Service-Learning in China: A Program Leader Perspective

In June of 2019, I had the fortunate opportunity to travel to China with several students and educational colleagues. As a vice principal, I cherish my time spent out of the office and learning right alongside our students. While in China, we rode rickshaws around a traditional Beijing village, did a Tai Chi class with a master instructor, participated in a Chinese Calligraphy class IN the teacher’s home, and enjoyed a traditional tea ceremony… and that was all before noon on a Monday.

This trip was particularly special because we were able to participate in two incredibly rewarding service learning programs. I knew our time in China would be memorable, so I wanted to capture the memories the best way I know how – videos!

Read on for a link to Jen’s YouTube channel.

Upon arrival, we were met by our Tour Guide, Tony, who was incredibly kind, funny, and personable. He worked hard to ensure that we were always hydrated, happy, and enjoying his country for the duration of our trip.

The first service learning opportunity was spending a full weekend at the Sun Village, right outside of Beijing. For three days, we traveled out of the city to connect with an amazing organization that is dedicated to the children of Chinese convicts, fighting for their survival and development. We performed shows for them, watched their own dances and talents performed for us, made dumplings from scratch (literally starting by pulling the cabbage out of the ground and washing it!), helped tend to their gardens, played a USA vs. China basketball game (China won!), and forged relationships with the students and staff that transcended language barriers. As a result of this weekend visit, our students were so impassioned by the mission of the Sun Village that they bought t-shirts to in their own way.

The second service learning opportunity was a day we will never forget. We knew we were simply in Yan’an for the day specifically for a school visit at the Yan’an Baota District No. 1 Middle School. What we did not know is when we arrived we would be met with professional photographers (picture paparazzi!), officials from the school, and hundreds of students eager to shake our hands, give us hugs, touch our hair, play with us, get our autographs and exchange contact information.

This school rolled out the red carpet for us and could not have been more welcoming, accommodating, excited to share, or thankful we were there. We all got split up into groups and went into individual classrooms where each group had a unique experience. Some of the American groups participated in an English class, some were asked to sing an English song or eat a weird Chinese food – all of these experiences were incredibly special (and hilarious).

We then joined back together to compare stories and eat an authentic Chinese lunch in their cafeteria with the students. The day ended with a tug of war game between the Chinese students and our American students (we played so many times – who knows who won?!) It was a truly amazing day – there was even a local news article written about it!

Some of the other trip highlights included truly being immersed in the culture: we walked the Great Wall of China, toured the Olympic Village, took a Chinese Cooking class to learn how to authentically make a few Chinese dishes, and visited the Terracotta Warrior Museum AND Factory, just to name a few. All the while, we traveled on an in-country flight, a bullet train and a charter bus and Tony had us singing karaoke, doing trivia (with prizes!) and continually keeping us laughing and excited to be there.

Tony was our guide and escort the entire two weeks. For the week in Beijing, he shared his city with us, proudly telling us all about it and showing us around. He even brought his wife and daughter a few times so we could have the pleasure of meeting them! In the other cities, Tony escorted us to Yan’an, Xi’an, and Shanghai where a local guide was waiting to proudly show us around their respective cities. The entire trip our group felt safe, cared for, and known.

This particular trip was my tenth international trip with a group of students and it was truly one of the best. The experiences we had, as a result of the hospitality and itinerary that WorldStrides provided, was second to none. The entire experience – from beginning to end – was absolutely perfect. We recognize how fortunate we were that nothing went wrong, nobody got sick, and we all got along. That being said, I believe most of those good fortunes were due to the planning of WorldStrides as well as the leadership of our guide, Tony. His attention to detail was impeccable and we were incredibly thankful to have him. Naturally, we are also grateful for our Mandarin teacher, Kathy Youngkin, who had the vision for the trip and invited all of us – students, staff, and parents – into an adventure of a lifetime!

To document our travels, I created several videos which I shared on my YouTube channel when we returned. A particularly fun video we were very proud of featured two students “transporting” through the entire China itinerary. It’s the perfect way to see everywhere we went and everything we experienced during the two-week educational adventure!

Article written by Jen Mott

Jen Mott
An avid traveler who studied abroad herself, Jen Mott is now Assistant Principal of a large high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. At 31-years-old, she has been to 31 countries - many of them with students! This past summer, she traveled to China and Mexico with groups led by language teachers from her school. When not traveling, Jen is also a professional speaker and performer, under the title of "Entertaining Educator" with the Cincinnati Circus Company, as she literally juggles to engage students, teachers, and community members in dynamic and unique ways.

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