Samuel Tsoi ’07: Navigating the Concrete Jungle by Returning to Roots

sam tossTen years after graduation, Samuel Tsoi ’07 has not only established his international affairs career, but has grown out of his roots as a member of Gordon’s first Clarendon Scholars cohort to become an urban change-maker. Tsoi was appointed one of 20 fellows at RISE San Diego, a community development organization, and works as assistant director of the University of California San Diego’s 21st Century China Center.

“The RISE Fellowship is definitely an answered prayer for me to meet people who are really deeply committed to the city here,” Tsoi said. “This fellowship has definitely affirmed my calling.”

Tsoi immigrated with his family from Hong Kong to Boston when he was eight years old, and then returned to East Asia for an immersive study abroad experience in China as a Gordon student. Today, he sees his work at U.C. San Diego as bridge building during a time when relations between the U.S. and China are becoming more competitive.

Born out of his Gordon study abroad experience, Tsoi has developed a cross-cultural ideology that guides his current work. “Are the things that I cherish culturally specific or universal?” he asks. “What are the things I can connect with someone about, regardless of how different we are? Because we are both humans, and there are some universal themes going on.”

Taking a universal view has proved beneficial in Tsoi’s recent move from East to West Coast to be closer to his wife’s family in San Diego. In fact, he’s reliving an immigrant experience in a new city, he says.

“When you’re comfortable and everyone knows you, then you’re proud and rely on those things as your identity. But if you’re plucked away from that, you have to try to fit in, you go back to the core of who you are,” Tsoi explained.

“For me, I grew up as a Christian and Christ-follower,” he says. “The Bible definitely describes us as sojourners on Earth… Our ultimate home is not even here… And after you realize that, how do you help other people who feel neglected, who feel marginalized, who feel unwelcomed?”

The relationships Tsoi built with the Lynn and Dorchester communities as a Clarendon Scholar inform who he is today, he says. His community and family remind him of who he is. To him, that’s community engagement.

“Wherever you are spending four years at a college, (working) in the surrounding communities—that really shapes who you are,” Tsoi says. “And, if you don’t engage those communities then you’re missing out.”

Today his work in public education and communications at U.C. San Diego is informing his RISE project. He intends to create a summit that will bring together public officials with faith, civic and business leaders to discuss immigrant and refugee empowerment. Ultimately, he hopes his project will leave a lasting imprint in San Diego through the establishment of an Office of Immigrant Advancement.

Tsoi’s path from Clarendon Scholar to RISE fellow is poetically in tandem with his RISE initiative: successfully integrate immigrants into American society.

By Dan Simonds ’17, communication arts