Explore Life. It's easier than you think!
2020-2021 Gems of STEM Scholarship Application Available Now!

How I Conquered the “Dreaded” Community College

By Catherine Tran

There is a widely-known expression in Vietnamese that reads: ”Life has a way of testing your resilience, therefore we must prepare for the worst”. I never truly grasped the meaning of this until the summer leading to my freshman year at college when my father said, “Catherine, I cannot afford to send you to college.” His shocking declaration came when I was less than two months away from departing for UC Irvine. Instead of celebrating my acceptance, I was overwhelmed with the pressure to adapt to my new situation, an admission into a Community College. This abrupt change in direction left me devastated; in an instant, my path towards university was halted and I had to quickly reroute.

When I made the decision to “just go to community college”, I internalized so much self-doubt, shame, and disappointment. The people who surrounded me were constantly projecting the idea that community college was the bottom of the educational hierarchy, as if my journey to be successful was illegitimate unless I attended a four-year university. Instead of mourning something beyond my control, I shifted my perspective and viewed community college as a blessing in disguise– an opportunity to build a strong academic foundation and solidify my passion in web design.

I have put forth diligent effort in all my classes, in turn receiving high marks, and fostering enriching relationships with my classmates and professors. Outside the classroom, I dedicate myself to helping other students succeed by ensuring that their needs, wants, and concerns are being addressed. Being selected as a peer mentor has been the most rewarding and impactful experience as it allows me to empower and motivate other students by sharing my story of how I transformed a challenging life event into a humbling, positive experience.

Although my path towards university was derailed, I optimized my college experience and never lost sight of my academic goals. This experience taught me to be flexible with given circumstances and maintain focus. I approach tough situations with objectivity and determination and turn them into positive opportunities for change. In essence, my experience at Ohlone College helped me develop the tenacity to overcome future challenges and flourish.


Catherine Tran, Cat to her friends, is a second-year student at Ohlone College intending to major in Cognitive Science and Media. She has served in the GT20’s student advisory council for over three years. During her free time she enjoys watching funny YouTube videos, reading personal development blogs, and going ham on the karaoke machine.

Feature Image Courtesy: www.pexels.com

What I Learned From My Move to The Windy City

By Kevin Leonard

Chicago was never really on my radar while searching for colleges. I always imagined myself going to a school somewhere in California: a place that is familiar and close to home. Never did I see myself in a city with angry taxi drivers, crowded streets, and loud trains. Unfortunately, transitioning from the Bay to Chicago was not an easy process; however, it was an enjoyable and fascinating process.

When I told my parents that I wanted to study film, they were mostly supportive. The obstacle that I had to overcome was getting into a good school where I can pursue my film major. Los Angeles was my first choice, and for a long time my only choice. It made sense to me, since LA is home to Hollywood. When I got accepted to DePaul University in Chicago, I started to second guess myself. I was so set on LA for school that I never considered any other area outside of Southern California. “Hmmm, Chicago? I don’t know, a crowded city with loud streets,” I thought to myself. “Doesn’t seem like my type of environment.”

For once, I felt like I was presented with a decision I had full control over. Should I go to LA? I’m only a 2-hour plane ride away from my parents. I can eat my mom’s cooking and sleep on my heavenly memory foam mattress whenever I felt like it. Or should I go to Chicago? Where I am a 6-hour plane ride away and would only be able to visit during the breaks. I took a leap of faith and decided to challenge myself, force myself out of my comfort zone. I accepted the offer from DePaul and decided to continue my future in Chicago for the next 4 years.

The realization of going to DePaul didn’t hit me until summer break after high school began and my decision started to evoke concern and second guesses. Spending my summer preparing for college and dorm life, I started to feel anxious as the days counted down. Sure, I was excited for college, but I didn’t know what to expect. I started to fear leaving my parents and move halfway across the country.

Then move-in day came. Feelings of loneliness and nervousness overwhelmed me for the first week of school. There were too many people for my comfort and the urban environment made me feel uneasy. But then the realization hit. I am going to spend the next four years or more in this city and I need to start appreciating it. I need to embrace the city. I need to embrace the crowd. I need to embrace the crazy people on the subway.

Tall buildings didn’t make me nauseous anymore; instead I started to appreciate the architecture and beauty. The crowd didn’t trigger claustrophobia anymore; instead it garnished the city with life and prosperity. Since then, my outlook of the city has become positive and forced optimism transformed into innate appreciation. I have made friends that I know I can count on and enjoy my classes and professors. I have even already started looking for apartments for next year. I know that it’s only the first quarter, but spending the next 11 quarters in the city is what I am most excited about.

An enthusiastic mind is what ultimately led to what type of student I am today. I decided to take a shot in the dark and experience what an urban setting feels like. I took the risk and I learned to adapt to the new environment. Fortunately, it ended up being something that I would enjoy. Nine weeks later, I finally feel like I am at home.

blog-7-kevinKevin Leonard is currently a freshman at DePaul University. He is pursuing a film major with concentration in directing. On his spare time, Kevin watches movies, takes photos, and likes trying different brands of cereal.

Photo Courtesy: Kevin Leonard

China Through My Eyes


Marwa Doost

If there is one thing I excel in, it’s probably the ability to stress over everything. Even during the summer, where you would think it wasn’t humanly possible to stress over anything, I was. Summer classes, the ACT’s, college applications, volunteering, and my resume were just some of the things running through my mind. When I wasn’t stressing, I usually spent my time envying my little brothers who spent their evenings tackling Naruto into the ground repeatedly on their PS3.

So when my father mentioned his upcoming business trip to China, I let myself fantasize about traveling overseas and escaping the pool of stress I created for myself. “Dad, can’t I come with you too?” I asked as I imagined speeding through the sky with a bowel of ramen before me.

My little dream bubble was popped not a minute later when I got a call from CT2 Prep, an ACT tutoring company, who reminded me of my interest in receiving tutoring. And like that, my little China dream was forgotten. What I didn’t expect was for my dad to take my request into consideration and buy me a ticket. Luckily though, that feeling didn’t stay for long after being on the receiving end of an hour-long lecture from my older sister who told me to “stop stressing because it was summer for god’s sake and to start living!”

Thanks to her, I was sitting in the window seat of ChinaAir two weeks later with a bowl of ramen in front of me as I bounced onto my seat excitedly.

Cupping and Turtles

Michael Phelps made Cupping famous when he appeared in the Olympics with dark bruised circles on his back. Well, the process of getting those marks is scary creepy. During our stay in China, my dad’s friend managed to convince my dad of getting cupping done at massage place near our hotel. You see, after lying down and getting all comfy (with your shirt off of course), a professional comes in with a bucket of twelve cups and matches. He lit up the match, placed it in the cup, and took the fire out after it blared to life inside of it.

He then stuck the cup onto your back. It hurts and right after it’s done, your skin starts turning red and swelling inside the cup. This method is repeated eleven more times until your back is covered completely to the point where you look like a turtle. After a couple of moments, the cups are taken away with a forceful grab and you are free to go. The marks will stay there for at least a week and will help heal any sore muscles you have and help your blood flow more. Props to Phelps for doing it though! The process is very freaky… I was about to get it done too, but after I saw the process I was like “Heck No! I’ll just start working out again!”

Business Etiquette

Tagging along with my Dad on his business trip was definitely an educational experience. Not only did I meet a lot of his clients and co-workers, but I also got to learn a lot about business etiquette. To my surprise, I learned that offering water to a client or co-worker was the best way to show them respect when they make the time to visit your office.

Moreover, I learned how important it is to plan ahead. I often questioned my dad why he would often meet up with new clients when he already had clients, and he would always reply by saying that “Clients will often agree to what you say, but when it comes down to it, will follow their own choices.” As a result, we had to meet up with new clients to prepare materials that we needed and might not have gotten our hands on from the previous client.

Fish and Lots of It

When my dad first told me that his friend would be taking us out to dinner, I was worried. I mean I’m not a fish fan, and this guy loved that stuff. We then ordered straw mushrooms, tree mushrooms, Chinese cabbage called Bok Choy, Cauliflower, Chinese beans, and varieties of fish and noodles in different shapes. Although there were tons of different types of fishes added into the broth, I was able to avoid eating too much fish by getting myself the soup from corners of the bowl.

Personally, my favorite part was trying all the different types of noodles. Some were thick and long and others were round and thin, and the best part was that they all had a different taste to them!

Tuk Tuk

I love motorcycles, much to my dad’s distaste, and China was full of them. The streets were always full of motorcycles and get this, there were even motorcycle taxis! This was basically a dream come true for me and a nightmare for my dad who always worried about finding excuses to keep me from getting on one. Luckily for him, I didn’t get to ride on one but I was able to ride the Tuk Tuk.

The name of the motorcycle is just as unique as the motorcycle itself. It is a big three wheeled motorcycle that looks like a regular motorcycle in the front but like the back seat of  a windowless car in the back.  It was definitely a lot less dangerous than normal motorcycles, but it still felt pretty cool to be riding in.

Being able to visit another country, especially China, was an amazing experience for me. I got to meet different people, see the culture, and try out amazing foods! Doing well in school and caring about our college applications is definitely important, but I think that being able to experience a lot of different situations is also something that will help you grow as a person. I would recommend the trip to anyone, as it is one that would be forever unforgettable!

Image Courtesy: http://global-goose.com/tuk-tuk-tips/

Pawsome Project

When K9s retire, their handler typically buys them from the city.

All food and vet care previously covered by the city is now the responsibility of the Handler.

Join us in supporting these dogs and individuals that have kept us safe.

100% of your donation goes directly to the dogs’ food and medical expenses.

Five Reasons Why Volunteering is the Most Rewarding Experience

Vaish Kandhadai

Vaish Kandhadai

Volunteering, over time, has transformed from leisure time community service into an effective tool in socially conscious professional networking. Whether you are a student, a newcomer to the town, or just a person looking for direction in your life, volunteering at a local non-profit organization is a fitting way to begin your pursuit. I have been volunteering at GiveTeens20® since March and during the course of time, I have come to know so many wonderful people who have given relevance to my search for a career fit (I am looking at you with gratitude, Kathy!). If you are on the wall about volunteering, this post might help you make the right decision. If you are already volunteering, it would help you reexamine your purpose at your non-profit organization. So why volunteer?

Know Your Community Better: As a recent transplant to the Bay Area, I have learned so much about communities and education from my short time at GT20. I learned of several thriving sub-communities around Fremont (Niles and Newark, for example) I was unaware of until a few months ago. As a part of an education-based non-profit, I also learned about the difficulties the schooling system in the bay faces and the measures that are being taken to address the shortcomings. I now have a different level of respect and appreciation for everything our teachers do to shape the students of our community.

Give Something Back to the Community: Did you know that as a volunteer, you have the power to strengthen so many aspects of your community? By working at the eldercare ward of your local hospital, you would be helping your community’s seniors. By taking up an after school mentoring program, you would be contributing towards the future of the youths. By taking that extra step, you would be contributing towards the development of your town, city and thus, the country!

Give Your Career Some Direction: It doesn’t matter whether you are fresh out of school or just taking a break to figure out a career change. Volunteering in a field that interests you and for an organization with a respectable cause significantly increase your chances of finding what lights you up! As a person who was fascinated by social media marketing, my time at GT20 has helped me research tools and ideas related to my field of interest. This has helped me make a considerable contribution towards improving GT20’s social media presence and improve the value of my resume. There really is nothing to beat the on-the-job knowledge volunteering offers!

Make Friends and Increase Your Network: If you take your volunteering seriously (well, not too seriously, of course!), it would improve your chances of networking with other professionals in your community. How, you ask me? Non-profits host or attend several events every month. Whether it is to raise funds or support other causes, an average non-profit organization sees at least one event a week. If you are an active member of your organization, you would get to attend several of these events and meet people from wide-ranging industries. In my opinion, there is nothing to beat that!

Finally, It is Good For You: Volunteering reduces stress. The shift in focus from your problems to something else would give a bigger and better meaning to your life. Nothing really beats that!!

Vaish is a Volunteer Social Media Strategist for GiveTeens20® and a Growth Hacking Consultant in the Technology industry. In her pass time, she likes to pretend she is reading just to get out of doing household chores!

Benefits of Being A SAC Member

As mentioned in a previous post, GiveTeens20® is currently looking for 10 awesome interns to join our Student Advisory Council. There are some great benefits and opportunities to joining our SAC internship. Instead of having us explain what they are, we decided to interview two current SAC members and have them tell you about their experiences.

Cat Tran

Cat Tran

Status: Graduating senior at American High School. She is currently on the SAC as an intern and the secretary of SAC.

Interests/Hobbies: Tran enjoys singing and has been in several performances at her high school. She loves watching television shows that revolves around suspense and is currently obsessed with “Grey’s Anatomy”.

What do you do as a SAC Member?

“I provide teen input and opinions on certain topics like teen employment, and trending topics that would hit home to a lot of teenagers. I also contribute in community service events like the Ohana Health Fair and Fremont Street Eats, but I am pretty much a representative. I attend these events and I talk about the purpose of what this internship is or on a broader scale what GT20 is.”

The benefits of being on SAC: “I got to implement my interpersonal skills that I developed over the years, as well as my time with GT20 for Kaiser Permanente. I think it has served me really well in terms of building relationships with co-workers and patients. That’s an asset that I really value.”

The opportunities/experiences: “I have a lot of memorable moments with the SAC. I feel like every meeting is refreshing and exciting. Not only do I get to voice my opinions and offer innovative ideas to the GT20 board, I feel like I have a purpose. I have all of these cool ideas that will attract teenagers and I love that Kathy is open to hearing all of my suggestions… At the same time, I enjoy going to all of these events…I feel like communications skills, getting myself out there, getting exposure, and getting connected with people will help me network. GT20 provides that for me.”

What would you say to someone who is thinking about applying but isn’t sold on the idea just yet?

“I would say an internship looks way better than a volunteer on a [college] resume. Also, the fact that you’re a teenager working for an organization that revolves around teens benefits.”

Continue Reading

GiveTeens20® is looking for interns!

Ribbon cutting picture

Kathy and the Student Advisory Council.


GiveTeens20®, an education non-profit, is currently looking for 10 enthusiastic, creative minds to join our Student Council Advisory Internship this year. If you are a hardworking freshmen or sophomore in high school and not afraid to voice out your opinions, this internship is definitely for you. This internship is unpaid, but you will learn about business and your strengths will be enhanced. Volunteer hours will be available for your great work.

As a SAC member, you will…

  • Help guide the direction of GiveTeens20® (your opinion matters A LOT)
  • Participate in events and special projects
  • Attend monthly meetings

GiveTeens20® is an education non-profit that encourages and equips teens with no-cost, easy-to-use tools and resources to help them find their career ‘fit’.

If you are interested in applying, fill out our application here. If you have further questions, please email us at info@giveteens20.org . We hope to hear from you all soon!

Financial Aid Awards: Can You Spot the Differences?

Two Toads - Financial Aid Award LettersYour applications are complete.  Admission and financial aid offers are starting to come in.  It can be confusing to decipher exactly what portion of the awards are free and which come with a cost.

On average private colleges discount 46% of college tuition for first-year applicants.  Wow, it sounds like a decent chunk of the cost, but every college–whether public or private–has a customized formula for awarding financial aid; every student is subject to a different amount.

A quick reminder: You must complete the FAFSA as well as the CSS Profile (for some colleges) to qualify for all available financial aid.  Along with assessing your need-based aid it’s a requirement for many colleges–such as Stanford)–to apply for financial aid  in order to receive an award letter.

Award Letters: The Equation

As you sift through financial aid award letters, it’s important to figure out exactly what your financial offer is.  How much money must you pay back and what amount is handed to you for free?

This leaves you with your Out-of-Pocket Cost:

Total Cost of Attendance – Gift Aid (Scholarships + Grants) = Out-of-Pocket Cost

Note that if you research award letters, the terms Out-of-Pocket Cost and Net Cost are used interchangeably.

Keep in mind that:

  • All freshmen qualify for $5,500 in total direct loans (unsubsidized plus subsidized).
  • All college students qualify for Parent PLUS Loans up to the Cost of Attendance minus all other financial aid offered.
  • There are private loans available today (most recently from credit unions) many which have more favorable features than the Parent PLUS Loan.

A nice free tool available to contrast costs is FinAid’s Award Letter Comparison Tool, which allows you to input information for 3 different colleges simultaneously.

Quick Tips

  • Add up all expenses: tuition, room and board, materials such as books, fees, and other necessities.
  • Separate gift aid from loans.
  • Double-check your net price. If the college lists a total, recognize that the college may figure in loans.
  • Assess your out-of-pocket cost via the formula above, if a net price is missing.

While there are multiple factors to consider when choosing your college, it’s unquestionably important to understand the financial commitment you and your family will face.

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning.  For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar or call us at (650) 587-1559.

Photo Credit: Matt Reinbold

Studying Tunes – Remix Edition

In our previous post we mentioned how finding the right studying mix is important. Music can help you concentrate and keep you motivated. It can be difficult to find the perfect playlist and here at GiveTeens20®, we want to make your lives a little bit easier.

Today marks the last day of our Studying Tunes series and we are going out with a bang. Today’s genre? Electronic/Remixes.  We hope you guys enjoy listening to them as much as we did finding them. Check out the playlists below.


1. A mix containing 16 relaxing tunes including remixes by Kygo, Flic Flac, and Filous.


2. If upbeat music is more of your style to keep the study party going, check out this playlist. 19 songs. 19 remixes. Remixes done by Calvin Harris, Audien, The Chainsmokers and many more.


Be sure to follow/like us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!


Studying Tunes – Pop Edition

In our previous post we mentioned how finding the right studying mix is important. Music can help you concentrate and keep you motivated. It can be difficult to find the perfect playlist and here at GiveTeens20®, we want to make your lives a little bit easier. Every day this week, we will post playlists recommendations from different genres. Today’s genre? Pop. Check out the playlists below. Happy studying and listening!


  1. Popular songs covered by well-known artists, as well as indie artists.  This playlist has a good amount of upbeat and slow songs to help you stay motivated. The mix contains music from Ed Sheeran, The Heydaze, and The Neighbourhood.

  1. Another playlist that contains covers and unplugged versions of well-known songs. This mix does not disappoint, and with 90 songs on here, you are bound to find a hidden gem. Playlist includes cover songs of U2, Coldplay, Ingrid Michaelson, MGMT, and many more!

Be sure to come back tomorrow to check out our next “Studying Tunes” post. Next up: Electronic/Remixes.

Be sure to follow/like us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!