By Stephanie Lim, Mentoring and Volunteer Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Neel Saxena, Development & Communications Director
I’m excited to join AALEAD as Mentoring and Volunteer Coordinator. I started in this position on August 24th and I’ve been learning so much! The staff has been so welcoming and kind, and it’s been great working alongside them. I’m especially excited to be working with my manager, Tina.
I want to share what brought me to AALEAD so that you have a better idea of who I am and what my passions are.
I was born in Queens, New York to parents from South Korea. They worked a lot, so I spent a lot of my time reading and going to the local library after school. It kept me out of trouble and nurtured my interests in literature, film, and history. I had two high school English teachers who gave me structure and encouraged me to write. Despite instability and various problems at home, my teachers gave me the space to express myself, be creative, and feel good about something. They provided a consistent adult presence in my life when my parents could not.
I graduated from Hampshire College in 2011, concentrating in American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Asian American Studies. I’d started out wanting to pursue literature and poetry but found myself gravitating toward social science classes. I remember learning about the origins of the US census and US racial category formation during my first year. Many things I could not articulate and didn’t know how to express before suddenly gained language and urgency. My experiences no longer felt isolated and unimportant. My studies brought me to such issues as race and racism, colorism, class, sexual orientation, gender, ability, health disparities, immigration, diaspora, nation-building, and much more.
I thought about what I wanted to do with all of this knowledge I had gained from the world of academia. I felt frustrated with the elitism and inaccessible language I encountered in my classes, and I wanted to find practical ways to use what I had learned. Upon graduation, I realized that I wanted to be in a position to help youth. I looked for jobs at organizations that supported youth through education, outreach, and support. This led me to an after-school teaching position at JHS 189 with the Hodori After-School Program in Flushing, New York, where I taught a class primarily composed of 3rd graders. One of my fondest memories and proudest moments with the program was when a group of students, grades 3-5, participated in a mock trial activity with information from Landmark Supreme Court Case Korematsu vs. US (1944). I guided them in discussions that addressed racism, nation, immigration, and citizenship in ways that made sense to them. They asked questions, argued, and reflected. What more could I have asked for?
After my time with Hodori, I taught English for a year and a half in Sinnam, Inje County, South Korea. In addition to teaching during regular school hours, I taught supplementary literacy classes, tutored, and held evening classes for adult learners. Being bilingual helped me communicate more precisely with my coworkers and students, but it also helped me cultivate personal relationships with them. My students and I became close, and saying goodbye to them has been one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. After returning to the States last Fall, I worked with AALEAD’s after school program at Thomson Elementary. I was glad to be in a position to help facilitate learning among students again, and it was great seeing them grow and thrive through their enrichment activities. I had a chance to work with some of these students again through AALEAD’s summer literacy program at Walker-Jones Education Campus this past summer. One thing that I have noticed at AALEAD is the strong sense of community and family among the staff and students, so I felt that it was especially fitting that the theme this summer was Ohana.
I’m very much looking forward to working in this new position, and I’m excited to meet many more of you in the weeks and months to come. I feel humbled to be a part of this community organization, and to learn more about how I can best help them and the communities we serve. Before I finish this post, I want to share one of my father’s oft-repeated words of encouragement: “find your passions, chase your dreams.” My father helps me see the light and possibility in all things, and I hope to relay his words to our youth.