A dozen Nebraska Wesleyan students watched from the gleaming windows of the world’s first, fastest and longest magnetic speed train as China’s rural villages flashed by. That juxtaposition of something powerful, fast and technologically advanced snaking through ancient, primarily poor and largely unchanging rural villages captures something distinctly Chinese.
Today’s China is at once ancient and new, booming and struggling.
While China embraces infrastructure with the potential to shrink our world, the country of 1.3 billion remains unflinchingly vast. And while its gross domestic product continues to grow at an astonishing rate, hundreds of millions remain in unquestionable poverty.
That’s the China students in NWU’s Global Student Learning (GSL) group worked to understand and help. Global Service Learning is a studentled group that works on select projects on local, national and global scales.
Junior GSL member Michelle Zhang lived in China until she was 16. She helped the group plan its trip and served as the primary interpreter. The group of 12 students and Professor of Mathematics Kristin Pfabe and Career and Counseling Center Director Janelle Andreini arrived in Beijing in late May and spent time experiencing the culture of the capital city.
Several days and a speed train ride later, the group arrived in rural Shanxi Province. Teaching English to children, removing rocks to make fields arable and building playground equipment were some of the group’s activities.
“The opportunity to spend time both in big cities and in a rural community offered us a taste of the diversity of Chinese life,” said Pfabe. “We witnessed the impact that migration from rural to urban communities has on the country.”
From there, GSL members traveled to Nanjing, where they learned about the Nanjing massacre at the beginning of World War II. The group also served the Amity Foundation, which funds a school for the kids of migrant workers and runs a bakery that trains people with disabilities.
Junior education major Samantha Wessels of Weeping Water, Neb., said, “I found the service in the Nanjing migrant school to be invaluable. I was able to apply the knowledge and skills I have cultivated at NWU to make thoughtful comparisons between China’s education system and our own.”
“The greatest reward of this service learning opportunity, like others, is to watch and help as students grapple with large questions,” said Andreini. “In this case, those questions revolved around population issues and the mass migration of young people in China from rural to urban areas. What are the social implications of such a large population? How is migration affecting Chinese society and culture?
“It’s rewarding to witness students’ growth as they consider what their service learning means.”
GSL members thank the Harry (’59) and Reba Huge Foundation and the Creigh Family Foundation for support.