LOS ANGELES: Moshe Kai Cavalin insists he is not a “genius” - even though he earned an associate's degree when he was 11, and is soon to graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), at 14.
The young teenager, who has a Chinese mother and Brazilian father, says he began studying at the age of two and simply does not waste time - so calling him a genius doesn't do justice to the effort.
“'Genius' is just a word, it's like an IQ, it's a number that's created by people that only classify with one point, and they ignore everything else that makes the individual,” he told AFP in the UCLA cafeteria.
“I don't like being called a genius and I don't want to be a number... What I do is try to get wisdom through knowledge and I think practicing wisdom is much better than being a genius,” he added.
That's why Moshe Kai wrote “We Can Do” - first released in Mandarin in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan, where it became a bestseller - and now in English - “to help parents encourage their children to reach for the stars.”
I reached a point that many people considered impossible for my age. (...) I reached as high as the Moon, but anybody who really tries can reach beyond the Milky Way,” he writes in the book.
Born in Los Angeles, Moshe Kai was already doing simple math at the age of four, when his parents launched him on an intensive learning program including math, music, martial arts and reading.
After he was turned down by a number of schools that feared he might distract other students, his mother Shu Chen Chien and father Joseph Cavalin decided to home-school him.
With television and videogames kept to a minimum, he came on in leaps and bounds, winning international martial arts contests, learning to scuba dive and enrolling in college at the age of eight.
“I just took advantage of what I have. Everybody has some potential to be special, however you have to take advantage of that potential,” said Moshe Kai, who remembers all his birthday gifts and says his favorite movie is “Wall-E”.
“And I think everybody can have the potential to be just like me. However they just don't take advantage. That's why people consider me special. I work hard, I plan ahead and I achieve my goals for a better life.”His mother rejects critics who suggest she is a so-called “Tiger Mom,”putting enormous pressure on her child to succeed.
“People say 'Why are you pushing him so hard?' But I'm not pushing him, he's happy,” said the 47-year-old, who lives with her son and 61-year-old husband in a family residency on the UCLA campus.
She notes that normally the Family Union accommodation is for students with their own children. “He's the only one with parents ... it's the other way around, it's very funny,” she said.
But for all his intellectual accomplishments, Moshe Kai does not seem like a mini-adult. He still has a certain shyness and innocent sense of humor, even if his answers are more sophisticated than those of most 14-year-olds.
“My book is not about how to become a genius or how to be intelligent. It's about how to have a better life... If you don't have parents like mine, it's going to be harder.”When he graduates from UCLA, probably this year, Moshe Kai says he hopes to specialize in pure mathematics astrophysics and theoretical physics. “But I'm only 14, you know - I have a lot of time to decide,” he said.
And the teenager - whose birthday is on Valentine's Day, February 14 - has no time for girls, yet.
“I'm too young to get involved in a relationship - after I get my PhD or after I get my Masters,” he said.