by Alyssa Chen, Ella Hou & Andrew Lindsay, Features Reporter, Features Editor, Features Reporter
photo by Mary Pierce
Junior Neena Tarafdar can speak five languages. A true lifelong language learner, she has mastered English, Chinese and French, is proficient in Spanish, and recently started studying Arabic. Last summer, she furthered her knack for languages by founding “The Lotus Project,” a virtual tutoring program that builds English skills with students in Tibet and China.
The idea sparked after helping her younger cousin weekly with English schoolwork for years. Her cousin lives in Lhasa, Tibet, and word spread.
“As time went on, [my cousin] mentioned that she had been talking to her friends about it, and [they] were really interested in it too, so I took them on. After a while, I realized that it was something I could extend beyond myself, so I started recruiting [tutors],” she said.
Tarafdar reached out to her close friend Linda Xue, a junior at North, to expand the organization to handle the growing number of students. As an outreach officer for The Lotus Project, Xue said that Tarafdar is dedicated to ensuring that tutoring sessions run comfortably and smoothly.
“She sits in for the beginning class for most new tutors and new students. I think it’s a pretty big time commitment to put that time aside,” she said.
Seldron Geziben, Tarafdar’s mother, said that her daughter’s compassion shines through her empathetic tutoring approach. During one of the first sessions, a student started crying because she was nervous, so Tarafdar switched from English to the student’s native language of Mandarin to put her at ease.
“[As a tutor], you do need to try hard and adjust to different types of students,” Geziben said. “[She cares] about other people, and she wants other people to benefit … This compassion, this doing good for other people, is very important.”
For Tarafdar, sharing languages is immensely rewarding.
“What I appreciate the most about this language acquisition process is not just the language itself, but the huge array of new people that you can connect with as soon as you learn that new language,” she said. “I really believe that languages are meant to be shared.”
Suzy Drurey, Tarafdar’s sophomore year chemistry teacher, said that Tarafdar’s dedication towards fostering intercultural dialogue is inspiring.
“The Lotus Project really showed [that] she’s careful and thoughtful about what she wants to do to help bring awareness to the AAPI community,” Drurey said. “By being a good role model for her fellow classmates and exploring all these different things she’s passionate and interested in, she’s not just great academically, but she’s also involved socially.”
Drurey also serves as adviser to South’s Aspirations in Medicine (AIM) club, which Tarafdar leads alongside her close friend Kaveri Krishnamoorthy. In addition to her passion for languages, Tarafdar is also interested in biology and bioengineering, and she brings an infectious enthusiasm to the club.
“She’s always looking to convey her excitement and passion to other people and to cultivate an interest in medicine,” Krishnamoorthy said. “Everyone who’s at the club and around her is always absorbed by her positivity, and she’s such a great person.”
Tarafdar goes steps further, always willing to help and support others, friend and classmate senior Wasan Rafat said.
“She just has so much knowledge and she doesn’t just keep it to herself. She’s always out there trying to help others, trying to explain whatever she can,” she said. “You know you can ask her for help. She’s always willing to take the time to do that. She’s very selfless.”
Tarafdar’s enthusiasm and passion will take her far, Krishnamoorthy said.
“She deserves everything that’s coming for her, and I know that she’s going to continue to do amazing things,” she said. “The one thing about her is [that] if she’s genuinely passionate about something, [and] she puts her mind to it, she’ll get stuff done.”