Alexander's Story
From Alexander Lam, Founder and Executive Director of Youth For Shangri-La:

In 2008, when my parents told me I was going to spend an entire week of my summer vacation in one of the most remote places in the world teaching kids English, my first reaction was that this was not going to work. First of all, I have no teaching experience, after all at that time, I was only a fourteen year old freshman in high school. Second of all, everyone who lived in Shangri-la only spoke either their native language or mandarin, and I could only speak very little mandarin. And third, when it comes to dealing with a young child, not to mention several of them, I couldn't be worse. So as I thought through how could I possibly teach anything in Shangri-la to anyone, it seemed like an utterly hopeless situation.

But as many of you probably have already discovered, when it comes to your parents telling you to do something, you have almost no choice, no matter what you say, no matter how completely bizarre it might seem. I tried not to think about it on the plane ride over or the few days we spent in other cities before we flew to Shangri-la, but the thought always crossed my mind that my parents were making a horrible mistake forcing me to do this. So there I was, less than a week from leaving my warm comfortable home, 14000 ft. high in a place in China whose inhabitants are 95% Tibetan. Perfect.

After a few days of acclimation time, the time had come for me to teach English for the first time in my life. Perhaps it was because of how low my expectations were that it didn't seem so bad, but it truly wasn't. Luckily I only had one student to teach the whole week I was there, and she and I formed a bond that could only have been achieved under these unexpected circumstances. She was an 8 year old girl named Ru Ping, and unbelievably mature for her age. Unlike myself at 8 and probably most 8 year olds in the U.S., she was very eager to learn, which made it a lot easier on me. She had a little sister who was 5, who I only heard talk once the whole time I was there, and Ru Ping would always have to stop her from doing stuff like playing with scissors or eating stuff. Ru Ping even took her home one day because she was becoming too much of a nuisance, and returned to continue learning. Ru Ping was a fast learner, and fortunately so, because I know from experience if people don't learn as fast as I want them to, I lose my patience.

By the third or fourth day we were able to have very simple dialogue, which for me was a gratifying success seeing as she had come from nearly no previous background in English. And by the fifth or sixth day, I had run out of stuff to teach her (I did not want to teach her too much in that one week I was there), so I basically asked her what she wanted to learn, and she started naming fruits and flowers and animals in mandarin, none of which I knew what she was talking about so I simply got out a Chinese-English picture dictionary and had her point to which ones she wanted to learn. I had become much more comfortable with her and teaching came easily to my now.

It was a sad day for both of us when I had to leave. I got her address so I could write to her from the U.S., but other than that, there was no other way for us to communicate that far of a distance. So I set off for the next part of my China trip which was going to see the Olympics, and I was very excited for finally being able to start my summer vacation. Even after the plane had taken off, I was think of how much more confident of myself I had become in terms of being able to teach others a completely new language even while not able to speak theirs. But above that, I was thinking of Ru Ping and how she had made that change possible in me.

Upon my return to California, I founded Youth For Shangri-La in 2008 to help train Tibetan students aged between 16 and 22 to speak English and learn basic business skills. Since then, we have had two very successful programs during the summer of 2009 and 2010. We raised over USD 12,000 and trained over 22 young Tibetans from Shangri-La. Please join me on this transformative journey to make a lifelong impact these young Tibetans!

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