An Important Lesson Learned During My First Year at Harvard

Coming in to my freshman year of college, I thought I’d be entering the STEM world — a world of hackathons, problem sets, and internships. High school experience with startups like Passport for Good had convinced me that computer science or mathematics would be my future. It wasn’t until halfway through my semester, when classwork was piling up and the bitter Boston weather was really beginning to show, that I realized that this might not be the path for me. On a whim, I had joined an after-school program at the beginning of the semester, helping students in Boston’s Chinatown do their homework and play games every week. The days that I travelled to Chinatown to work and play with the kids were rapidly becoming my favorite times of the week, and the most meaningful.

The fact that the work I was doing meant something—even if it was just helping a few kids with their homework—was a big part of why I enjoyed it so much. The abstract math problems and programming assignments I had to do in school didn’t mean much to me compared to helping an ELL student complete her English homework. This was where my high school experience with Passport for Good came back in a different light: The emphasis on service first and meaningful community engagement, which runs deep within the company and its team members, really made sense to me as I continued my community service.

So, in deciding what I wanted to do with my summer after freshman year, I was faced with a decision: Did I try and persevere with my STEM interests and look for an internship at a tech company or startup? Or did I pursue my interest in community service further? After an agonizing process of waiting for application results and deliberation, I chose to become a camp counselor in Boston’s Chinatown. I felt like every day of teaching classes and leading activities for campers would mean a lot more to me and to the community than an eight-hour day in front of the computer at a corporation.

As I work as a camp counselor, I am pleased to say that I have the best of both worlds. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to advance the mission of Passport for Good — a tech startup that supports community engagement — while also working directly to meet a need in my local community.

Alan Dai is continuing his work with Passport for Good as one of our Founding Coders and Community Engagement Leaders. Read more about Alan on our team page here.