From Cambridge to Chinatown

Today is my last day working as a teacher/assistant in a Cambridge after-school. Tomorrow, I start my new job as a teacher’s assistant in a preschool and after-school in Chinatown. In the Cambridge after-school program, I have a gained a lot in the one and a half year I have been working there.

Of course, I would not have gotten so much without the support and guidance of the amazing director who hired me. Throughout my time in the after-school that I worked with her, she was always very open and gave me the space to explore my interests and goals as a youth worker and teacher. There’s so many experiences in this after-school program that I would have never imagined myself ever doing in my life prior to working there.

First and foremost, I didn’t think I could work with children as young as 4 years old since most of my experience prior is working with teenager employees in a supervisory role. Honestly, during my first couple of weeks working there, I spent transition time between classes and pick-up time cleaning and other things to stay on my feet to avoid awkward social interactions with the young students. Within a month though, to my surprise, I grew to love the students. Instead of spending most of time cleaning, I developed more into enjoying my time playing with and getting to know the students. What really connects me with them is their fullness of curiosity, openness, and optimism.

One thing about me that caught the students’ attention was the fact that I was an origami teacher. If not interested in making crafts, at least all the students were fascinated by the sight of a simple piece of paper transformed into this beautiful shape or portrayal of something in real life. Before working in this Cambridge after school program, I would have never thought I would be an origami teacher. Even the students who have never been in my origami classes, I have still taught many of them outside of my classes during the transition and pick-up times. I enjoy sharing this knowledge and feeding their optimism to achieve great things. I even had a student teaching me an origami model I have never done before. Teaching origami has definitely been both a teaching and learning experience.

2 Foot Origami Pikachu
Students making modules for an origami model made of multiple pieces

 In my teaching of origami, I had the opportunity of sharing my knowledge of the Lunar New Year with both the students and the staff. I taught the students in my origami classes how to make lanterns out of red envelopes. Another project related to this holiday they did was a presentation to the whole after-school program about what they had learned about the Lunar New Year, which also included giving everyone in the program red envelopes. In each red envelope was an origami heart with Chinese characters written on them, saying things like “good luck”, “good health” and “long life”. 

Red Envelope Lanterns
Red Envelopes with Origami Hearts with Chinese Character written on them
Being an origami teacher and sharing my knowledge of the Lunar New Year helped me a gain a deeper of sense of cultural pride. Before the Lunar New Year, I could barely read or write in Chinese. Shortly after, about half a year, my knowledge went from 30 characters to about 1000. My love for my own culture just shot up exponentially: music, food, kungfu, language, history, and so many other things. So, starting this new year 2017, I realized how much I missed Chinatown and my time working in Cambridge is coming to an end. I’m ready to return to this community where I spent most of my childhood, slightly avoided in my teenage years, and kept in my periphery in the last couple of years as an adult with a growing interest to return.