School counselor mentors troubled youth over coffee

By Wang Kai-lin and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Sat, Jan 25, 2014 - Page 5

A school counselor at New Taipei City’s (新北市) Zhonghe High School has dedicated himself to reaching out to troubled teenagers by sharing lattes and cappuccinos at his coffee shop.

Ou Kuo-hsiang (歐國祥) said he has tried to find new ways to offer guidance to students who are in their rebellious teenage years.

“In 2005, we organized a ‘Tzu Chi Basketball Team’ for Zhonghe City [in then-Taipei County]. It was for adults who were troublemakers. Some were alcoholics, others had a record of domestic violence,” said the 55-year-old, who is a member of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation’s work committee.

“Through sports, we tried to instill positive energy into people. As they were organized into team units, members tended to amend their behavior and cut out bad habits. Later on, we changed our approach from targeting adults to teenagers. However, the main aim remained the same: to guide troubled individuals and show them a better path,” Ou said.

Ou became a student counselor in 2010 after Zhonghe High School’s principal invited him to join his staff.

Ou said he has many years of “real street trench-warfare experience,” and tries to lend a sympathetic ear to youths to rekindle their interest in education.

Having a passion for coffee, Ou invites students to talk while enjoying different brews with them at his coffee shop.

“The best way to interact with teenagers is by eating, drinking and hanging out with them,” he said. “We should not just tell them what we think of as the right answers.”

He also uses his own experience of managing a coffee shop to encourage students.

For example, some students are interested in starting up a business, so Ou tells them about the ins-and-outs of running a shop.

“I show them how to calculate operating costs and turnover, how to approach customer service and even how to design the interior. Gradually, they get to understand that gaining knowledge is part of our everyday lives,” Ou said.

“The cost and turnover calculations are like math homework. Understanding customer service is like learning about ethics and morality. Step by step, students understand how to correct their misguided notions and errant behavior,” he added.

Ou said there are at least 200 types of coffee around the world.

“Whether a cup of coffee is good or not so good depends on the person brewing it,” Ou said.

“Some coffee beans taste best when they are roasted using charcoal, others taste better as a cold drink. Each type has its own character. The same goes for students. Some are not suited for traditional schooling methods. Educators must change their approach to reach them,” he said.

Ou believes that in the right environment, troubled students can exceed people’s expectations.

“As long as students have the will to change for the better and make progress, they will gradually accumulate positive results to develop a leading product,” he said.