from Beijing, and it showed me a variation of the Chinese culture.”

Keogh enjoyed life in China and hopes to move back there in the future. Keogh’s career goal as a child was to become a soccer player, but because he plans to work in China, he is leaning toward a job in the financial sector.

But Keogh’s travels have impacted him beyond just his career choice: They have changed his mindset.

“It’s always better to know another culture, and living in so many places taught me [about] so many cultures,” Keogh said. “I am now not so quick to judge and can understand people more. It gave me an open opinion of the world.”