If it were not for the time she spent studying at Rosthern (Sask.) Junior College (RJC), Crystal Lau might not be making a difference on campus at the University of Saskatchewan (U. of S.) the way she is now.
Lau, 22, spent the past year working as the coordinator at the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union Help Centre, which provides a variety of services meant to assist students. She credits her experience at RJC, a private Mennonite high school located 40 minutes north of Saskatoon, with instilling in her a desire to give back. She grew up in Hong Kong and arrived at RJC alone at the age of 15.
“I knew no one, so I had to start from the ground up to make connections,” she says. “The teachers at RJC had faith in me when I wasn’t at my best. They gave me opportunities and chances, and showed me channels and options to succeed.”
She appreciated the tightknit community at RJC, as well as the opportunities to try a variety of different things, including making art and participating in dramas and musicals. She says she learned life lessons outside the classroom that helped shape her as a person. “[I learned] how to take care of myself, and how to reach out and ask for help when I need help. Everybody needs help at some point, so I shouldn’t be ashamed [when I need it].”
That lesson proved to be especially useful a few months after Lau graduated in 2013 and she began her studies at U. of S. The difference between high school and university was almost like experiencing culture shock again, she says, and she felt lost. “I was not doing so well academically or mentally or even physically,” she says. “I wasn’t really taking care of myself.”
A friend suggested that she see a doctor and a counsellor. By doing that, Lau learned more about herself and how to take care of her mental health. When she was feeling better, she got involved with the peer mentorship program on campus.
She ended up working with the program for three years. She has also been involved with about a dozen other student and community groups both on and off campus, including assisting international students, helping at a food bank and raising awareness about homelessness in Saskatoon.
As coordinator of the Help Centre this past year, Lau was responsible for overseeing the work of 40 volunteers. She oversaw the variety of services that the centre offers, including peer support, and she gave presentations to a variety of groups on campus, letting them know that the centre exists and that it is there to help.
Lau is currently wrapping up her time as coordinator at the centre. In a Student Union election held in March, she was elected vice-president of student affairs, a role she assumes at the beginning of May. For her, it’s another opportunity to help her fellow students.
“My goal going into university was to get good grades, get that expensive piece of paper, get out and get a job,” she says. “Now it’s [about] way more than that.”
Jim Epp, RJC’s principal, describes Lau as enthusiastic, energetic, outgoing and friendly. He adds that she has been very keen to find ways to give back to RJC. She has volunteered at events and spoken in chapels.
“Our mandate as a Christian school is to teach the importance of being in community with each other, offering gifts and talents God’s given us in whatever place he’s placed us, and Crystal is one example of many of our students who learn that lesson and then try to put that into practice in their lives by reaching out and being of help of others, and seeking the help of the community, too. It’s a reciprocal thing,” Epp says, adding, “She’s a shining example of learning about service and discipleship, and loving your neighbour.”
For Lau, who holds a BA in linguistics and is currently taking additional courses in psychology, giving back just makes sense. “I know that I received a lot when I was at RJC,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without that community; not just students and staff and teachers, but alumni and my friends’ parents. . . . Now it’s time for me to give back and help out the people who are in the position I was in when I was lost.”