New grad seeks to empower others

Huizi JieniWhether it’s children, fellow classmates or people from other countries, Huizi Jieni believes in learning from others and empowering them to use their voices.

“I’m really curious about everything and willing to explore everything,” she said. “In high school I knew I wanted to work in education.”

Jieni, who will graduate from King’s University College this June with a Bachelor of Arts, discovered the Childhood and Social Institutions program after first completing the Early Childhood Education program and then working full-time at the YMCA in London for three years. The program focuses on the subject of childhood from an interdisciplinary perspective and looks at issues such as the meaning of ‘childhood’ and children’s views on the world they live in.

“I wanted to take my education further,” explained Jieni, who came to London from China as an international student when she was 18. “I love my job and still worked part-time while completing my degree. I love working with the kids and my co-workers and I get to meet all kinds of families.”

That sense of community was important to Jieni when she first arrived in London and experienced “culture shock.”

“I wanted to experience a different culture, but I was anxious when I arrived. My English wasn’t good and it was my first time away from home. Luckily I was able to stay with a host family at first who helped me a lot.”

Jieni also remembers facing challenges she wasn’t anticipating, including being the only one in her class who didn’t know the words to popular childhood songs in Western culture, and says classmates just took it for granted she would know the songs they knew too.

The desire to help others find a feeling of belonging is what led her to volunteer with Western International’s Peer Guide program, helping new students to find resources and recommending activities to try.

“I was actually inspired by them too,” she said. “One student I met was from Ghana and was here studying environmental issues. I was shocked by his stories. My final project for my course at King’s ended up being inspired by him and is focused on empowering children to help solve climate issues.”

Now that she’s completed this next step in her education, Jieni is looking forward to returning to her job at the YMCA soon, although she’s not closing the door to returning for a Master’s degree in the future.

“My goal is to empower children – whether that’s by working in the community or by writing curriculum, whether it’s here in London or in another country. Children’s voices usually aren’t heard and I think there’s room to improve that,” she said.

She also wants to encourage others to be more open-minded and understanding about the challenges children and others from different cultures often face when they are newcomers.

“Having a sense of belonging is so important. Things you might not think of – like bringing your own lunch to school when you’re a Chinese child and your parents send Chinese food – can give students anxiety if the people around them are judgmental,” she said. “I appreciate the diversity we have in Canada. It’s the most beautiful thing – and university is a great place to explore that and learn the world may be bigger than you thought.”

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