When I was growing up, I had the privilege of attending the Johnny Academy. This was not your typical school or institution. This was a valuable one-on-one learning experience with none another than my big brother Jonathan (hence the “Johnny” Academy). He was 13 years old and I was 7 when we first started. It was during the school holidays and he was developing an interest in teaching so here I was, his guinea pig student.
It started off with English lessons where we went through grammar and vocabulary. Then we dived into French conjugation and Math multiplication tables. The next thing I knew, he was announcing that there would be a final exam complete with report card! During the breaks between ‘classes’, he allowed me to indulge in 3 or 4 games of Donkey Kong as a reward for being focused in class. He also promised me a big bar of Cadbury’s chocolate if I finished the entire Famous Five series of books by Enid Blyton.
During other classes, we had “laboratory” sessions where we dived into chemistry experiments using the best chemistry set I had ever seen that had been given to us as a Christmas present. My eyes opened wide at all the unique powders in the set. I’m not sure they make them like that anymore. It had the potential to blow things up! The most fascinating experiment my brother ever showed me was the principal of a burning flame using up oxygen. It was a simple apparatus. A lit candle placed under a glass dome inside a basin of water. As the candle used up oxygen, the volume of air inside the dome decreased and the water from the basin rose up inside the glass dome to replace the space previously occupied by the oxygen. It seemed so magical to me, as if the water had a life of its own!
There was no end to the variety of lessons and experiments my brother showed me. I remember deciphering secret messages that had been written in lemon juice by gently heating under the paper, making the letters darken and become visible to the naked eye. So simple, yet so fascinating! We had a very basic microscope that we used to view random samples from the backyard. Our house was filled with all kinds of books, my favorite series being “Tell me why”.
My brother also entertained me by performing magic tricks and card tricks. He encouraged me to be active by taking me out to play tennis, soccer and badminton. He sometimes pretended to let me win!
My brother has been my mentor from a young age. His passion for teaching and his concern for me developed my fascination for science, reading and learning. I love to find out how things work and to this day we still have nerdy conversations. As a former Theater professor who has just finished his fourth year of medical school in the States, he continues to encourage me and mentor me as I embark on my journey to medical school. His drive to succeed motivates me and shows me that if he can do it, I can do it too.
Mentorship is a beautiful thing. It draws on one’s experiences to help another person learn and overcome similar hurdles. It says to another “Here I am to help you get through this, to figure it out and to help you succeed!”.