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  • Writer's pictureJessica

Sharing My Values with a Soul-Baring Story

Updated: May 3

Thanks to a bursary from TAVA, I'm currently in a Professional Development Leadership Course from the University of Waterloo's Centre for Extended Learning. Last week, we did a module on communication, and were asked to: "Refer to your key values... Now think about how those values could shape a vision statement, one that you'd use to educate and inspire... Write a three- to five-minute vision speech. Try to include an analogy or brief story in your speech."

I wrote my answer and honestly felt like I bared a bit of my soul. Reflecting on my values and where they come from stirred up a lot of emotion for me. This is my identity, and while I am proud, I grapple with my identity and cultural place like many other children of immigrants. Don't believe me? Google "child of immigrants identity" and watch the scholarly articles, human-interest stories, and blogs come up in your search results.

This is my story: I'm not speaking here for all the Chinese-Canadian millennial women from middle-class families who are type-A. We are all individuals with unique lived experience.

Also: please be gentle if you have any feedback/ comments. This was seriously emotional for me to write.


I am the child of immigrants from Hong Kong. On my first day of kindergarten, my mom said to me, “and one day, you’ll go to university.” There was no question about it, no alternative, my role was to be a good student. 

Photo: High School Graduation Banquet with My Parents

Mercifully, academics came fairly naturally to me. But like most teenagers, distraction, angst, and rebellion were negative influences. In Grade 10, I found out that there was something at my school called the "Principal’s List” for the top 10% of students in each grade, and that I wasn’t on it. At first, that gave me another thing to sulk about. Then, I dug deep and was determined to get on the Principal’s List in Grade 11.

I worked my butt off… and in the process, learned a lot about my values: achievement, perseverance, self-reliance. For families in my culture and social class, no matter how hard things are financially, parents save up for their kids’ university education. In some families, this meant that parents could choose what their children studied, because they were paying for it. As the oldest child, I was determined not to become a doctor (too gory), accountant/ banker (too boring), or engineer (I struggled with concepts in physics). I fell in love with ecology and found a passion for environmental causes.

I was determined not to get sucked into high school social politics (which was why I didn’t get on the Principal’s List in Grade 10), so I spent my spare time volunteering and studying- all my spare time. Seriously, my parents eventually got worried about me and encouraged me to go out and see my friends (which I never imagined would happen). In Grade 11, I did get on the Principal’s List. That’s when I started working on my resume and applying to scholarships.

In Grade 12, I was offered a full scholarship to Simon Fraser University. I did my undergrad there, in Environmental Science, and lived in residence to get the full experience I wanted without any guilt about not doing pre-med and living at home instead.

I’ve carried forward the values I found in high school to my life today. And all that volunteering, led me to a fulfilling career as a Volunteer Engagement Professional. When I work with volunteers nowadays, or coach my colleagues to engage with volunteers, I focus not only on the “do good”, but also on the “do well”. When someone I’m supporting struggles, I motivate them to persevere, to push through, or to try a different angle. When I myself struggle, I focus on finding solutions and being resourceful, reaching out to my mentors when I’ve exhausted other options.

So, here's my vision: Jessica is a lifelong learner who motivates and coaches others to learn, connect, do good, and do well.

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