Chans meet the challenge

May 02, 2002, vol.24, no.1
By Roberta Staley

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There are extreme sports - and then there's extreme sibling rivalry. Some cases of interfamilial competition can end up as fractious as Survivor's tribal conflicts. Not so with the Burnaby Chan clan: brothers Berman, Paulman and sister Shermeen.

Berman, 24, is a 2001 engineering science graduate. Shermeen, 22, is a third-year kinesiology student with her sights set on medical school. Rounding off this SFU triptych is Chan whiz kid, 15-year-old Paulman, a second-year engineering science student.

After acing UBC's high school transition program at 13, Paulman entered SFU's engineering program, following the path of his brother. Berman set the bar high. Shermeen and Paulman met the challenge.

“Berman and I were overachievers,” says Shermeen. “I was very competitive and wanted to beat him in every subject. If he got a scholarship, I wanted a bigger one. I think Paulman suffers from the same thing. Throughout his life he has always been trying to beat our marks,” Shermeen says.

When parents Mavis, a teacher, and Paul, a Singapore army captain, brought their young brood to Canada in 1989, they faced a dilemma. They knew their kids were above average academically, as well as being stellar musicians (they have done well in violin and piano competitions). They are also athletically gifted. Hockey and badminton are just two of the sports they have played competitively.

Berman accelerated a grade upon entering the British Columbia school system, starting SFU at age 16. Shermeen won a scholarship to attend the two-year international baccalaureate program at the United World College of the Atlantic in South Wales.

After graduating from the prestigious school, Shermeen returned to Burnaby to start university, and was awarded a SFU Gordon M. Shrum entrance scholarship.

Then Paulman came along - and the bar was raised another notch. At the age of four, he taught himself to read the newspaper and was doing math. “It was weird - uncanny - the words coming out of his mouth,” recalls Berman. In school, Paulman continually strove to better his older siblings' marks. Currently, he has a 3.65 grade point average.

“We'd say, ‘Paulman, you're already five years ahead, you don't have anything to prove,' ” says Shermeen. “But he still tries to beat us.”

Already a bit of a Renaissance man, the slight, bespectacled teen plays the piano and violin, as well as hockey and squash. He is also gregarious and good-humoured. Far from being a social misfit at university, Paulman has many friends and is popular among classmates. Shermeen insists it's nature - not nurture - behind Paulman's accomplishments.

“We don't sit around the table and talk about the laws of physics. The boys are too busy wrestling or doing kung fu moves,” Shermeen says. Or - the favourite family activity - watching the Vancouver Canucks on TV.

Perhaps it is the balance of sports, academics, music and family fun that has helped imbue all three of this brainy bunch with the confidence and maturity to fit in well socially as well as academically. Paulman would seem to speak for all when he shrugs, “I'm pretty comfortable and accepting of who I am.”

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