By Kenny Hong, College and Career Mentoring Program Intern
Photos courtesy of Kenny Hong and Freidricka Camille, College and Career Mentoring Program Coordinator
My name is Kenny Hong and, for the past summer, I have been the College and Career Mentoring Program Intern. I am a rising senior at Carnegie Mellon University, and I plan to attend law school next year—granted, that I did not utterly bomb my LSAT a few weeks ago.
Over the summer, I have gained tremendous insight into AALEAD, the mentoring program, and myself. I have never interned at a nonprofit before, let alone at an organization that hits so close to home. Growing up, I neither considered myself empowered by nor proud of my cultural identity. As a first generation Japanese-Korean-American from a low-income household in New Jersey, I often sought comfort in trying to “blend-in” and remain unproblematic, keeping aspects of my identity hidden, from those around me. I used to begin almost every other sentence with “I’m sorry…,” which my supervisor Freidricka has empowered me stop doing. In retrospect, I understand that my mentality was misguided. My behavior was a product of the Model Minority stigma surrounding Asian Americans. I can now understand that differences, from cultural to financial to individual quirks, within a young person are empowering and something to wield with pride.
My time with AALEAD has allowed me to broaden my perspective in multiple ways. Firstly, I learned that I love learning about cultures that are not my own. As most within this field of work understand, Asian American communities greatly vary in skin-tone, religion, mores, values, etc. Although a mere four hour flight (more or less) will connect Japan/Korea to the Philippines, my supervisor (Freidricka) and co-intern (Alex) have showed me with great heart that there are just as many idiosyncratic differences as there are similarities within their Filipino culture and my own. (Side note, if you are visiting the Philippines anytime soon, then beware of the Manananggal!) I have learned ways to empathize with the personal experiences of others and to respect cultures and identities different from my own.
A highlight of my summer was when I had the opportunity to support the mentoring team in the Annual Mentor Retreat, an event for mentors to build community, learn new skills, and share lessons learned from their own mentoring experiences. Due to my administrative role in CCMP, this retreat served as the first time I was able to put faces and names together. In addition to furthering my professional repertoire in facilitation skills, time management, and administrative support, I gained invaluable insights on the mentors. Up until this point, I never fully understood why a mentor would volunteer his or her time to mentoring. Yes, I understood the leadership or professional development opportunity the program offers to mentors, but the four-hour minimum commitment per month for a year is no joke. However, I quickly realized that the primary motivations for our mentors stem from kindness and pure intentions.
These mentors exhibited immense vulnerability, an eagerness to learn, and genuine concerns during the retreat, which only showed me that these mentors truly do care about the young people that they hope to positively impact. These mentors enriched my perspective that caring adults such as them indeed exist–adults that act in partnership with and in the best interest of a young person. Our mentors illustrated to me how vulnerability is a great sign of strength, not weakness, especially from our male-identifying mentors. I love that our mentors exposed parts of their mentoring experience that were not easy or not immediately rewarding; the collective effort to expose their vulnerability only served to empower the cohort of mentors as well as ourselves on the mentoring team.
My internship with AALEAD is an unforgettable experience. I was given the opportunity to witness highly effective acts of youth development from volunteers and staff who have beautifully kind hearts. Although I am leaving with great sadness, I am glad that I was able to gain insight into the people who work in youth advocacy. The perspectives I have gained allow me to empower myself and to recognize that my cultural identity and times of vulnerability are modes of growth and strength. As Freidricka often urges me to do, I hope to move forward with more conviction, confidence, and kindness–no more unnecessary “I’m sorry…!” Moving forward, I hope that my trajectory for law school does not blind the perspectives I have gained at AALEAD and only serve as another means to accomplish the same or similar missions to those of AALEAD.
To learn more on becoming an intern with AALEAD, contact Freidricka Camille at firstname.lastname@example.org.