Teach For America

Cheers to You (and Your Teachers), Greenville

For almost half of my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to call Greenville home. My family moved to this charming small town from the bustling metropolitan of Jakarta in December 2004, six days after my eleventh birthday. Since then, we have moved three times, I was educated here from fifth grade to four years of undergrad, and we never stopped commuting. One of my favorite stories is discovering that my fifth-grade teacher’s son attended Furman at the same time as I did, though he was a year older. It’s the little things like these that remind me of Greenville’s endless small-city perks that have made such a large impact in my life, one that admittedly I neglected to realize until just a few days ago.

Today, I’m preparing to embark on the next phase of my journey. For those who don’t know, I have accepted a position with Teach For America in Jacksonville. I passed the Florida Teaching Certification Exam yesterday and I’ll be teaching Middle School General Science. While I know that I wasn’t an education major in college, and I certainly wasn’t educated in the hard sciences, I’ve chosen to do this work partly because I believe in TFA’s mission that all children deserve equal access to education, and partly as a tribute to the incredible teachers that I was blessed to have had in all my years of school.

My middle school experience was particularly formative for me. In sixth grade, I went to an underfunded middle school in an area that is considered of low socioeconomic background, but had a great International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Despite all the stereotypes, I had one of the best years of my life there because of my exceptional teachers.

My math teacher noticed how hard I had worked in her class and that I managed to move up to the next level of math in one semester. She suggested that I take a test to see if I would qualify to skip another level of math in seventh grade. With her encouragement and blessing, I enrolled in Algebra I the next year. My science teacher was engaging, fun, and taught her subject with such care and attention to her students. My strings teacher helped me rekindle my love of the violin, an instrument I attempted to play when I was a little girl. (Later on, she suggested that I learn the viola when we had a shortage of violists in our orchestra. The viola is a beautiful, yet underrated instrument. I went on to play for the Philharmonic with the Greenville County Youth Orchestras throughout high school.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my history teacher—she was the first teacher who tapped into my potential deep inside that I never knew existed. Despite my difficulties with language, my awkwardness in social situations, she continually pushed me to do my best, and eventually I delivered. My mother fondly remembers the memory of my teacher calling home, telling my mother how she loved to teach me. She tells me, “This never happens back home. Usually, they call the parents if the kid is in trouble!”

But the generosity of my teachers didn’t stop there. I was always raised to view my teachers as my second moms and dads. In high school, I started to see it solidify. I underwent many changes in my life and had to grow up very quickly. I confided in my high school teachers and grew close to them. They helped me in times of great emotional need and continually supported me in my many endeavors.

In college, some of my professors and staff members truly did fill the roles of my second moms and dads. They helped me find my passion, gave me the encouragement to pursue it, and opened so many doors for me that I didn’t know were there. They pushed me and made me feel uncomfortable in the best way possible because it allowed me to grow intellectually. They allowed for me a space to be vulnerable and simply listened. They believed in me and cherished my love of learning. Because of them, upon graduation, I felt—for the first time in my life—proud of the person that I had become.

How fortunate I was to be able to attend college in my own hometown and experience Greenville in a different way than I did before. In my freshman year, I had the pleasure of being some of my hall mates’ tour guide in Greenville. I could go to the same downtown Greenville and have a completely different experience than I did before. Most recently, my worlds have been colliding as some of my Furman friends became friends with my Greenville friends, or when I went to meet my former roommates for dinner and ran into my high school friends.

I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world. Greenville, you have been exceptionally good to me and my family. I have made the most cherished friendships, from the people I grew up with to the people I had been blessed to meet at Furman. I have fallen in and out of love with you and your people. I have made great memories in every corner of your town, old and new.

It feels bittersweet, but I’m excited for the journey that lies ahead. I’ll carry with me the fond memories of this last summer in Greenville, as well as the years of education with my incredible teachers. I hope to make you proud.

While tonight I feel sad to no longer call Greenville the place where I live, I know it’ll always be home to me. And in the words of the Terminator… I’ll be back.