People in Your Neighborhood: La Jolla teen Crystal Li promotes global appreciation for other cultures

Crystal Li, a junior at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla
“Before you understand anything, you have to be willing to sit there and listen or learn,” says Crystal Li, a junior at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla.
(Linchao Zhao)

A La Jolla teenager is taking on the task of spreading cultural awareness, which she says is paramount for social change.

“Before you understand anything, you have to be willing to sit there and listen or learn,” said Crystal Li, 16, a junior at The Bishop’s School.

She co-led a “La Jolla Goes to Mexico” event Nov. 12 at the La Jolla/Riford Library designed to raise cultural awareness and connect people who had been isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event was sponsored by Bishop’s Global Milestone club, which Crystal founded with fellow Bishop’s students and friends Athena Hernandez, Will Keefe and Sasha Berger in spring 2020 in response to the pandemic.

“Seeing a lot of Asian hate happening here during the pandemic hit home for me and the community I identify with,” said Crystal, who moved to La Jolla after spending years in Shanghai, China. “The first step in achieving respect for different people and getting rid of all of that prejudice and discrimination embedded in your mindset is understanding cultures.”

Global Milestone began by providing online tutoring services to students on two continents. As communities worldwide sent students onto virtual platforms, Crystal and her co-founders “wanted to make sure that we have this dynamic community of eager learners that connects both kids our age and younger age levels,” she said.

“We saved ourselves, but we also saved other students,” Crystal said. “It was an outlet of hope.”

She said the tutoring, which is offered locally by students at Bishop’s and La Jolla Country Day School, as well as by tutors across the country, “is really important for people, because when you feel needed, you feel like you’re doing something very meaningful.”

Students who receive the tutoring are spread across the United States, Mexico and China, she said.

Crystal was able to contact friends in Shanghai to garner students for tutoring, she said. Athena had contacts in Mexico who turned up participants.

The Global Milestone club held a "La Jolla Goes to Mexico" event at the La Jolla/Riford Library on Nov. 12.
The Global Milestone club, which Crystal Li founded with fellow Bishop’s School students, held a “La Jolla Goes to Mexico” event at the La Jolla/Riford Library on Nov. 12.
(Linchao Zhao)

“We wanted to go beyond just our local community in the U.S.,” Crystal said.

She added that the club planned group tutoring activities to mix students from the different countries so they “were also exchanging culture as they were interacting with each other [and] thinking [in] different ways.”

She said the club offers tutoring in reading, writing, math and history and has served more than 200 students.

The club has three goals, she said: tutoring, cultural awareness and reconnecting communities. Once pandemic-related restrictions eased, the founders looked for a way to integrate in-person events.

Crystal and her cohorts decided to hold the Nov. 12 library event “since we’re just returning to our life back from the pandemic.”

She is part of the La Jolla Library’s Teen Council, which plans activities for young people, and said that in talking with youth services librarian Katia Graham, she realized she wanted to create a program run by students that brought participants together and incorporated a travel experience “as if we’re right there.”

The "La Jolla Goes to Mexico" event featured activities designed to help participants understand Mexican culture.
(Linchao Zhao)

“La Jolla Goes to Mexico” invited members of Bishop’s Latinx Student Association to speak about their experiences with Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday meant to honor deceased loved ones.

The event, attended by about 45 people, included activities such as decorating sugar skulls and making paper flowers, “all led by Global Milestone members and parents excited to help,” Crystal said.

“It was a very open gathering,” she said. “It was a safe place for people to learn.”

The club plans to make “La Jolla Goes to ____” a monthly series and is looking for others to lead a workshop.

Crystal said she’d also like to plan an international festival for early next year to foster “characteristics of global citizens: respect and understanding.” She envisions the event as “one gathering where people can come and see all of these cultures interacting with each other.”

“New year, new hope,” she said.

The festival idea, and Crystal’s aim to raise cultural awareness, led to her winning the La Jolla Library’s first “Pitch Your Passion” event in October. In the monthly session, local teens can propose projects to other youths and community leaders — including local government representatives — for further support and action.

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