Yu Xi Liu struggled with her emotions after moving to Canada as a child, now she aims to help other children in a similar situation
Yu Xi Liu realized the importance of emotional education at a young age. As a Chinese immigrant in Canada, she struggled with many of the emotions related to adapting to her new home.
The move came when she was 11. While there were many differences between China and Canada, the culture and weather being two of the biggest, what she struggled with most was the emotions she felt after the move.
Growing up is difficult enough at times for anyone, but as an immigrant in another country, she had some extra hurdles to get over.
“Not only did I feel constantly embarrassed by not really having a true grasp of the language […] but I was also very alone because I didn’t have the language ability or vocabulary for expressing my feelings.”
This all changed, however, when she started college. During a class on social enterprise she learned about Social Emotional Learning and started to acquire the skills needed to deal with her feelings.
Social Emotional Learning is a framework to allow anyone, whether an adult or a child, to gain the skills necessary to understand and deal with their emotions. It does this through Five Core Competencies which are Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Responsible Decision-Making, and Relationship Skills.
Using these skills, her professor at the time, Dr. Ellen McGrath, taught her and her classmates how to gain a self-awareness of their feelings as well as various strategies about how to regulate those emotions and find the vocabulary to share their emotions with others.
Of course, due to the “enterprise” part of her “social enterprise class,” her learning didn’t stop there.
Now she had the skills to regulate her own emotions, the natural next step was for her to combine her unique experiences and her new found skills to help out the next generation of immigrants who may be struggling with the same issues.
“We were lucky to have had that experience during a very critical time of our lives to cope with those emotions. We thought about our childhood and how much better it would have been if we had had those skills earlier on.”
This lead her to Manhattan’s Chinatown and a school that was made up of 90% or more Chinese immigrant children.
It didn’t take long for her and her team to realize that the children in this school had very limited cultural exposure to anything outside of their neighborhood.
“When we asked the children about their immigration experience we asked, “what do you like the most about living in America?” One of the boys just shouted electricity. When we heard that we were shocked. There is so much more to like about New York City and we realised that, clearly, there is something we can do here.”
The first step of their program tried to open up the classroom of this school in Chinatown to global cultures.
“We wanted to bring the resources that we have to create arts and cultural experiences for these children so that they could grow up knowing about different cultures.”
After two years of this, they really tried to take their teaching to the next step by introducing the ideas of Social Emotional Learning that she had been introduced to in her social enterprise class.
Some of the ideas involved included teaching empathy by acting out skits for scenarios such as bullying and asking the children how they thought the characters might feel in each situation.
Yu Xi was happy when the children she was teaching started to open up about their experiences, however, it was at this point that she had her biggest challenge.
“The most challenging part was actually knowing how to help the children progress to the next step [….] We were able to help them become expressive and more aware of their feelings but when they did start sharing very difficult things we were still college students so we didn’t have the experience and skills back then to really help them think about how to cope.”
Yu Xi’s goal for the future is to help create a world where every child has the guidance to be aware of their feelings and have the tools and the ability to express and share these feelings.
Of course, being only one person she realizes her limited ability to do this. Because of this, she is trying to use technology, for example, apps, to help break the gap between the students that she cannot reach.
In the end, Yu Xi Liu is someone who has both experienced the need for emotional education and seen the benefits it can bring to others. Because of this, she is a firm believer in the importance of the emotional aspects of learning.
“I realized that this is a life skill. It is not like math or English, which is also very important to help you achieve your full potential, but the ability to be socially intelligent can really help a child progress further in life.”