Beginning life narratives: Crimson Education’s Geoff Kyi

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The tertiary education consultant, who has just joined theDesk co-working and events space, tells us about shaping his own narrative and helping young people shape theirs

By Grace Fung

In Hong Kong and throughout China, a quickly transforming economic landscape and an accompanying wealth gap means that trajectories of lives and how people plan for the future are changing in dramatic and hugely varying ways. But regardless of whether a family is having lobster for dinner or bok choi and steamed fish, there’s one fundamental desire that’s common among all families of all backgrounds: a desire for the best possible future for their young. But how do you get this golden future? Well, people like 27-year-old higher education consultant at Crimson Education, Geoff Kyi, are here to help. He and Crimson, which specialises in facilitating applications to top-tier universities abroad for international school teenagers, are all about about helping the young and ambitious in defining their life narratives amid a myriad of competing pressures.

Kyi, who’s just joined theDesk co-working and events space in Sai Wan, is no stranger to the difficulties that young people face when it comes to higher education. Born and raised in San Gabriel, California, he comes from a family of first-generation Burmese immigrants who tried to find their roots in a, well, ‘not-so-great’ neighbourhood, as he puts it. Recalling this violence-riddled estate, he tells us how while out walking as a 10-year-old, a potentially dangerous biker asked whether or not he wanted to ‘see his gun’. “No way,” he recalls. “I just wanted him to ride away as quickly as possible!”

“If you live in an urban area, there’s a 60 or 70 percent chance that you’ll get into college. Whereas if you live in a rural area, it’s only about a 20 to 30 percent chance.”

Achieving excellent grades in highschool, Kyi saw university as not only a gateway to success but a way to forging a new life in a new place. He was accepted into the prestigious UC Berkeley in California and Brown University in Rhode Island, ultimately choosing Brown not only for its open atmosphere but also for three pretty important reasons: ‘one – distance, two – distance and three – distance’. And from then on he began to forge his own life narrative with a truly deep-seated understanding of the importance of higher education. Graduating in 2011 with a degree in psychology, he moved to the rural municipality of Shantou in China as a foreign teaching fellow for primary school children of relatively lower income backgrounds, witnessing firsthand the difficulty of gaining access to quality education.

“If you live in an urban area,” Kyi explains, “there’s a 60 or 70 percent chance that you’ll get into college. Whereas if you live in a rural area, it’s only about a 20 to 30 percent chance.” This discrepancy is not due to a lack of talent or ambition but simply one of geographical lottery, he tells us. For two years, Kyi spent his time trying to be a ‘foot soldier with good intentions’, providing his students with the ability to balance not only the rote learning skills demanded by the educational culture but also the ‘practical learning skills’ in communication, leadership and initiative.

“I try to convince the parents that the things their children are passionate about are also what will make them competitive and competent in the future.”

When Kyi moved to Hong Kong to join Crimson Education, however, he found the youths he works with had ‘different levels of opportunity’ than the kids he taught in Shantou, to say the least. But even with the dramatic change of context, his priorities and approach have always stayed completely the same: to provide students with the necessary skills to succeed, not only academically, but also as well-rounded individuals.

Of course, with such a change also comes a change in the pressures that Kyi’s students face. With the shift in culture and the issue of ‘helicopter parents’ – where they take an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their kid – Kyi mediates the ambitions of his students with what their parents might want, which is a precarious balancing act. “Many parents try to transpose their own experiences and use them as metrics in judging success,” he says. His role is then is to ‘facilitate’ – “I try to convince the parents,” he adds, “that the things their children are passionate about are also what will make them competitive and competent in the future.” It’s the ability to reach these compromises that’s most satisfying for Kyi. “My goal is to help the students shape their own narratives,” he tells us. Surely this motivation comes from his own journey in shaping his own.

With stiff competition saturating the, well, competitive business of educational consultants and tutoring centres in Hong Kong, Kyi tells us what really sets Crimson apart is that they’re not only interested in racking up successful admissions to top-tier schools. “To be honest, the track record gets people’s feet in the door,” he says. “But what we’re really invested in is helping students become well-rounded people by equipping them with practical skills.” This is why Kyi joined Crimson. “If it weren’t for the human aspect of it, I wouldn’t be here,” he tells us, adding that he still keeps in contact with students who have gone out on their own paths. To meet Geoff Kyi and learn more about his meaningful work, drop by at theDesk, where he can often been seen Skyping with his former students!

Geoff Kyi, in brief:
NAME: Geoff Kyi
BUSINESS: Crimson Education
POSITION: Higher Education Consultant
AGE: 27
FROM: California, USA
BUSINESS LOCATION: Rents an office space at theDesk, Sai Ying Pun

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