Jian “Jason” Shen ’19 can easily claim the title of world traveler.
Originally from Jiaxing, China, Shen has studied and worked in Moorhead, Washington, D.C., Norway, Costa Rica, and Australia. Now, he lives on the island state of Tasmania working to improve youth mental health through the Australian organization Headspace.
“I’m a bit all over the place,” he says, “which I guess aligns with Concordia’s value of engaging with the world.”
Shen graduated from Concordia in 2019, earning a major in global studies, with a worlds in dialogue concentration, and a minor in communication. He first became aware of Concordia when a few teachers from Concordia Language Villages visited his middle school as part of a summer program.
“I had a really good impression of people coming from the Midwest because a lot of my teachers were from the Midwest,” he says. “When it came to my university, I had always wanted to experience something different. So, that inspired me to apply at Concordia.”
While in college, Shen made the most of every global learning opportunity. During Summer 2016, he traveled to Oslo, Norway, through one of Concordia’s study away programs, taking classes and meeting people from around the world. In Summer 2017, he taught English in Costa Rica through the Minneapolis-based organization World Endeavors.
He also took advantage of two internship programs in Washington, D.C. While studying for a semester through Concordia’s Lutheran College Washington Semester program (LCWS), Shen interned as a policy associate at Jubilee USA Network, a nonprofit that addresses structural causes of poverty and inequality. His second internship, through a separate program, was completed at Youth Service America. He helped develop the organization’s global partner network and collected a list of youth development-related resources and best practices.
These internships helped him to clarify his next steps as he neared graduation. Shen initially considered entering politics. However, his internship experiences inspired him to take a more hands-on approach.
“The motivation for me to complete a degree in politics was that I really wanted to help marginalized people by informing policies,” he says, “but I felt like I didn’t really have that much of a voice in D.C. I felt the best way to work with a marginalized population is probably just to work directly with them.”
As a result, Shen decided to go into social work. He applied for graduate programs in the U.S. and Australia while he finished his studies at Concordia. He was accepted to both NYU and Columbia, but he ultimately settled on the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Studying in Australia allowed Shen to experience a different culture and be closer to his family. He graduated with a master’s degree in social work with a concentration in mental health. His degree helps him achieve the level of one-on-one influence he was hoping for. The field allows him to work directly with people who need support and make a difference in their lives.
Shen now lives and works in Tasmania, an island state south of Australia. He works at Headspace, an Australian youth mental health foundation that provides young people with mental health care from ages 12-25. As Shen notes, it’s all about early intervention.
“The notion of early intervention is so important because there’s a resilience in young people’s lives and they can really bounce back with the right guidance,” he says.
Initially, Shen had worried about coming from a different culture than the majority of his young clients. However, he quickly found that any difference that might be there made no impact on his ability to connect them.
“At first, I was a bit concerned about how to build rapport because there might be some barriers. Then I realized they don’t really care (about where you’re from),” he says. “It’s very rewarding, especially when you see the change in people’s presentation compared to the first time you saw them.”
Working in the mental health sector helped Shen to become a more confident communicator. He says that it was particularly overwhelming at the beginning, especially when people would share difficult things with him. However, the more he talked to them, the more he gained confidence in his ability to make a difference in their lives.
Shen notes that Concordia also helped build his communication skills. He speaks about his communication courses in particular as having an impact on his ability to do his job well.
“In the mental health sector, there are always discussions going on,” he notes. “Sometimes you may not agree with one of your co-workers in terms of the pathway for the care plan for this person. I learned how to deal with conflict in a group. Each person has a different communication style. Concordia prepared me to get ready for my future.”
Shen hopes to come back to Concordia one day for a visit. For now, however, he is enjoying his life on Tasmania. Even the colder weather.
“It is the coldest place in Australia, which reminds me of Minnesota’s weather,” he says. “I don’t really mind going to a different place. I feel like when I am young, I have the opportunity to do things and I feel like I do need to explore.”
Originally published in the 2023 Concordia Magazine