Michelle Chow-Liu: The Trusted Adult In Your Child’s Life
When she first arrived in Beijing, she was freshly out of college and thought she’d stay for a year. That was 20 years ago. Today she’s trying to make the lives of those who need guidance, advice, support and a shoulder to lean on, better.
Michelle Chow-Liu is the Head of High School Counseling at the Western Academy of Beijing where she first started working back in 2005 as one of the director’s assistants. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she came to Beijing to learn Mandarin. As ethnic Chinese growing up in Canada, where the most common variety spoken among Chinese Canadians in Cantonese, she felt the need to master her Mandarin language skills. She realized it would take more than a year, so she stayed two…and, well, those two years turned into 20.
I had the opportunity to ask her about her past, present and future goals and she struck me as a person who fights for what she believes in. She became Head of High School Counseling at WAB in 2019, the year of COVID, so she says that the epidemic has actually been kind to her.
We talked about the importance of her job as a school counselor and the responsibility that goes with guiding students through that very special time in their lives when they’re figuring out their wants and needs. She spoke so highly of her profession and with such a spark in her voice that I could immediately tell how passionate and driven she is!
As high school counselors, we get to deal with all sorts of stuff. Besides the college application process, we also deal with social-emotional matters, so the students come to us when they have a bad week, if there’s a family issue, a breakup that they’re going through, friendship issues. It’s all about building trust, relationships with students and their families from day 1 when they’re in grade 9. It’s important for them to have trusted adults in their lives. Of course we’re not the only ones, but we want to be one of them.
The only thing Michelle isn’t crazy about when it comes to being a school counselor is the “unknown”. In her own words, “What I mean by that are the things that are out of our control. Especially now, with COVID, the travel restrictions, visas for our students. There’s nothing we can do about it. The uncertainty is what I don’t like. But I’m optimistic, I like to think that everything will go back to normal.”
Michelle has been recently elected president of the International Association for College Admission Counseling (ACAC), an organization for professionals supporting students as they move from secondary schooling to higher education. As a member since 2009, as well as the VP for Membership since 2017, Michelle put in a lot of time and effort into making sure the Association serves its members to the best of its ability. The International ACAC is completely run by volunteers, and what makes it very special is the loyalty its some 3500 members feel toward the organization. That’s actually the main reason she decided to run for president.
I wanted to give back. I wouldn’t call myself a workaholic because there’s a negative connotation to it, but for me, my work is fun. I love sitting in meetings, discussing how things should be done, what can we do to make things better. It gives me energy.
One of her main goals as the president of the International ACAC is to expand the membership as well as to keep current members engaged so as to “make it a meaningful experience for them”. But “as to a third person of color and second woman in a leadership position at the Association, I want to push forward with the DEIJ initiatives. DEIJ stands for diversity, equity, inclusion and (social) justice, so how do we build those into the foundation of the Association? We need to find a way to imprint them into the DNA of the International ACAC." Doesn't that sound amazing? But wait, there’s still more to this inspiring human!
Other than working two full-time jobs, Michelle is also a mother of 3 girls, aged 6, 8 and 11. They call her the queen of work and she admits that she wears the crown proudly. But once the time comes for her kids to start high school, the energetic, determined and organized Michelle will first and foremost be their mom.
They will be with me in the high school, but I’ll probably have them work with my colleague instead. It’s because I feel like they need another voice to speak with. A safe space. I will be speaking to them with the mother’s hat on, not the counselor’s hat. But I do use a lot of my counseling skills with them. They do come in handy.
Images: Courtesy of Michelle Chow-Liu