“What was it like moving to NYC from ChangLe?” A question I’m often asked.
Strangely, and I think a lot of my immigrant peers would agree, your world becomes a lot smaller. Instead of being able to roam through the village with familiar faces, the boundaries of when and where you can trespass in Manhattan becomes more prominently defined by our socio-economic drivers. So yes, my world shrunk to just a few blocks above and below Catherine Street. And it would have stayed this way if it wasn’t for a series of genuinely good mentors including Mr. Newin.
High school was arguably one of the most cataclysmic times of my life. Aside from all the teenage angst that we all dealt with, I moved just when our city suffered from the largest terrorist attack in U.S. history, blocks from our school. Military armories were permanently stationed in the perimeter. Some friends fled the city that their parents struggled so hard to reach. But surprisingly, this sense of doom and gloom also brought us closer under a mission to heal and to help.
The disruption broke loose the boundaries that governed my personal psyche just in time for freshmen biology with Mr. Newin (whose full name I never managed to uncover). Like a sea captain reaching out to apathetic passengers on a sinking ship, he was a new teacher and eager to help inner city kids. I held on tight to that lifejacket and in hindsight, that made all the difference.
It wasn’t any particular lecture or office hour that was monumentally life changing but rather it was his availability and willingness to help that established our mentor-mentee relationship. With a shaky command of English, I remember saving up a list of terms every class and asked him after the period is over. Our discussion slowly shifted from biology to math, to literature, to college, then career, and life. It was the collection of these moments that helped develop the meta-skills I needed to learn and grow into a better expression of myself.
The Triumph of Mentorship
Even with all that is wrong in the world, I am optimistic about the future of humanity and our endless capacity to learn, to renew and to serve. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have our lives positively influenced by a mentor (either formally or informally), we all have stories that we’ll carry with us throughout our lives. But more than just good stories, mentors do make a measurable difference. Young adults with mentors are 55% more likely to enroll in college. They are 78% more likely to volunteer regularly, 90% are interested in becoming a mentor and 130% more likely to hold future leadership positions! The numbers are even more pronounced when mentees and mentors have shared backgrounds and experiences.
I never had a chance to thank Mr. Newin when his contract ended that year. He eventually encouraged and recommended me to a STEM internship program sponsored by the Museum of Natural History. On the day of the interview, I recall taking the C train for the first time to a place beyond the 5 block mental radius that formerly defined the totality of my world. Moreover, I can’t help but think about all the young immigrants that have made the jump into our community and are struggling to navigate through the challenges of cultural and social barriers. As the year trickles down, I challenge everyone in the Fujianese American community to make the world a bigger place for someone less fortunate and volunteer to become a mentor.
Great Volunteering/Mentoring Resources: