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I want to start this off by saying how much I miss UCLA, Project SPELL, and everyone I got to meet t...

Volunteer Spotlight: Former Project SPELL Tutor Teaches Abroad

December 3rd, 2013

I want to start this off by saying how much I miss UCLA, Project SPELL, and everyone I got to meet through it. I especially miss the employees I tutored in Project SPELL. I really do. It was that special feeling when you connect with a UCLA employee who you begin see as maybe a surrogate parent or sibling on campus. Talking about our lives – where we came from, where we want to go – gave me an awareness that no lecture hall at UCLA gave me. It was a familiarity that I hadn’t reached in undergrad. Sure, we can go to lectures and discussions to learn about how education and immigration laws affect our peers, but I still felt a sense of disconnect. I spent the formative years of my life in Hong Kong and was largely ignorant of these issues, so it was Project SPELL that gave me the consciousness that I bring to work with me every day in Hong Kong.

After graduating this past June, I moved back to Hong Kong where I started my career in education. I work as a teacher in a learning center, which are a very common in Asia, and teach nursery-aged to middle school children. I teach nursery to kindergarten classes from morning to about 4 o’clock when school lets out, and in the afternoon, children come to get help with their homework. I get the freedom to plan my own classes, and I’m glad that I got lesson planning practice and peer revisions on lesson planning in Project SPELL. This helped me be disciplined with lesson planning! Just last week, I had an amazing lesson where I staged an Avril Lavigne concert during class. It is lessons like these that make me go home feeling like I am doing what I always wanted to do.

Now that I’m working as a teacher, I’m more aware of the real-life challenges to being an educator and how education policy affects immigrants. In Hong Kong, kindergarten is extremely competitive, and the lines for kindergarten applications are so infamously long that every year they are televised. When local parents are unable to get their child in the school of their choice, the blame is often unfairly shifted to immigrant parents for overcrowding the schools with their children. Working in a learning center has also opened my eyes to how parents are pushing their children at younger ages to be able to bypass larger milestones than expected, so as to make them more competitive.

Project SPELL helped me gain an appreciation for people as they are, instead of simply as a demographic. It has changed the way I see these children and their parents, immigrant or not. Everyone is working so hard for the prestige of going to a university, and who can blame parents for wanting to give their children the best opportunity they can? Thinking of the bonds I formed in Project SPELL with the employees I tutored and peers I developed friendships with reminds me of the race that I am part of. The human race, that is. Treasure the people that you meet, and the lessons you can learn from them. As my former employee learner Raul would have said, “It’s not over ’til it’s OVER!”

About the Author:

Elsa Chan graduated from UCLA in Spring 2013 with a major in English. She is currently working in Hong Kong as a teacher specializing in English and early childhood education. Her involvement with the UCLA Volunteer Center’s Project SPELL initiative during her time at UCLA fueled her desire to become a teacher. Elsa was part of the Student Committee of Project SPELL and would highly recommend using your time wisely at UCLA by getting involved with something outside your immediate concerns.

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