导师观察 | “非科班”的我,从教育咨询中学到了什么

 Ming  美国常春藤教育 5月4日

Ming老师曾受聘于美国知名私立中学任数学教师并负责该校”雏鹰计划“项目,项目首届5名毕业生全部获美国“全国优秀学生奖学金”提名,2名获此殊荣,另2名获“年度国际杰出高中毕业生”称号。Ming老师细心负责,深受学生爱戴,他所指导的学生已变遍及耶鲁、布朗、宾大、杜克等名校。



“非科班”的我,从教育咨询中学到了什么

文/ Ming Hsu

译/ Wenwen Guo; Xirui Sun



在Ivy Labs,我是一名国际教育规划导师。工作的第一年,某天办公室迎来了一位访客,他是耶鲁大学医学院的著名教授(现在已成为Ivy Labs “未来学者”项目的专业咨询师),他的儿子当时在Ivy Labs授课。简单的问候之后,他询问起我的教育背景。当得知我是布朗大学工程和应用数学专业的在读博士生时,他不由面露困惑之色,质疑我是否在职业选择上犯了个严重的错误。随即这位教授便被介绍给办公室的其他同事认识,由于拥有与这份职业更加“匹配”的教育背景——譬如教育学和心理学,同事们的回答则并没有引起相同的困惑与质疑。



尽管时间不允许我们进一步交流, 这位教授的想法却不言而喻,甚至是具有一定代表性的——一名未来的工程师和数学家岂可从事别种职业?哪怕稍微偏离专业轨道,也是对读博期间所有辛勤付出的挥霍虚掷,甚至是对整个学术领域的亵渎。如此,一旦自然学科的学者“涉猎”人文职业,便是浪费了STEM学科(科学、技术、工程、数学类学科)精心培养出的批判性和收敛思维能力。无独有偶,根据美国劳工统计部的一份全国性研究,2015和2016年间,STEM毕业生从事教育类工作的比例仅为3%。



回到我自身,是什么令我做出如此“离经叛道”的选择?而这样“惹人生疑”的职业选择——乃至激怒了耶鲁大学生物物理系的终身教授——又在我日常的国际教育咨询工作中又扮演了什么样的角色?



要回答这个问题,就得从Gogo说起,他是我担任执行导师后所指导的第一位学生。Gogo是一名全面发展,在STEM学科稍具优势的学生。他理性、机敏,爱理性发问,古灵精怪的发散式思维和惊人的语速完美结合。Gogo自学能力出众,曾在两年内完成13门AP课程,并全部取得A的好成绩。Gogo担任了许多学生领导工作,自小学起便肩负班长一职。他也是苹果产品的多年忠实粉丝。Gogo还有一个特殊的爱好,对飞机起飞无比着迷,如果你和他探讨过这个话题,对飞机制造业肯定会有全新的认识,甚至是蔑视。没错,他可是非常有说服力的!但Gogo的弱点也很明显:在他的言谈和英文写作中,仍然清晰可见多年中国传统教育的烙痕,加上Gogo的思维大胆,兴趣广泛,囿于国内教育体制中的他并不能得到足够支持。



作为旁观者,目睹Gogo的发散式思维被束缚在崇尚收敛的教育体系中并不好受。于是,每次头脑风暴课上,我都让Gogo尽情抒发那些看似离经叛道的想法,尽管不切实际者众,却也有不少观点得到了认可。很快,他对旅行的热爱和对美食的向往便初露苗头,并最终成为申请文书中的个性亮点。这给凯斯西储大学的招生主任留下了深刻印象,在给Gogo发出的EA录取函中还特意留言,夸奖他的文书“难忘”且“有趣”。



然而我想强调的是,在和Gogo的诸多对话中,看着他从最初的满腹疑虑转为后来的自信满满,不仅是学生从导师那里寻求理性宽慰的过程,也是老师真正认识自己学生的过程。正是通过交流,我才慢慢懂得Gogo的温柔和幽默,理解他因为目睹自己祖父的老去而产生的种种思索,探究科技的进步、道德的沦丧,和人性的泯灭。更重要的是,对我个人而言,这样的对话亦是对我自身思维的一种锻炼,不失为一种宝贵的契机!



就这样,Gogo找到我,是为了进入生物工程专业 。而非常使人欣慰的是,一年半之后,我们见证了他顺利入读西北大学生物工程专业。西北大学注重培养学生的实践能力、目的性和超凡的多元潜能,对Gogo来说,无疑是最佳的选择。


每次和学生的集思广益都是对脑力的极大考验,甚至包括那些课堂之外相对随意的对谈,而通过和学生们交流,我得以突破思维局限的例子也不胜枚举。我至今记得和Jane的面试。Jane是我们2017届来自北京的学生,现在是耶鲁大学的大一学生。当时,Jane来Ivy Labs参加我们本科生学生导师项目(College Mentorship Program)的选拔。 她对环境正义研究有着浓厚的兴趣,并主张通过制定国际烟尘排放税法来对抗气候恶化,这让我对她肃然起敬。谈话结束后,我开始反思自己的日常行为,例如哪些购物选择可能在不经意间加重全球变暖问题。



给我留下深刻印象的还有Sue。Sue甜美、细腻,总是面带亲切的微笑。不过,你可别被她温柔可人的外表欺骗了,Sue对自己的梦想有着惊人的执着和追求。平时柔声细语、身形纤弱的她,为了理想所展现出的那般刚毅和果敢,让我都为之诧异。这种力量源自何处呢?我猜她平时在香港超市(我们纽黑文办公室隔壁一间家庭式亚洲超市)疯狂扫货的那些超辣方便面和常年不离手的星巴克咖啡功不可没!言归正传,Sue的本科申请过程并非一帆风顺,当然这也和她不甚理想的标准化考试成绩有关,此外,她的一些个人问题,以及她长久以来的拖延症 (仿佛是现在高中生的通病),也导致了她没能在早申请阶段斩获好的offer。但得益于精神上的鼓励和正确的疏导,在Alice家渡过许多个伤心的夜晚后,Sue重新振作起来。渐渐的,她学会发挥决断能力,并且常常主动来办公室找我商量对策,就这样,我们商榷出一份风格独特却又令人信服的申请材料,帮助她争取了梦校的一席之地。就在上个月,Sue收到了纽约大学工学院发来的ED II录取通知。我坚信她将崭露头角,并成为一名出色的女性机器人专家。



Kjo也是个不错的例子。尽管他一会儿成熟,一会儿幼稚,令人摸不着头脑,但他对建筑和赛艇的热爱却帮助我认识到,在艺术设计及其他设计的过程中,设计师和运动员一样,都需要挑战自身的生理极限。正是由于Kjo出于对我们的信任敞开心扉, 我才有机会认识到心流(Flow)这一概念。心流,又称为Zone,由心理学家米哈里·契克森米哈莱首先提出,用来描述一种罕见的极其专注的心理状态,不少顶端的艺术家和运动员们都为达到那样的状态而努力。当Kjo把他的个人经历毫无保留地展现在我们面前时,我仿佛能间接地感受到他身上涌动的心流。



类似的例子还有Johnnie。他的经历比较特殊,生活在深圳这个文化和商业交织的大都市,他常常得在学习和娱乐间做出艰难的抉择。再比如Christine,观察到纽黑文市涌入大量索马里难民后,她开始用画笔勾勒出难民们令人心碎的经历,并在自己的丙烯画上展现出更真实、令人耳目一新的故事,给观赏者带来了全新的美学体验,并帮助他们了解到索马里社会的实时动态。这令我联想到美国最高法院大法官索尼亚·索托马约尔在自传《我挚爱的世界》中所提到的“生命的平衡”。这种平衡还体现在William同学身上,他受日本电影人宫崎骏的启发开始了自己的电影创作,并通过作品传播一些有助社会革新的信息,而这些信息在皮克斯等主流动画工作室那儿,往往会吃个闭门羹。



多亏有这些学生,我才受到触动,真正去了解这些常出现在新闻标题栏里的关键词和术语。 若不是他们,这些标题或内容或许也就不过尔尔——不过是浩繁新闻中的又一篇罢了。要是我心情不好,这些内容在我眼中便是媒体对政客的学舌,是别有用心的“诱饵”,要是挑刺的情绪占了上风,我甚至会认为它们是近来某些意识形态喉舌刻意散播在外的假新闻,我可能根本不会点击阅读,或充其量一扫而过。



类似的例子还有许多,不甚枚举,但重要的是,如果没有我的这些学生,我对世界的认识就不会有所加深,我也不会在过去短短的几年中,取得如此长足的进步。当然,我也尽己所能,帮助学生们不断成长。能够切实参与到他们成长的点点滴滴中去,而不是仅仅作为旁观者,对我来说已是一项殊荣;能够在这一段心意相通的岁月中,和学生们互相帮助、共同提高,更是一种幸运。这种双向的启迪至今犹在我生活中产生助益。



这些年下来,我意识到教育咨询工作,尤其是帮助青少年更佳应对飞速发展的世界,帮助他们顺利过渡进入社会的咨询,本质上是种互动中的自我校正。通过协作,我和我的学生们彼此都重新审视了生活,并找到了新的意义和动力。我想,这正是促使我转投教育咨询业的原因。

然而还不止于此。随着团队的壮大,除了我自己的学生,上文提到的“大学生导师”项目(College Mentorship Program)也提供了绝佳的平台,通过这个项目,我有幸认识了许多优秀的年轻人。



比如从韦尔斯利学院毕业、现担任大学生导师的Debbie。她活力十足,个性阳光,出生于第一代台湾移民家庭,在密歇根州特洛伊市长大,从小接受非传统的放养式模范少数族裔教育。个人经历和家庭环境使Debbie萌生了社会创业创新方面的兴趣,并通过创新渠道,为坦桑尼亚村民争取社会公义与平等权力 ,这动人心弦的故事目前仍在徐徐展开新画卷。认识Debbie后,我开始重新审视“社区服务”这个概念,尤其是存在社会经济权力显著不平衡与文化差异的情形下,该如何帮助我们的学生挑选志愿者项目、制定社区服务计划。又如Linnea,曾经的大学生导师,在普林斯顿大学主修俄语和欧洲语系专业。我和Linnea因对创意写作和科学传播的共同爱好相识,甚至连最爱的单词都一样(“ephemera”,意为蜉蝣,转瞬即逝的生物)。真是无巧不成书!



回首当年,那位耶鲁大学教授的观点不乏学科局限性,早已与现今的时代脱节。但毋庸置疑,无论是否承认,这种观点仍然扎根于我们的脑海深处,并被不少前来咨询的学生家长所采信。老实说,在平日与家长们的一对一咨询中,我最常听到的观点依旧是,作为教育规划顾问,我们要如何说服他们的孩子去学习些“实在”、“有用”的专业。许多家长选择和我沟通,无论在线或是当面交流,恰恰是看中了我STEM专业的背景。我并不打算在此对这样的言论一一驳斥,人文学科在现代社会的价值毋庸置疑,诸多专栏文章早已对此反复重申;尽管我个人的观点也已显而易见,但由于和本文的目的相左,就不在此赘述了。



回到文章提出的第一个问题,在短短五年的教育生涯里,转变职业的学科方向这一选择为我带来了怎样的影响?简而言之,一切值得,甚至远超预期。在我看来,只要愿意花时间去反思,愿意耗费精力去成长,任何有志于此的人都能从这样的选择中获益良多。没错,我可以大方承认,这份工作“柔软”的内核也感染了我。得益于此,我更进一步了解到自身人性的方方面面。



卡夫卡说过,只有书本才能融化我们冰封的内心。我认为,教育咨询也有类似的功效。作为一名国际教育规划导师,我致力于建立深层次的同理心,不断打破自己的思维定势,摒弃根深蒂固的自满,尝试其他的生活模式,并出于道德紧迫感,重新审视生活,领略其迷人外表下的复杂和脆弱。我希望能够通过我的工作,以及工作中建立起的关系,帮助我的学生和家长们找到自身定位,忘记生活的琐碎,哪怕只是短暂的一瞬,并体会到生命的多姿多彩。

A counselor with a "mismatching background" and the lessons he learned

By/ Ming Hsu

My first year working here at Ivy Labs as an international educational counselor, a noted professor at Yale’s School of Medicine (who is now a consultative member of our Future Scholars Initiative and the dad of one of our tutors) came to visit our office. A few short pleasantries later, he inquired about my educational background. When I said I was a PhD student studying engineering and applied math at Brown. A bemused look quickly gave way to one of concern as if I had just made the biggest career mistake. He was soon whisked away to be acquainted with other colleagues who I’d assume didn’t get that same look of bewilderment because they had had more “proper”, or perhaps conventional, training in the fields of education, psychology and such.


Though the exchange was brief, what was left unsaid was loud and clear, and it still rings true, and that is that engineers-to-be and mathematicians-in-training should always aspire to be just that – deviating even a little bit from the prescribed path is wasteful of the years toiling in the lab and even sacrilegious to the fields as a whole. I exaggerate, but only a little bit. After all, these are often regarded as the hard sciences, and as such, the thinking goes, “hard scientists” shouldn’t dabble in anything “soft” and fluffy lest it dilutes and softens the critical and convergent thinking that characterizes most of the STEM disciplines. And he is not alone – a nationally representative study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the percentage of career transitions in 2015 and 2016 from STEM to education at barely 3%. Now, the question stands, why did I make the switch? And more relatedly, how has this “questionable” career change that had obviously raised the ire of a tenured professor in biophysics at Yale played out in my everyday work as an international educational counselor?


Allow me to enter Gogo here, the first student for whom I was the head counselor. Gogo was a well-rounded (though spikier in his STEM subjects) and cerebral student, always quick-witted with a healthy dose of skepticism. His quirkiness and divergent thinking were only matched by the speed at which he spat out his words.


Apart from being an efficient autodidact – having managed thirteen AP classes in two years and aced them all, Gogo had taken on many leadership roles at his school – being the perennial class monitor since primary school and all – he was, and I hope he still is, a diehard fan and enthusiastic critic of Apple gadgets. Oh, did I mention that he LOVED watching airplanes take off? Ask him about it and you will come away with either a newfound appreciation or disdain for the aviation industry. Yep, he’s that persuasive! Yet, his weakness was just as obvious – molded in by the years of traditional Chinese education – whose vestiges I could still tell, through conversations as well as in his English writing. But Gogo’s mind was simply too adventurous and his interests too diverse that the educational system he found himself in couldn't and wouldn’t adequately support.


It was frankly frustrating to see him struggle with his divergent mind at a school that still awarded convergence. So our brainstorming sessions became an outlet for him to voice his seemingly crazy ideas and get validated, though I did shoot down many that were too out of touch. Soon enough, his love for traveling and keen palate for gourmet food eventually found expressions in his college application essays that ended up screaming his personality, so much so that the admissions director at Case Western wrote on his EA acceptance letter that it was a memorable and enjoyable read. However, I want to emphasize that in between the knowing nods and probing questions during my conversations with Gogo, it was as much an exercise for him to seek intellectual solace as it was for me to get to know a student – his tenderness, his brand of humor, his thoughtful musings on his fading grandpa and the consequent ethical reconciliation of technology and humanity... More importantly and perhaps more selfishly for me, it also became a venue to stretch my own mind. And that was so precious!


So, Gogo came to me wanting to study bioengineering and I’m gratified to witness a fine bio-engineer he is becoming one and a half years later – at Northwestern where practicality meets intentionality and overachieving multipotentialites are not only tolerated but celebrated – the perfect destination for him.


I can’t remember how many times my mind was figuratively blown as the brain storms with students raged on, even in contexts where I wasn’t strictly teaching. Like the time when I interviewed Jane (one of our 2017 students from Beijing who’s now a rising sophomore at Yale) for the College Mentorship Program that I manage here at IVY LABS, her palpable passion for environmental justice, and in particular, advocating for carbon tax to combat climate change, on the international stage, was humbling. And that conversation forced me to reflect on my daily actions and the purchasing choices I make that might have inadvertently contributed to global warming. Or Sue of this cycle, a sweet yet sensitive girl always wearing a disarming smile. But don’t let her agreeable countenance fool you, as she is a fierce fighter who clings on to her dreams with such tenacity that you would be left wondering where this soft-spoken and slim-figured young lady got all that feisty energy from. My hunch is all those uber-spicy instant cup noodles she has gobbled up from the Hong Kong Market (a mom-and-pop Asian grocery store near our New Haven office) and the Starbucks coffees she has wolfed down over the years. Jokes aside, Sue’s college application process was not without bumps and moments of doubts – coming principally from her lackluster standardized test scores, personal issues as well as the perpetual tendency to procrastinate that seems to plague most high schoolers these days – all these factors have conspired to cost her the chance to apply in the early round. But with emotional support, proper guidance, and many tearful nights at Alice’s, she regained her footing. Later on, her re-surging execution skills coupled with the willingness to “badger” me in the office have allowed us to put forth a quirky yet compelling application package that has earned her a rightful spot at her dream school – NYU Tandon on ED II. And I have every confidence in her potential to make a name for herself as a budding female roboticist.


Or perhaps Kjo, a walking contradiction who is at once precocious and childlike. But it was his twin passions for architecture and rowing that have helped me see what artistic creation, and by extension, the design process, and the pushing past of physical limits of athletes have in common. Had it not been for Kjo’s candid sharing and his trust of us to lay himself and his personal experiences bare, I wouldn’t have been able to steal a glance at, or perhaps live vicariously through his eyes, what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi aptly called the “flow”, that elusive state of being laser-focused (or more colloquially, in the Zone) for which top artists and elite athletes strive.


Or the eternal “town vs. gown” problem with which Johnnie’s unique coming-of-age story in Shenzhen serendipitously helped draw a surprising yet poignant parallel; or the recent influx in New Haven of Somalian refugees whose heartrending life stories Christine’s acrylic paintings so elegantly captured, and at the same time, provided viewers with a truer and more refreshing perspective of life’s proportionality, as the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor likes to call it in her memoir My Beloved World, not just in the sense of aesthetics, but in societal happenings to boot; or William’s Hayao Miyazaki-inspired effort to use filmmaking to further socially progressive messages that mainstream animation studios like Pixar repeatedly shun.


Were it not for my students, these headliners and buried accounts would simply have stayed just as that – another piece of news, or worse if I were in a sulky mood, rehashed political talking points, click baits, or even “fake news” pumped out these days by some massive agenda-driven media machinery if I really felt cynical, that I’d skim through or more likely skip over on…


I could go on and on with such examples, but will stop here because I hope by now the point is clear – and that is I owe my sharpened perception of this world and some of my most valued growth the past few years to these very students just as much as they owe theirs to me (or I sincerely hope they do). Let alone the privilege of being invited into the life story of another human being not just to be a spectator, but to participate in the shaping of it. It has always been a two-way street – much is given as much is gained. And the latter has continued to pay dividends in my life.


Thus far, I have come to realize that counseling, especially the type that interfaces with teens who are insistently evolving in this fast spinning world that they will soon enter, at its core is an iterative self-correcting process, and in a sense, it is life-gazing and life-replenishing. And I guess that is why I made the switch.


But it doesn’t stop here, in fact, it gets better. Apart from my own students, the aforementioned College Mentorship Program has also afforded me a wonderfully joyous platform to reconnect with some of the most amazing young people out there.


For instance, Debbie (a Wellesley alumna and a current college mentor), whose drive and positivity-infused empowerment stemming in part from her unorthodox free-ranging “model minority” upbringing in a first-gen Taiwanese immigrant family in Troy, Michigan was manifest in her long entrepreneurial journey to bring social and creative justice to Tanzanian villagers so that they too could be equally empowered. Her riveting story, which is still unfolding, made me scrutinize how we approach community service, especially when there’s an obvious socioeconomic power imbalance and a cultural divide, as we select volunteering programs and design service projects for our students. Or Linnea, a former college mentor who majored in Russian and Eurasian Studies at Princeton, with whom we bonded over our mutual love of creative writing and science communication. We even have the same favorite word (it’s “ephemera” for those who’re curious). What are the odds?!


Looking back, that Yale professor’s view now smacks of disciplinary parochialism and seems antiquated at best. But it’s hard to deny the fact that it is still a view entrenched in our psyche whether we like to admit it or not, and it is certainly one subscribed to in droves by many parents whose children we counsel. In fact, one of the things I hear most frequently during my one-on-one consultation meetings with parents is how we as counselors can nudge their kids to study something more “tangible” and “useful”. And many a family have reached out to me, either online or in person, precisely because of my background in a bona fide STEM field. I don’t intend to get into the weeds to debate the modern value of humanities, on which countless op-eds have already been written and argued almost ad nauseam, and it’s beside the point to this piece, though I’d assume it wouldn’t be hard for you to guess my stance, albeit there will be some caveats.


Going back to the first question I posed about the practice of discipline-hopping that I’ve been engaging in during my short career span of five years in education, I’d simply say it’s been worth it. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it has proved to be more than I had expected, and it certainly can be fruitful for anyone so inclined, as long as they are willing to take the time and make the space to introspect and to grow. So yes, I’m unabashedly proud to say that this job has indeed "softened" me, as it were. Because through it, I have gotten closer in touch with my own humanity.


Franz Kafka said, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” And I believe the same is true of counseling. I, as an international education counselor, strive to cultivate daily moments of empathies that go beyond the surface, so I could be shaken out of my accustomed ways of seeing and being, and replace my jaded and customary complacency with a sense of moral urgency while renewing my appreciation for our complex, fragile, and fascinating existence. I hope, through my work as well as the relationship we’re fostering together, students and their families may likewise find their own bearings, forget for a moment about life’s minutiae, appreciate its breadth and diverse richness.


-The End-





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