An Invaluable Learning Experience
by Sonya Taaranee
My first experience with the Center for Asia Leadership (CAL) started in the summer of 2015 when I participated in the Asia Leadership Youth Camp better known as ALY Camp. At first, I was hesitant about attending the camp, as it was my first time being away from home. I used to never enjoy being away from home without my parents but that changed after attending the ALY Camp. Needless to say, my experience at the camp was nothing short of enlightening and filled with amazing individuals with unique personalities who I still keep in touch with. The ALY Camp has taught me the importance of participating in class discussions and sharing of personal opinions, as it can be an effective method of learning.
Starting June this year, I took up an internship at CAL, and my first task was to help everyone prepare for the Asia Leadership Conference (ALC) 2017 which was scheduled to be held on June 10. My friends have previously shared with me their past experiences as Teaching Assistants for the ALY Camp which presented them with rich learning experiences. Being the curious person that I am, I decided to take the opportunity to become a Teaching Assistant (TA) for the conference and to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible which will greatly help hone my leadership skills.
This time around, we had Teaching Fellows that consisted of a group of scholars from Harvard and other renowned universities in the United States including MIT Sloan of Management, Northwestern and Tufts Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. The main responsibility of a TA was to assist the Teaching Fellows to ensure that their workshops, lectures and panel discussions run smoothly during the conference. Besides that, we were required to ensure that each class was ready for the conference, register each participant and usher them to their workshops, prepare lanyards and goodie bags for the participants, and answer questions that might arise.
During the ALC 2017, I had the opportunity to be a TA for Mr. Takuya Takeda, who is currently in his first year of a Master’s of Arts degree in Law at the Tufts Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Mr. Takeda conducted the “Cross Cultural Management” workshop and spoke about cultural differences between Japan and the United States based on his experience as a Japanese studying in the U.S. Initially, I thought I was going to play a small role in Mr. Takeda’s workshop but to my surprise, he also included me in the class discussion to help break the ice and to encourage an open conversation throughout the session. I quickly learned that as a TA, I was required to think on my feet and expect the unexpected. There was no manual on “How to Become a Teaching Assistant 101” and many obstacles that I encountered during the Conference required me to think critically and multi-task in order to be more efficient and effective. It was challenging but I managed to pull through.
Mr. Takeda injected creativity into his workshop. He initiated fun games and shared personal stories of his past experiences while working for Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to make his workshop more exciting and engaging. His methods were unorthodox and they were effective in encouraging participation which was critical to the workshop’s success. By the end of his workshop, many students were intrigued by Mr. Takeda’s work experience at METI and wanted to learn more about his involvement in the Ministry.
Overall, being a TA for the first time was an eye-opening experience that taught me a lot about life and how to deal with challenges that come my way. It motivated me to strive harder and be persistent when pursuing my goals. I recall one of the Teaching Fellows sharing her experience of applying to Harvard despite having already been rejected once. Listening to the Teaching Fellows recount their past experiences has made me realize that the path to success is often bumpy and filled with distractions. To achieve success, one must be determined to succeed, focused on what matters and be persistent through the entire journey, especially in the face of uncertainty. I am glad to be given this opportunity to prove my worth. It not only enabled me to showcase my skills and leadership capabilities but also allowed me to gain practical hands-on experience on organizing such a large-scale event and dealing with various people from all walks of life. It was a memorable and rewarding experience, and I am confident that it will benefit me in the long run.