By Kamya Khanna, Current AALEAD Mentor
Photos Courtesy of Kamya Khanna, Current AALEAD Mentor
As the end of National Mentoring Month draws near, we wanted to share Kamya’s story and the experience that she has had with AALEAD’s Mentoring Program. Thank you to all of our Mentors – we are extremely grateful for you and continue to be inspired by you and your dedication every single day. We hope you enjoy Kamya’s story, and Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina Ngo, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator
As an undergraduate student, I spent a semester studying language and culture in Shanghai. Once I returned to the United States, I wanted to seek volunteering opportunities that would let me stay connected with Chinese culture. Since I also enjoy working with youth, I found my way to AALEAD, which provided a fantastic opportunity to get involved in DC’s Asian American community and hopefully make a positive contribution. So, in 2012, I decided to sign up as a Mentor.
Before meeting my Mentee for the first time, I was very nervous. Would it be difficult to make conversation with her? Would I have any useful guidance to share with a teenager? Would she trust me? Would I be able to set a good example for a young girl? When we finally met, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she was immediately talkative and excited to make a new connection. Thanks to her friendly demeanor, it did not take long for the two of us to find a comfortable rhythm with each other. Within a few weeks, I got to know all about her favorite school subjects, her friends from her hometown, her family, and her favorite kinds of music.
AALEAD has made it possible for us to continue making great memories together, such as participating in local community service projects and park clean-ups, ice-skating, and even visiting the White House to admire Christmas decorations. Separately, my Mentee and I have formed a solid bond during outings to DC’s art museums, visits to local outdoor markets, homework help sessions, and frequent Skype calls. We have attended cultural events where my Mentee has been able to teach me about Chinese New Year traditions, and in turn I have taken her to cultural functions that have taught her about my Indian heritage. Most importantly, we have reached a place where she is comfortable sharing with me any worries or dilemmas that she is confronting.
Over the past two years, I have aimed to guide my Mentee through her recent transition to high school, navigating the highs and lows of making new friends, being involved in the school community and balancing an ever-increasing workload. As she has opened up to me about her hopes and fears in this new chapter of her life, I am proud to have been able to be an effective listener who is present when she needs to vent frustrations, but also able to relate my own experiences in a way that might help her. I am especially proud of my Mentee and how she has remained a hard-working, well-liked, and fun-loving high schooler.
I have learned that being a good Mentor isn’t necessarily the same thing as having the perfect advice for any situation. Instead, what it really means to me is being available whenever my Mentee needs me. I do not need to have all of the answers to my Mentee’s problems, but I do need to have the willingness to spend time understanding her thoughts and problems so that I may guide her to resources that may be helpful. The mentoring experience has proved to be very rewarding. It has allowed me not only to gain confidence in my own skills as a leader in this way, but it has also allowed me to feel that I am indeed setting a positive example for a wonderful young girl, who will surely continue to blossom.