In Conversation With Dr. Connie K Chung: The Story of Dream-A-Dream

In an interview with SheThePeople, Dr Connie K Chung, co-author of "When We Thrive, Our World Thrives", shares insights into her journey, the transformative power of storytelling, and the challenges faced by young individuals in adversity.

Ishika Thanvi
New Update
when we thrive our worlds thrive

Dr. Chung co-author of "When We Thrive, Our World Thrives"

The collaborative work of Dr Connie K Chung and Vishal Talreja, co-founder of Dream A Dream, unfolds in the pages of 'When We Thrive, Our World Thrives'. In this interview, Dr Chung, a Foster America Fellow and an accomplished educator, shares insights into her journey, the transformative power of storytelling, and the challenges faced by young individuals in adversity.


From Classroom to Systems Change

Dr Chung's path from high school teacher to Foster America Fellow took shape when she realised the need for systemic changes. Her decision to pursue a doctorate in education aimed to address issues beyond the classroom, culminating in her role as the associate director of the Harvard Graduate School's Global Education Innovation Initiative.

She highlighted the need for changes beyond the classroom and emphasises, "It was only when I became a teacher that I realised that there were some changes that had to be made at the systems level."

Dream-A-Dream: Nurturing Holistic Education

Her doctoral journey introduced her to the Global Education Initiative at Harvard University, a project exploring 21st-century learning and teaching. Through this context, Dr. Chung discovered Dream-A-Dream's impactful work, redefining education by focusing on emotional learning in addition to academics. Maintaining her commitment to 21st-century learning, Dr. Chung continued her association with Dream-A-Dream even after leaving Harvard. In 2019, Vishal Talreja invited her to collaborate on a book that would amplify the voices of Dream A Dream's alumni.  This revelation set the stage for the collaborative journey that led to the creation of the book - "When We Thrive, Our World Thrives."

From Academia to Advocacy


Dr. Chung's role as a foster parent in the United States converged with her professional trajectory. As a Foster America Fellow, she talks about the intricacies of the US foster care system, bringing a unique perspective to her advocacy work. Her experience as a foster parent, spanning nearly four years, amplifies her commitment to understanding and improving the system for young people growing up in adversity. She continues her work with the US county government specifically dealing with young people growing up in adversity and supervising them under government care. 

The Power Storytelling

Dr Chung's journey with storytelling began in the realm of literature, where she, as a high school literature teacher, recognised the power of stories to unravel the complexities of human emotions. Literature, she emphasises, serves as a portal to understand, sympathise, and empathise with individuals facing diverse circumstances, cultures, and backgrounds. Through novels, poetry, and plays, we connect with our shared humanity, transcending geographical and cultural boundaries.

Transitioning into her doctoral studies, Dr Chung explored the intersection of storytelling and community organising. She shares an important insight from a fellow community organiser, highlighting the importance of transforming experiences into learning through storytelling. She also talks about the significance of ‘digesting’ experiences by narrating personal adversities in a way that comprehends the lessons learned, the reasons behind the adversity, and how these stories can catalyse change in policies and programs.

Marshall Ganz's Framework: The Three Strands of Storytelling

Dr Chung introduces Marshall Ganz's framework, which comprises three essential strands of storytelling: the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now. The story of self delves into personal narratives, the story of us intertwines individual stories with collective experiences, and the story of now explores why a particular narrative resonates and calls for action. This framework becomes a powerful lens through which the book, "When We Thrive, Our World Thrives," unfolds.


She says, “It's not just about the stories of young people in the book, or young people in adversity, but it really should be about all of us who collectively have gone through a really hard and.. challenging experience through the pandemic, through global warming, through all of the things that are happening to us at the moment, as a global community. So we really hope the book speaks to a broader audience.”

The book focuses on the stories of young people as a microcosm of broader collective experiences. It weaves a narrative tapestry that extends beyond individual struggles, encompassing dreams, communities, and the global context. In the wake of the pandemic and global challenges like climate change, the book resonates with a universal audience, inviting reflection on shared adversities and the potential for collective growth.

Identifying Strengths Amidst Adversity

Dr. Chung emphasises that individuals, particularly those who have experienced adversity, possess unique strengths that often go unnoticed. Despite facing challenges, these individuals may exhibit resilience, effective advocacy skills, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and resourcefulness. For instance, those who grew up in adverse circumstances might excel in communication, leadership, and maturity, having taken on responsibilities beyond their years to care for siblings or parents.

She highlights, “Somebody who grew up in adversity might have lots of things that, that they're lacking and or are missing, but at the same time they could be very resilient to challenges. They could have had a lot of practice advocating for themselves because they'd had to do that for themselves. So they're often very well-spoken. They're often, you know, very able to deliver and persuade people about the resources that they need…they often are leaders and are quite mature because they've often had to take care of their siblings and or their parents if the siblings and or the parents were incapable of doing so. So it's just an approach that says to look for not just what's wrong with people, but what is right with them and what is strong about them.”

A cornerstone of the strength-based approach is its rejection of a one-size-fits-all mentality. Dr Chung highlights the importance of recognising the diverse strengths individuals bring to the table. While someone may lag in certain areas, they might showcase advanced capabilities in others. Taking a holistic approach, educators and social workers can uncover a more nuanced understanding of an individual's strengths and tailor interventions accordingly.

Dr Chung believes that this mindset is not exclusive to professionals but extends to teachers, social workers, caregivers, and parents. By adopting a strength-based approach, these stakeholders can create an environment that fosters growth, resilience, and self-advocacy in individuals.


Challenges of Creating A Safe Space

Dr Chung notes a prevailing challenge in our educational and societal systems—the failure to create safe environments. Young people, yearning to share their stories, often find themselves grappling with the absence of spaces that encourage openness. The reluctance to express concerns about homes, families, or personal struggles stems from a fear of isolation. Without safe spaces, the realization that others share similar worries remains elusive.

Dr Chung highlights the need to reshape the culture of schools, classrooms, families, and institutions to foster safety. Creating these secure havens is essential for breaking the chains of isolation and encouraging connection with oneself.

There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift in how we approach education and support systems for young people. It's a call to action for educators, parents, and mentors to prioritise the creation of safe spaces where vulnerability is welcomed, risks are encouraged, and dreams are nurtured. By instilling these values, we can bridge the gap between isolation and connection, empowering young minds to explore their aspirations and become the architects of their own destinies. In doing so, we not only overcome challenges but pave the way for a future where every young person feels seen, heard, and supported on their journey of self-discovery.

children and parenting children and education Harvard University storytelling bengaluru ngos Inclusive Education Foster care Challenges of caregiving Women Leading Education Spaces