By, Winston Wan, City Year Boston ’13
Coming out of college in 2010, I was armed with a prestigious bachelor's degree in computer engineering (with a minor in computer science, no less) and a headstrong attitude that I was going to be successful. It was a tune that echoed across my peers in my graduating class, each college senior comparing each other's job offers and looking forward to all the new opportunities that they were finding from Silicon Valley to New York. I signed an offer to work at a financial software company in Connecticut even before my final semester of college had begun. High school led to college, college led to a great job, and the natural progression from there was securing a job.
For two years after graduation, I excelled at that first job; growing my technical skills, meeting amazing friends that I still hold dear today, and developing my financial literacy along with my business acumen. Despite tremendous career opportunity, it gradually occurred to me that my educational background and career were steering my life rather than my values and pursuit for meaning steering my career. I found that I had a grasp of how to guide conversations in a meeting room, but I didn’t have any understanding of how the meeting room conversation impacted the world around me. I was missing the bigger picture.
Eventually, I was drawn to City Year through my interest in education and mentoring and through the recommendation of an old college friend. Although I initially was unsure about how this fit into my current career path, ultimately the program offered me much more than I would have expected.
I took my gap year with City Year Boston in the fall of 2012 with the prospect of sparking a career in education and truly “giving back to the world.” I joined a team of 14 fellow AmeriCorps members under the leadership of two team leaders and the guidance of an amazing program manager at Orchard Gardens, a beautiful K-8 school in a poverty-stricken part of Roxbury near Dudley Square. Over the course of a full school year, I shared experiences with middle school students, school teachers and staff, City Year leadership, and hundreds of fellow AmeriCorps members, some of whom continue to shape my perspective of the world today.
At the core of my formative experience was learning about the idea of social justice, a value that City Year is built around and prides itself on. Although I had done my fair share of community service events throughout college, I had always done them for fun, to meet new people, or simply to feel like I was ‘doing good.’ While edifying in the moment, I never had an understanding of lives that I was potentially reaching. As a City Year AmeriCorps member, I put countless hours into having conversations with teens whose middle school experiences were radically different from my own. I like to think these conversations helped them understand that they were not isolated in their own world and experience. Conversely, my students helped me understand how a software engineer like myself doesn’t have to be tethered to a separate world of technology.
In addition to first-hand interactions with students from a different background, I had the opportunity to build relationships with an entire community of fellow recent high-school and college graduates who shared the same desire to build an understanding of social justice and to bring it to reality. Not only did I make some wonderful friends, some of my City Year peers are now teachers, psychologists, bloggers, and travelers who remind me that social justice is ever important, ever relevant, and ever attainable in small steps. Although I chose to continue my career as a software engineer after my City Year, I did so with a newfound context and deepened understanding of the socioeconomic tensions in the local Boston community that I now call home.
In my third year of being a software engineer, I reflect fondly of my time as an AmeriCorps member. The memories of tight budgets from living on a stipend have gently faded away. The tired eyes of early mornings and late evenings have similarly been forgotten and now have become proud character building moments. What is left for me is a feeling of maturation and a more confident understanding of my role in work and in life. City Year for me was a unique opportunity for me to open my eyes and to open doors to a broader community that I had not known before, and perhaps a world that I would not otherwise have had a chance to see if it weren’t for taking a gap year with City Year.