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Maegan Jong has learned at a very young age about "the importance and beauty of sharing and learning." The 15-year old resident of Palatine spent the summer teaching Mandarin to residents of Friendship Village in Schaumburg.
Maegan, who is a sophomore at William Fremd High School explained that her parents immigrated from Taiwan, and thus, she grew up in a Mandarin Chinese-speaking household. "I was privileged to be immersed in two cultures at once. My perspective and knowledge of Chinese was widened. I hoped to bring the seniors at Friendship Village a similar experience," she said.
Maegan recalled first learning about the senior living community while she was a student at the Chicago Northwest Suburban Chinese School. "I performed traditional Chinese dances for residents at Friendship Village to celebrate the Chinese New Year. My first impression of the elders was that they were caring, welcoming and interested in Chinese culture. Their enthusiasm to discover more about Chinese inspired me to teach the language at Friendship Village," she said.
Maegan was then able to watch her older sister teach Mandarin at Friendship Village several years ago. "Even though I was little back then, about nine, I was truly fascinated by the positive impact my sister was making for the elders. The memory of fun and enjoyable classes remains vivid in my mind to this day. Inspired to similarly make a difference in my community, I enthusiastically planned on teaching and volunteering at Friendship Village once I was old enough," she said. "I learned that volunteering at Friendship Village meant more than just doing community service. It's truly making a difference in these seniors' lives."
"I was also motivated because I saw teaching Chinese as an opportunity to demonstrate that learning is not exclusive to the youth. I wanted to prove that despite the age, learning is always possible. Learning should never stop, and individuals can always discover new knowledge. As a current student myself, I understand how crucial education is to challenge our minds and broaden our perspectives of this world," Maegan said.
Maegan's classes were full of fun and a careful balance of "language and culture," she explained. "I wanted to engage the seniors, for example, challenging them to say their birthdays in Chinese and rewarding them with Chinese gifts such as a red envelope when they completed it. I employed various teaching methods such as playing videos introducing Chinese holidays and allowing the students to greet and have conversations with each other in Chinese using the vocabulary they just learned."
Maegan is highly involved in her high school; she is the 2016 Public Forum Debate State Champion, a player on the high school's badminton team, a member of the Student Council, a member of the Varsity Dance Team as a freshman, and a teaching assistant at her former Chinese school. But it's Jong's thoughts about her experience with her senior students at Friendship Village that reveal the true measure of her character: "The elders taught me that, with a positive attitude, hard work and a smile, anything can be done. I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity to work with the residents. My goal was to teach and share my knowledge of Chinese, but I also learned so much more from this rewarding experience."
Maegan's dedication to learning and sharing carries beyond the Friendship Village classroom. Maegan founded Nomi Bobi, a non-profit organization that supports and promotes mental health by selling beautiful handmade owl decorations. (nomibobi.com) "Witnessing the importance of the mind regardless of age, I am passionate about Nomi Bobi, and its efforts in improving and raising awareness about mental health," she said.
"We were so fortunate to have had Maegan with us this summer," said Donna Brown, lifestyles activities manager for Friendship Village. "The residents embrace lifelong learning, and when coupled with this infusion of youth, it's just wonderful."
View a video of Friendship Village residents singing "Happy Birthday" in Mandarin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZmRfXd04RU
Read the story as it appears in the Daily Herald.