I love Los Angeles, I was born and raised there. But, it’s no secret that some parts of non-gentrified parts of East Los Angeles aren’t exactly for the feint of heart, this is especially true for the neighborhood I was driving to. In my destination neighborhood, there had been a recent spat of racial violence of gangs targeting certain minorities (even students). It probably didn’t help that I was on their “do not enter” list because of this. I knew my boss didn’t really like me, I had wondered deep down if she knew this dangerous fact before she sent me down there — because apparently everyone else said no, and well I recently had quit because of non payment. So, you may then wonder, how is it that I put myself in that situation in the first place? Well, I received a call from her where she said, “If he doesn’t get tested, then he won’t be able to receive tutoring for a year from the school district..it’s fine if you can’t do this one last assignment though…” What can I say, I’m a sucker — I mean how can someone applying to medical school not jump at the chance to drive to a drive-by infested neighborhood, give a district placement test for tutoring to a 3rd grader, then slide out of there neighborhood puncture free?
So, there I was trying to use my GPS to lead me to the quickest route to the kid’s house; and, as Murphy’s Law would have it Verizon doesn’t have that area covered. One thing I’ve learned about wondering around dicey neighborhoods is to never “appear” lost — ever. Fortunately, I found the apartment pretty quickly. It was a single bedroom apartment, though it was obvious by the bunk beds in the living room that space was limited. The kitchen was tiny to say the least, the average American bathroom had more floor space than this kitchen. You could do a 360 and you’d of seen all there was to see in their house. The mother didn’t understand English, so the child I was testing for English (oh the irony) and math soon had to translate some of our communication between her and I.
Everything went rather smooth, and as he stood he front of a tiny round table in the living room I gave him my pencil and a test, we were ready to start. Then I noticed something peculiar. “Why aren’t you sitting down? You should get a chair from somewhere to take this test”, I said. He looked at me, his mother then gave him an inquisitive look, with eye contact alone the child knew the mother wanted a translation. He translated, then he translated back to me “We don’t have a chair”.
A few weeks before that I had been tutoring an elementary student who couldn’t pay attention to what I was saying because she was always scratching her arms and legs. Everyone in the house had developed a cough, the kid, mother, brother, and grandmother. It soon became apparent from the squalor and the cockroaches’ daytime bravo, that it was probably all of the scratching and sneezing I saw were from pest allergies. I hated the situation my pupils were in, but I loved that I was there to meet it. I then remembered why I had come, and why I was there even though I knew I wasn’t going to receive squat, that I was financially in the hole, and I had to pay for medical school applications soon.
Before this time, I was tutoring college organic, general chemistry, physiology, biology. For a separate job, I also tutored high school “pre-premeds” in AP physics and chemistry. I really enjoyed working with some college students, it was great to see them grow. I still keep in contact with some of them, all of them have moved onto better things like research. Working with the high school students in their AP work was a lot less enjoyable, with the exception of one student. I recall one house call I made, it was the first visit, and well I look sort of like Bob Marley so I was apprehensive as that can be a big shock to some people — “Bob Marley is going to teach me biology”, they wonder. Never the less, I rang the door bell, and after hearing a few minutes of shouting across the other side of the door I was eventually greeted by a sharp eyed mother. I was eventually invited in, and asked if I wanted water. It was a very sterile white, the floors were white, the couches too were draped in white to hide their original color. I was then asked to sit down, the mother went upstairs while the aspiring premed youth I’d be tutoring stayed with me downstairs. The mother, upstairs with another woman that I couldn’t see started chattering off in a foreign language, shouts then transitioned into whispering. “I wouldn’t of known you’re talking about me if you weren’t whispering”, I thought to myself. After the upstairs gossip, the mother said “We can’t approve your payment yet until my husband returns, but if you give us a trial, we can then decide.” I didn’t know tutoring worked liked that, it was a pretty imaginative deal. So, I gave the youth the best tutoring session I could pull off, without pay. The initially quiet kid started to ask more and more questions, it turned out he was having a hard time with biology because he didn’t understand the basic chemistry. I finished the session, they tried calling me back later to “book” me, however that was my last new high school that I accepted for an appointment. I grew tired of catering to dictator parents, I had already left one assignment because the parents wanted me to pretty much cheat for their daughter, and for others I really didn’t want to be part of the artificial CV’s stuffing their parents had been planning for their child since they were a fetus.
That’s precisely how I went from a well paid private tutor, to one struggling to make ends meet. I started working with children that were disadvantaged becomes of socioeconomics because I thought I’d feel “better” about myself and how I spent my time. After I stopped receiving pay for tutoring (my bank account didn’t necessarily feel better). I kept tutoring kids and tried to mentor them for another 6 months (just before AMCAS opened) without pay. I actually almost didn’t have enough money to apply to medical school because of this period of “money aversion”, and I thought I might had to wait another year. Yet, somehow serving the people: tutoring science and math in the oncology department, and tutoring inmates and parolees (all stories for another day), ended up paying off a lot more than money ever could have. In the end, I learned a lot of things I could never learn with money. And well, I got into medical school, with my pride intact.