Upward Bound & A College Degree
Bring a World of Opportunities

An alumni spotlight with Meghan Lewis, UB ‘06-’07

On Friday, February 1, Bowdoin UB Assistant Director, Ginny Ward, had a Facebook chat with UB Alum (Morse High School 2007) Meghan Lewis.  Meghan spent the summers of 2006 & 2007 at UB. She attended UMF where she studied abroad in Beijing, China. We heard she was back in China teaching English to children and wanted to know more about where life has lead her since her days in Upward Bound. Their conversation follows.

meghan first leap

G: We first met when you were a sophomore in high school & you applied to UB. Can you describe yourself back then? What were you like? Aspirations? Fears? Obstacles you felt were in your way to college?

M: That was quite a while ago! I can’t remember exactly what I was like. I aspired to be successful, but my concept of “success” often changed. I was afraid, of course, of what would come after high school. High school and my hometown had everything I knew, everything I was comfortable with. I was afraid of leaving that comfort zone. The biggest obstacle I felt like was in my way of going to college was finances. At that point, I was worried about coming up with the money to pay for school after my grants and loans were deducted.

G: I remember hearing & seeing that uncertainty in you when we talked. You were a great student-taking honors classes but when I asked you want you thought you might like to do, it seemed you might not even know how much potential you had. That’s when I knew we had to get you in the program!

M: Yeah I definitely wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to head after high school. Even in college, it took awhile to figure out. College is a good place to discover your interests and talents, though.

G:You mention being afraid of leaving your comfort zone back then- and now you’re living in China!! How did you get over that fear to eventually study abroad & then return to China to live/work?

M: Actually, while I was still in high school I remember fielding questions about college to various teachers and counselors I knew. I recall a particular conversation with a guidance counselor who told me that, looking back on her college years, her biggest regret was not studying abroad. I knew I didn’t want to have any regrets about things I should’ve done, opportunities I should’ve taken advantage of. I knew studying abroad had huge risks, but also huge rewards.  And I would offer the same advice to anyone else.

G: What were some of the rewards for you, personally?

meghan first leapM: But I had many rewards from my first time in China, my semester abroad. First, I had a profound sense of accomplishment. I was the only student from my school to go to China that semester, so I developed a strong sense of independence. Academically, I persevered, despite the language courses being taught almost completely in Chinese! The cultural aspect was tough at first. I went months feeling like I just didn’t belong. By the end of my semester, I was talking to the locals and bargaining down prices for goods just like a native! And I made a wonderful Chinese friend that I’m still in touch with to this day!

G: Tell me about your summers at UB. What was it like for you? How did those summers on campus impact you?

M: I went to UB for 2 summers, the summer of my junior year and my Bridge year. My first summer was more of a transitioning summer. It was difficult to be away from home at times, but I forged friendships that I’ve kept to this day and I decided to go back for another summer. My Bridge year really helped me transition to college. I had classes in the morning, then a part-time job in the afternoon, and homework in the evening. This, as it turns out, mimicked my college schedule pretty accurately, so the experience was a good pre-cursor to actual college life.

G: How did UB help you with the college process? Were there obstacles or challenges that UB helped you get past?

M: Actually, I remember having conversations with you where we discussed how I didn’t exactly know which
direction I wanted to head. I didn’t declare a major when I applied, and that stressed me out for a long time. All of my friends had determined majors and directions and I was just sort of willy nilly going about my college career. But, you told me I could, being undeclared, just try different classes and see what I liked. And that’s exactly what I did. Luckily at UMF those trial classes filled pre-requisites, so I was killing 2 birds with 1 stone! I tried geology, disability studies, even Chinese! So you and UB helped guide me to discover my options. UB helped me with submitting my college applications and with filing my FAFSA. I remember having lots of difficulties with finances, pulling together the full amount to go for the first semester at UMF. UB helped me through the process and working through UMF’s financial system.

G: Tell me about your transition to college. Were there challenges? In what ways did your UB summers prepare
you? Were there resources on campus that you found helpful?

M: My transition to college was rather smooth, and I was lucky enough to experience the transition with some fellow UB-ers. Of course there were challenges. Living on your own comes with its difficulties. My Bridge year helped with the transition immensely by having the morning classes, part-time job, evening homework schedule. This schedule in Bridge was also a typical schedule for me in college. UB did structure our free time well, though, so assignments were completed and then we could have free time. That order didn’t necessarily always follow in college life, though. Especially during my first year in college, I struggled with managing my time. Long-term projects were especially difficult to manage and more than once I found myself cramming to finish projects the night before. I became better at this over my college career. Time management is something you learn through experience and trial-and-error.

As far as on-campus resources go, UMF has a wonderful library and library staff that are willing to help you with
any project. They’ll help you find materials for research, even if you have to search the state of Maine!

G: That’s great. What would you say was your biggest accomplishment/proudest moment in college?

M: My biggest accomplishment was, without a doubt, my semester abroad in Beijing China. That was the first time I had left the country, actually, and I was the only student from my university studying in China that semester. I was very nervous and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. But, again, I knew this was an experience I couldn’t pass up. I forged through. I ended up getting scholarships from the university for doing well in my classes, and I ended up befriended a Chinese language partner that I’m still in touch with to this day. Aside from that, my semester abroad in China was eye-opening, to say the least. It caused me to see things and people differently, to question things I’d never questioned. It was a really great experience, but it took a lot of gall initially to go through with it, and I’ve always been proud of myself for going through with it. I am also very proud of my final college research project on the relationship between religion, globalization, and secularization. But it’s a little complicated and I have no way to succinctly describe my research.

G: Is this an area of ongoing interest for you?

M: Definitely. Religion has always been an area of interest. The presence of religion (or lack of) and the form it takes interests me. I think China especially is an interesting case. Any native would say they’re not religious, but the culture is infused with Taoism and Taoist philosophy. I think they think religion means going to church and praying, so our concepts of religion are different. And Confucianism alongside Taoism.

G: How long have you been back in China? Where are you, exactly, and what are you doing?

M: Okay, I’m an Instructor at First Leap in Wuhan, China. I teach English to 3-10 year olds.
Actually, First Leap has an interesting set-up. I don’t teach English in the sense of grammar and phonics. Each class has a Chinese teacher that teaches grammar and phonics. I teach Art, Music, and Global Leadership to the younger students and Global Leadership, Book Reading, Science, Logical and Critical Thinking, Virtual Physical Education, and World Culture to the older kids. This use of different subjects for the purpose of language acquisition is called content language integrated learning. In sum, I teach English by teaching other subjects IN English.

G: Wow. That seems like challenging work with non-native speakers. What kind of training have they provided you? Are there big differences that you see between the students you work with v. American students?

M: Haha actually part of our training involved sitting in on a class that was taught the same way that we’re teaching. In other words, I’m the student being taught in Chinese the way I teach in English. It’s very interesting! The training required a lot of observation and then doing demo classes to be critiqued.  I haven’t worked with such young American students. The Chinese students I teach are quite young-- 3-10 year olds. I have noticed that my students are very studious, for lack of a better word. I think there’s a lot of pressure on them from the parents, though. I think they’re pushed hard to succeed. I’m definitely learning a lot. I heard of First Leap through my friend from UMF, actually. He’s working at a First Leap center in Beijing and referred me.

G: Networking! You mentioned how it took a lot of gall to go through with studying in China. These things are pretty outside of what your family has experienced (for lack of a better way to describe it). What has it been like for your family to see you do these bold things?

M: As for on-going support, my parents and friends have played a major role. They’re my cheerleaders. My parents are especially good at telling me that they’re proud of me. I think that that positive reinforcement fosters an internal sense of confidence & courage to take on challenges. I think my parents are somewhat vicariously living through my experiences, so they’re always so excited to hear about what I’ve been up to--even if it’s not really exciting.

G: That’s very sweet. I love to think of it. They must be incredibly proud of all that you’ve done & your courage to take the risks you have (because it is always a risk to push yourself beyond what’s comfortable).

M: At first my mom was petrified. I still remember on my flight over to China the first time my mom started crying! I was already so nervous! But this time in China, my mom has been much more relaxed. My dad has always had a “go for it” attitude about China and pursuing opportunities. They’re just both excited to see me being somewhat successful and having a good time living and working--even if it happens to be on the other side of the world.

G: So, if you could talk to your 15 year-old self, what advice, words of wisdom would you give yourself?

M: I would tell myself to stay open to opportunities! Also, don’t fret too much about making a plan for the future and sticking to it. I know I wanted to have things figured out. Especially entering college without a declared major and without a direction, I felt like I was lost. The truth is that most of my friends went to college with an idea of where they wanted to head and then once they started taking classes, they changed their minds--sometimes several times! I guess it’s good to have an outline and to have goals, but be aware of opportunities. And by opportunities, I mean opportunities to expand your comfort zone, opportunities to try new things.

G: That’s great advice. I always worry about students who are rigidly locked into an idea of what they’ll “be”. It’s just so hard to imagine all the possibilities you’ll be introduced to in college when you’re still in high school (especially if you’re the first to go on & live in a small town where there isn’t a broad range of careers to pursue).
So when you think about your life in 10 years, what do you see?

M: I see myself as an educator in some capacity. I enjoy what I’m doing here in China, so I think I may enter into the ETEP program at USM to pursue a master’s in education with a concentration in ESL (and maybe Chinese). That’s only an outline, though, not a rigid future plan! I’m keeping myself open to opportunities.

G: Just like you said! How long do you plan to stay in China?

M: My contract ends in October. I have a chance to renew it for another year, which I think I may do. I’ll be here for at least 1 year, perhaps 2.

G: That’s great! I’m so excited for you. Your answer to this may be the same as the advice to yourself. What advice do you have for current UB’ers who are thinking about college?

M: Absolutely go to college! College is great. It can be somewhat daunting at first, but you’ll find support everywhere—UB, your family, your RA’s, your professors, your advisor, your friends from high school, the friends you’ll make. It’s a wonderful, life-changing, educational experience. I can’t fathom how my life would be if I hadn’t had my college experiences. I certainly wouldn’t be in China, that’s for sure!

G: I was just reading somewhere about how there’s a shift in thinking about college from a “journey” to just a means to a career. But it sounds like you’re really talking about the journey- the experience, the personal development, as well as the academic learning.

M: Absolutely! I mean, it can be a means to a career. And if you treat it that way, that’s probably all it will be. But it is definitely a journey in my opinion. And something to really relish. Those 4 years go by way too fast!