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24 DEC 2020
As a Chinese-born student who immigrated to Australia not knowing a word of English, Maggie is all too familiar with the obstacles that come with moving to a new country. “When you don’t speak the local language, it can be scary,” she reflects. “You don’t want to offend people, and you really want to integrate, but it doesn’t happen easily.”
Maggie moved to Melbourne at the age of 10. She remembers the challenges posed by the language barrier such as being mocked for her accent or not knowing the translation for certain words, but looks back forgivingly, pointing out that overcoming cultural differences is “a journey for both communities — the immigrants and the locals.”
Being immersed in an English-speaking school helped Maggie learn the language, but not without immense effort on her part. She describes her commitment to growing into her identity and trying to be herself despite her differences, which led her to Nepal last December. Determined to use her own experiences to help others, she spent the summer volunteering as an English teacher for year four students.
The experience helped her understand the importance of educational resources for children in order to seize opportunities later in life, which led her to launch Behind the Pages with Maggie: Breaking Barriers One Story at a Time — a podcast that aims to help immigrant children, asylum seekers and refugees learn English. In each episode, which Maggie posts to her YouTube channel weekly, she reads a children’s book in English, adding subtitles and filming each page so viewers can read along.
“I’ve always been a story teller, so this idea was always in the back of my mind,” Maggie recalls, noting that one of her favorite extracurriculars in high school was theatre — something she felt comfortable doing, which also helped her learn English.
“It started as an idea where I’d actually go visit students in person and read to them face-to-face,” she adds, describing how she had to adapt to the unique circumstances of the last year. “I never thought of it as a podcast or being online, but when COVID came along, it just happened on its own.”
In the year since its inception, the podcast has been a learning experience for Maggie. “I’ve learned a lot along the way. At first I was essentially creating audiobooks with no pictures or subtitles — then I took feedback from my audience and it evolved from there,” she says. “And I’m still learning all the time. There are definitely times when I feel stuck and don’t know what to do next, which is usually when I turn to my mentors.”
Maggie has two mentors she credits with guiding her through the podcast process: the leadership coordinator at her school, and her Crimson strategist, George. Her leadership coordinator assists with community outreach, which has led to the creation of a reading program for year three and four students at the most diverse primary school in Victoria. At Crimson, Maggie’s team has guided her through the evolution of the podcast from the start: “I’ve always had a wonderful team of people who’ve been there to support me and have given me great ideas when I have no idea what I’m doing,” she laughs. “My strategist, George, is awesome. I feel very comfortable when I share updates with him because he’s always there to encourage me to just be myself and keep working towards my dream.”
With authentic enthusiasm for her project and support from her mentors, it’s no surprise that Maggie’s podcast has gained impressive traction in the months since its launch. Even so, she was in shock when the Australian Red Cross contacted her to work together.
“It came as a total surprise!” Maggie says, explaining how she was approached by a Red Cross representative to brainstorm ways to include the podcast as an enrichment activity for the organization’s audience. “I want to keep pushing the project so it can reach a wider audience and help as many people as possible,” she adds. “So I was really excited to hear from the Red Cross. Maybe when the pandemic improves, I could go and meet face-to-face with people and tell them my story as an immigrant, so they can understand my empathy for their situation.”
In the future, Maggie hopes to expand her passion project to create a nonprofit organization. “I want it to be more than a podcast,” she fancies. “Maybe I could create education programs for both communities — locals and immigrants — with a team of people who are just as passionate about this as I am.”
For now, Behind the Pages reaches a growing audience of English learners each week and has caught the attention of multiple schools in Australia. Currently, Maggie is working on an initiative to benefit the junior school students at her school in Melbourne. Incidentally, the podcast has also provided Maggie with a perfect extracurricular and leadership experience for her applications to some of the world’s best universities.
Wondering how you can turn your own experiences and interests into a project like Maggie’s? At Crimson, our dedicated extracurricular and career mentors have the expertise to help you get there. Your extracurricular profile should be a reflection of what truly matters to you — and if you’re not sure how to weave your interests into a compelling project, we’re here to help. To learn how Crimson can guide you on your journey to university, from extracurriculars to leadership activities and beyond, click the link below and schedule a free one hour consultation with one of our Academic Advisors.