When I first arrived at Penn in the fall of 2012, I knew about three people, one of whom was my cousin Sebastian. He asked me to be a work study student for the after school SAT tutoring class which he started, and I begrudgingly accepted. Four years, countless classes, and a myriad of life stories later, I could not have been more thankful for the opportunity.
For the past four years, I have been a teacher to students from all over Philadelphia as part of the PCDC youth tutoring program. My job responsibilities included drafting lesson plans, doing practice SAT sections, and teaching whatever else the students wanted to learn — sometimes math, sometimes literary analyses, and yes, sometimes life advice.
Many of my students did not come from the most auspicious backgrounds, and some had literally just arrived in this country. Despite the language barriers (suffice to say my 8+ years of studying Mandarin could not prepare me to define something like ‘euphemism’), I was in awe of the sheer fortitude and determination my students showed to master this one test and to get into college.
When I cancelled class due to midterms, I would get Facebook messages from students wondering why class wasn’t being held. When I ran out of time to go over a difficult passage or math question, I would get texts late at night asking me to write out solutions with explanations and to send them back. And even when I was on winter and summer breaks, the emails didn’t stop coming — “what do you think about my thesis?”, “am I getting my point across in this last paragraph?” I tried to respond to everyone’s requests.
But far and away the greatest memories I have from these four years were the Facebook messages I saw and the cards/messages I received when my former students had gotten into exceptional colleges and universities or summer internships amidst exceptional adversities. Many of my former students thanked me for helping them achieve their dreams of pursuing further education but I rebutted their praise and gratitude. I am the one who should be thankful. I witnessed true work ethic, passion, and struggle. I know I am somewhat of a role model to my students, given how I have achieved, in their eyes, the ultimate goal of attending and graduating from an Ivy League institution, but I hope that they can also take the time to realize their own tremendous accomplishments.