Executive assistant at Higher Ground wants to offer support to fellow international students away from home
Yuwei He has always wanted to be a helper.
This summer, she will celebrate her one-year anniversary at Higher Ground Education, working closely alongside CEO Ray Girn as new schools continue to open across the world and as Montessori continues to grow. She’s there for all of it, helping to talk through ideas, advocating for the work, and encouraging our team along the way.
“Working for Higher Ground Education has been the best choice I’ve ever made,” Yuwei says. “I feel very fulfilled here, and when I see that the schools are organized and calm and that the children are being taken good care of, I know that one piece of my work helped to achieve that, and that feels very meaningful. I feel very happy about that.”
Through education, she’s helping others, and in many ways, it’s what she’s always wanted.
Cross-cultural education builds empathy
When Yuwei moved to New York City in 2016 to study international education, her transition from China to the U.S. was relatively smooth. She had previously spent a couple years studying education in Spain as well, where they didn’t accommodate the international student as well as they do in the U.S., so her time abroad there helped to ease another move in yet another country. By the time she got to the states, she didn’t feel alone and more a part of something special.
“My two-year program in New York was a time where I thought a lot about myself, my future, and different people, too. I started to care more,” she says. “Growing up in China, my identity never stood out. I’m from northeast China, but only after I came to the U.S. did I see my identity as Chinese and an international student, but it all became very clear, and it was very inspiring to me. Even though I’m not an American, I know that I have a big group of people here with similar identities to me.”
Even still, she immediately empathized with the other international students who were sure to follow. Studying abroad and traveling are incredible opportunities, but change is significant, and Yuwei knew she wasn’t the only one to feel it.
“When you study abroad, you don’t have your family here, and a familiarity is missing,” Yuwei says. “There is a fear there, and a lot of students have the same problem, where there is nowhere for them to go and ask for help.”
Yuwei says that before she graduated, she participated in qualitative research on 15 international students who studied in the U.S. at an early age and had to talk about their experiences — what they learned and what they expected — and the research showed that those international students needed more emotional support.
“In college, every university has an international center to support students, but most of them focus more on their visas and less on how the students can better integrate into campus life and into the community. They don’t have answers for that, and I wished they did.”
She wanted to be the help. She wanted to be the one to say, I am happy here, and you can be, too! Before she graduated from NYU, when she was thinking about what she wanted to do next, she only knew that she wanted to find a way to offer students more support. “That is something that inspired me the most,” she says.
“My initial plan was that I would create a nonprofit to give students free consultations to just ask questions!” she says. “It’s still something I’m very passionate about. If there are international students or even other Chinese staff at Higher Ground who are new to the U.S. — if they have any questions, I would feel so happy to answer it for them. It’s really something I get excited to do.”
Yuwei says the opportunities she has had to study education in China and Spain and the U.S. have now put her in a position to guide other people who hope to study and thrive internationally.
“I like to help others,” Yuwei says. “I had the privilege to get really qualified education from everywhere, and now I feel like I can help others get the same opportunity. It’s why I chose education for my life. I don’t think of education solely as teaching — I don’t consider myself a good teacher! — I think education is way beyond the classroom. There is so much to do and learn, and it drives me every day. I feel really passionate about it.”
Yuwei is excited about the growth and momentum at Higher Ground Education, and she’s grateful to be a part of an organization that is helping students and families across the world.
“We will never stop growing, and I so appreciate this privilege, to observe the development of this company,” she says. “And Ray (Girn) has been the best teacher. He has taught me a lot about thinking structurally, how to think about the context and making better judgment, and I really appreciate that.
“This is an exciting career for me, and I’m excited to help others.”