The Gift

Group during the SUA tour

[Featured from left to right: Fiona Li, jack Liu, Kim Nguyen, Tony Zhou, and Debbie Chan (Not pictured: Yorick Yu]

Forward by Debbie Chan, WAL Student Activities Coordinator

Every session, we try to encourage our international students to volunteer in our community.  By doing this, they meet new people, learn new skills, step out of their comfort zone, and gain confidence in using their English skills in new and different ways.  To me, the best thing is when a student comes back and tells me how a particular volunteer experience impacted his/her life in a SPECIAL way.

 Here’s one story that I could not resist telling you.  It’s Tony’s story….

Written by Tony Zhou, International Student at CityU, Seattle
“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” –  Good Will Hunting, 1997.

To start with, I felt so happy that I had a chance to join this volunteer activity with Washington Academy of Languages (WAL).

In March of this year, a small group of us went to the Seattle Urban Academy (SUA) which is a non-profit alternative high school in South Seattle.  Our job was to prepare a delicious lunch for the students and staff for that one day.  We had fun, and I learned a lot!

Honestly, it was the first time that I figured out what the word “philanthropy” truly means.

You see, before we went to SUA, WAL activities coordinator Debbie Chan, showed us a video about SUA, its purposes, and about one of its  students. This impressive video was called, “Sonnii’s Story” (2018) . See it here:

Can you imagine how I felt when we actually went to SUA and met the kids there? I was shocked, and suddenly enlightened. Although I was born during the peaceful and prosperous era in China, there are still many kids, teenagers, and even those in my generation, who can’t afford tuition to enter colleges or universities.  So, I was impressed by the video story about Sonnii – who was tall, handsome, athletic, and always showed people his positive side–even when his family experienced a near fatal fire at their home last year.

When I made contact with Sonnii at our lunch, his optimistic attitude made it hard for me to believe that he and his family experienced such a big loss.  I felt like I knew him already.

Photo of student serving food.
Jack serves Sonnii.

After lunch was served to the students and staff, one of the teachers from SUA showed us around the school, including their classrooms, gym, and auditorium. We also got to sit in and participate in one of their classes, too!  In the process, we were told that some kids are the first persons in their families to finish high school, and that SUA has very low tuition costs, especially for a high school that offers so much to their students.   I was shocked and amazed.

Honestly, I was not born in a rich family and things do not come easy.  But if I feel lost or discouraged, I need to recall this experience at SUA and the kids I met there, too.  You see, they all have already been my teachers to some extent.   Their willpower and positive attitude will be pushing me to work harder, without any excuse, no matter what problems I may face ahead.

What’s more, I now have deep respect for all the teachers at SUA.  They are like Professor Sean McGuire (played by Robin Williams) in Good Will Hunting. Without them, many kids who have super talents would waste away, because they may not even know that they themselves…are their GIFTS, too.

In the end, I want to borrow another line from Good Will Hunting, to send to those SUA kids, me, and other people who are reading this article.

Nobody is perfect. Everyone has their own little idiosyncrasies. Some people call those imperfections, but no, that’s the good stuff.” 

Keep fighting!

For more information about Seattle Urban Academy, or about volunteering opportunities with WAL, please contact Debbie Chan at .

Published June 10, 2019



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