Teen Health 101, from an Ocean Away
By: Mint Suetrong, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Olivia Storti, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief
Happy first birthday, Teen Health 101! For this special occasion, we are creating content, sharing some of our experiences through this one-year journey.
A brief introduction - my name is Mint, nice to meet you! I was born and raised in Thailand, though my current Thai abilities are sub-par, generously speaking. While I am more comfortable expressing myself in English than in Thai, I am not always confident in my English, especially when it comes to writing.
English has always been an integral part of my life, attending a bilingual school throughout primary and growing up watching Disney Junior - Handy Manny and Doc McStuffins remain undefeated. With that being said, I preferred Thai over English when I was younger, naturally using it with my parents and friends from school. That reality all changed in 2014 when my dad announced that we would be moving to Canada.
There were various ways in which I gained experience with the English language - consistency is key after all. I was placed in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses where I was fortunate to have regular sessions with my teacher, reading various passages and writing responses. Outside of the classroom, I was also a keen participant in extracurricular activities, some of my favourites were being a PA announcer and being on the school safety patrol team (we were given lemonade in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter). Gaining exposure through those activities enriched both my cultural understanding and speaking skills. In addition, I was able to further improve my speaking skills through being my family’s spokesperson of sorts, making phone calls, or approaching staff to relay my family’s inquiries, thanks to my younger self’s lack of fear when speaking to strangers.
While I had no problem understanding English and carrying day-to-day conversations, it was in writing that I still struggled. Moving back to Thailand, I was placed in First Language and Literature and although I was slowly losing my accent and fluency, it was in those years where my teachers refined our literacy skills through plentiful assignments with barely enough time to complete them. Centered around the CIE (Cambridge International Examinations) syllabus, our tasks were predominately narrative or descriptive pieces for language and analyzing prose and poetry for literature. My literacy skills tremendously improved under my teacher’s constructive critiques, though I would say I am far from being an eloquent writer.
Taking my background into consideration, you may ask, “Mint, you’re an ocean away; how in the world did you join Teen Health 101?” It’s quite a long-winded story, but in short, I randomly stumbled upon an Instagram story that Valeri, our founder, posted recruiting writers sometime in July 2020. As someone who rarely - if ever - says no to an opportunity, I naturally applied with low expectations. Prior to Teen Health 101, I did not have much experience in formal writing, only occasionally writing for my school’s newspaper when requested by my teachers. Pleasantly surprised, I was contacted back by Valeri, asking if I would be available to have an interview through a video call. I still vividly remember feeling giddy after being accepted and hearing that she was equally as surprised as she had not expected someone outside her state, much less continent, to sign up. Happy accidents. Shortly after, I was able to publish my first ever article with Teen Health 101 titled, The Mess We Call ‘Self-Induced Stress’.
Written post first COVID-19 lockdown and IGCSE exams cancellation, my mental health was treading on thin ice. Although I had not realized it then, those few weeks were when my mental health hit rock bottom: I was in a constant state of agitation and felt like I was not doing enough even though I was working relentlessly. Secluded from the outside world, I was sinking in my thoughts: my intention for writing that article was to gain a sense of relief from unleashing things I had bottled up. It was a reflection of sorts, to bear the feelings that I felt and remind myself that I have grown through it. Initially, it was an article that I wrote for myself.
That turned on its head when I received the overwhelmingly positive response; many reached out to me saying they were able to relate to my article, some even shared experiences of their own. It was at that moment where I felt an unmatched sense of joy of being able to comfort someone. However, it became too much at times. Even though the responses were nothing but supportive and encouraging, I could not help but feel vulnerable and exposed. Crazy as it seems, I had not rationalized the fact that people were going to read my article. I felt bare. I felt like I had lost a sense of control, even though it was my choice to share a piece of myself with the world. This was one of my struggles as a writer.
While many would agree that I am rather expressive, this does not apply to negative feelings - an enthusiastic “I’m good!” comes out on autopilot without a hint of hesitation whenever someone asks how I am doing. I prefer being a listening ear when it comes to personal problems. In a way, hearing others reassures me that I’m not going through this alone and that helps me gain confidence to share my vulnerable side with my loved ones. Although it has not always been easy, it has definitely gotten easier and it will continue to progress this way as long as I keep working on myself. Self-love is a journey and knowing that my articles can provide someone a sense of comfort, relief or reassurance motivates me to keep going.
A year later, where am I now? I currently have 17 articles under my name, most of which stem from personal experiences - The Mess We Call Self-Induced Stress was also featured on Teen Health 101’s first-ever monthly magazine (you should check it out, the team worked incredibly hard on it). Re-reading my first article, I am incredibly proud that I had decided to tackle my problems head-on, being more comfortable opening up now than ever. Being able to point out things you would do differently to improve your work is also a tell-tale sign that you have improved. However, I could not have done this all alone: this team has helped me grow tremendously.
Being so far away from everyone else and growing up with an entirely different background, I was afraid that I would feel alienated from the team. This was far from the truth. Although I have not been able to attend most monthly meetings due to time zone issues, reading others’ responses to community bonding questions and seeing snippets of their lives through social media helped me feel more connected to the team. Furthermore, our team is nothing but encouraging. Although I still struggle with tones, form, and structure, our editors never fail to leave supportive, insightful comments and suggestions under each article. Communication is also incredibly easy, thanks to how kind and welcoming everyone is - special thanks to Valeri, Andrew, and Eve who have been victims of too many late night/early morning messages. Never be afraid to ask for help!
Reflecting on myself over the course of this year, I have learned to be more patient, especially with myself, through being a writer. Curiosity and passion can get the best of me when I find something particularly intriguing, diving into a new challenge without an ounce of hesitation. Through being a writer, I learned how to better pace myself - this article, in particular, I wrote it a few paragraphs at a time, over a week, stopping whenever I found myself repetitively typing and deleting. Everyone has likely experienced writer’s block at some point in their lives and it is not a pleasant feeling, but I have personally found that it was best to step away from it for a while and come back to it after you have cleared your mind with another task that excites you. Not only are you in a better mood afterwards, it is also much easier to identify why you don’t particularly like it, making editing much more efficient.
As this article comes to an end, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone involved in Teen Health 101. Seeing everyone’s hard work has motivated me to better improve myself, both as a writer and a person. During hardships, I have gained inspiration and encouragement from reading others’ articles on both the website and magazines, hearing from our podcast team through Teen Table Talks on Spotify, and learning about different health-related careers through our youtube channel. (I am really sorry but I don’t have TikTok but I am sure that they are creating amazing content on there as well! Go follow @teenhealth101!) This community has shown and proven time and time again that it will continue to grow and flourish, stretching our boundaries of what we can achieve together. I am thankful for the opportunities, encouragement, and, most importantly, friendships through being on this team. I cannot wait to see what we will accomplish next year! Thank you, everyone!
Teen Health 101’s website: https://www.teenhealth101.org/
Teen Health 101’s youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0e8zx047uZNgGpKA7q8O9g
Teen Health 101’s TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@teenhealth101?