Friendship Village residents learn Mandarin from teen
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, a retirement community in Schaumburg.
Maegan, who is a sophomore at 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 first learned 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."
Her older sister taught Mandarin at Friendship Village several years ago.
"Even though I was little back then, about 9, 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," she said.
"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."
Maegan's classes were full of fun and a careful balance of "language and culture," she said. To engage the seniors, she challenged them to say their birthdays in Chinese and then rewarded them for success with small Chinese gifts.
"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," 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."
Maegan is the 2016 Public Forum Debate State Champion, a player on the badminton team, a member of the student council, a member of the varsity dance team and a teaching assistant at her former Chinese school.
And she founded Nomi Bobi, a nonprofit organization that supports and promotes mental health by selling handmade owl decorations at 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.
Despite all her other experiences, she found learning went both ways in her classes.
"The elders taught me that, with a positive attitude, hard work and a smile, anything can be done," Maegan said. "My goal was to teach and share my knowledge of Chinese, but I also learned so much more from this rewarding experience."