Jennifer Cheung

Math Instructor

Location: San Diego, CA

"My ex-husband said to me, 'You are just a highly educated woman who wants her freedom back.' That’s right!"

My mom used to tell me it was a curse being a woman. Her life after marriage wasn't what she had wanted. I didn’t quite understand what she meant when I was young. But now that I am divorced myself, I think I know what she was trying to tell me.

Growing up in Hong Kong in a traditional Chinese way, I didn't give much thought to my career. My family didn't expect me to work or to support myself. They only hoped was that I could find a good husband who could provide for me and our children. And I did. I married as we all had planned and had two beautiful and smart kids.

I tried and tried to find happiness staying at home and meaning in volunteering at my children's school. But being a good wife and mother was not enough for my to feel fulfilled. I wanted to do more. I was capable of doing more.

A lot of articles I read advised stay-at-home moms how to go back to work. But I didn’t have a career to go back to -- I didn’t even know what was out there for me. What kind of job could I have? Was it worth to put my kids at daycare for some selfish endeavor of my own?

So I did what I had always enjoyed doing: I learned. I found and pursued one of my true passions: mathematics. Sixteen years after I first took Calculus III (and received an A), I was back in a classroom. I was surrounded by people who were half my age, studying multivariable Calculus again.

This time I only received an B. But with two young kids at home, I was thrilled with the grade, and I even received A’s in two other math classes. I still had what it took to study math.

Four years later, I earned a master's degree in Applied Mathematics and a Fulbright scholarship to Denmark. I had finally discovered myself.

My endeavor ended a 16 year marriage. My ex-husband said to me, “You are just a highly educated woman who wants her freedom back.” That’s right! My marriage restricted my freedom and hindered my career potential. Was this how my mother had felt during her marriage?

Since my divorce, I have been underemployed and living in near poverty. My story is not nearly as glamorous or successful (yet) as others out there. But perhaps my story can provide hope and guidance to the next generation of women. As hard as it can be, I am proud that I have my own income and am standing on my own two feet. I hope more women will do the same and I hope that men will fight with us to make this possible. Both men and women must do their part to ensure that our young women will become everything that they can be.