The power—and responsibilities—of knowing a language

Years after I'd immigrated to the United States, I went back to visit my home country China last summer. I reunited with my old friends, and we shared life stories about the years that we missed together. When I asked about their high school lives, they told me that they did nothing else except for intense studying. At that moment, I realized how fortunate I was to have a chance to study in the United States, especially at the diverse San Gabriel Valley, where I am able to prove my abilities through many extracurricular activities. 
Jiang at her graduation ceremony | Photo courtesy of Nicole Yinghui Jiang
As more and more immigrants are settling in the City of Alhambra, the English tutors in high school are in high demand. When I became a tutor for the English Learners at Alhambra High School, I discovered my value to other people as I answered students’ questions, explained the class lecture, and translated for the class. When I saw the improvement of the English Learners under my help, I realized the power of helping others in need. 
Sometimes I would consider carefully about the responsibilities that I have as a daughter, a part time employee, an English tutor, and a student. My responsibilities extend beyond those of a typical 17-year-old who must finish homework or study for tests at school. As an immigrant with a non English speaking mother, I need to take every English related job at home, like paying online bills, calculating monthly expenses, or reading mail. As an employee working 15 hours each week, I need to have a professional commitment to my employer, co-workers, and patients; I cannot quit easily despite the fact that school and my part time job are too overwhelming sometimes. As an English tutor, I need to make sure my tutees are making significant progress with their English skills to prove that I have done my job well. As a student, I need to maintain good grades on top of doing other extracurricular activities. I learn things not merely from the textbook but also from the real world. 
Jiang reading from her essay at Alhambra Source's book launch party | Photo by Albert Lu
Reflecting on my experiences in the U.S., I realize that I have gotten rid of my old self. I used to study for the sake of studying when I was in China; I tried hard to get good grades in order to look good in front of my classmates when we compared scores. The stress and pride wore me out. I am feeling more optimistic ever since I immigrated to the U.S., because I gradually realized we have many more meaningful ways to prove our ability than comparing scores with each other's. We can join service clubs at school to contribute to the community, tutor students who have trouble learning, and even get a part-time job to prove our ability to earn money at high school. I also used to feel diffident when speaking English in front of the whole class due to my accent, but it does not bother me anymore. I feel proud that I am trilingual and can translate for the English Learners in class. 
During my immigrant's journey in the U.S., I have used an open mindset to face the obstacles that I have encountered. What I experienced in this land of opportunity shaped me into a better person, and guided me to live my life to its fullest potential.
Judges selected seven winners from more than 100 entries in the 2015 Sam and Jackie Wong-Alhambra Source Scholarship. Alhambra high school seniors and recent graduates were asked to write about their heritage and how it had come to shape them. The winners each received a $500 scholarship award, along with the opportunity to have their essays published in Alhambra Source. Nicole Yinghui Jiang, one of the winners, will be attending San Diego State University this fall to major in Nursing. She wrote to the Source to say that she wants to focus on pediatric nursing, as she enjoys working with children. Jiang says that her passion for nursing wasn't a gradual development, but rather a sudden one that was inspired by an unlikely source. "I was watching a nursing TV show one day, that was my first time realizing the power of nurses," said Jiang.

Leave a Reply