A 19-year-old Saint John man who taught himself how to speak Mandarin says he hopes it will pave his way out of poverty. 

Tevinn Richards grew up in Saint John and said he remembers when his single mother did not have enough money for groceries.

Now, he has a scholarship to study at a university in China.

Richards came home this weekend to his mother's subsidized housing.

They’ve been on social assistance for years.

"We've had a hard life. Not everyday we were guaranteed food, nothing," said Andrea Richards.

While she struggled to pay the rent, her son spent hours in his room teaching himself Mandarin by chatting online with people in China.

"When I first started learning Chinese, I was really not doing well in high school," he said.

But he showed promise with the newfound language. So much so that his Chinese teacher encouraged him to visit the country.

Fast forward a few months, and now Richards is on full scholarship at Qufu Normal University in Shandong province.

Caring neighbours who heard about his story came forward to cover his airline tickets.

"Mostly it was friends who helped out. Everything I needed was probably around $3,000."

Richards said he used to think the best he could do was land a minimum-wage job.

He said he now has friends all over the world and a future in teaching.