Alex Soong ’21 RGLP Reflection: The Importance of Going Out of Your Comfort Zone

Each fall, winter, and spring, the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program (RGLP) brings together 25 student leaders to increase their understanding of global leadership and intercultural competency. Through weekly sessions with speakers and a culminating experience to either Boston, Montreal, or New York City, the students are able to learn about themselves and cross-cultural leadership. The Spring 2019 cohort spent a weekend in Montreal as part of their culminating experience.

Teaching English to immigrant youth at the Baltimore City Esperanza Center was a significant intercultural experience that took me out of my comfort zone while reaffirming my passion for languages and cultures. As a Senior Classroom Assistant, I facilitated and modeled English-learning activities for seventeen students. Furthermore, I monitored and assisted students during classroom activities by checking grammar, pronunciation, and other things. I also led and supervised students during field trips and provided direction for the YouthWorker in the classroom. 

This fulfilling experience showed me the importance of learning languages and cultures in a rapidly globalizing world, and the importance of effective communication when there is a language barrier. There were some miscommunications in our daily interactions, but working through these misunderstandings together proved to be a wonderful growing experience for both me and the students, because we learned more about each other, becoming more vulnerable, open-minded, and self-aware.

As the only Asian male, I noticed my own race and background among mostly Hispanic youth and adults, but I believe that acknowledging and embracing these differences have caused me to be a more understanding and empathetic individual, with many new diverse experiences. Rather than allowing fear and confusion to consume my mind, I approached my work with astonishment and curiosity. To be more welcoming, I reviewed my Spanish before starting the position so that I could be more approachable to the students and communicate with them more effectively. I also always listened attentively and gave encouragement when the students fondly recounted stories of their childhood in their home countries, such as Ecuador, Venezuela, and Mexico.

I learned so much from the students’ unique stories, and, at the same time, I hope that I taught them about who I am and my own story. I am passionate about education above all, and I want to improve educational opportunity and equity in Baltimore City, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status. As I began to appreciate the students as individuals, I thought less about our differences and more about how inspiring, intelligent, and hard-working they were.

-Written by Alex Soong ’21, Spring 2019 RGLP Participant

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Rockefeller Center or constitute an endorsement by the Center.