NWU Students Impacted by Service Experience in China
Twelve Nebraska Wesleyan University students have returned from a service trip to China.
“I can confidently say that my view of China, and even the world as a whole, has changed as a result of my participation on the GSL trip,” said Sarah Hotovy, a senior political science and biochemistry major. “I came to the realization that people are so much alike, whether you’re on a farm outside of York, Nebraska, or on a farm in rural China.”
Each summer the student organization Global Service Learning (GSL) travels abroad for an international service project. Students have previously traveled to Guatemala, Malawi, Nicaragua, and Swaziland. This year, they traveled to rural and urban China.
In the rural villages of Shanxi province, NWU students worked on an organic farm where they pulled weeds and removed bricks so the villagers could start planting. The students also built a playground for the village’s children. Villagers invited the students into their homes and shared their life stories.
“Quite a few students realized even with a language barrier, conversations and meaningful interactions can still take place,” said senior Michelle Zhang who coordinated the trip.
The villagers were so appreciative of the students’ help that they asked for their autographs and photos, which will be turned into a display at the farm.
Since most of the Global Service Learning members had not traveled internationally, they spent weeks leading up to the trip discussing China’s history and culture. They read books including China Road and Out of Mao’s Shadow, to help them gain perspectives on the country’s societal challenges and political changes.
“Many times I heard people compare what they read to what they saw and made their own conclusions based on both,” said Zhang.
The last half of the trip took students to the city of Nanjing, the former capitol of China and home to five million people. While there, students taught English at a migrant school faced with significant overcrowding and financial challenges.
Prior to their arrival in Nanjing, GSL members held a school supply drive on campus and collected backpacks, books and stationary materials to donate to the migrant school. The school thanked the group with a surprise school assembly and ceremony in their honor.
Traveling to China with GSL was a dream-come-true for Zhang, who was born there.
“It not only enabled me to gain a deeper perspective of my country of origin but it also gave me an in-depth understanding of the similarities of the two countries and the challenges they face,” said Zhang. “The poverty I saw in the rural areas opened my eyes to an aspect of China I had never experienced before. The villagers’ openheartedness, persistence, and work ethic impacted me in a powerful and unforgettable way.”
For others, the experience was an opportunity to break outside their comfort zones.
“I’ve been fortunate to be involved in service for most of my life, but never had I had the opportunity to do so while interacting with people who spoke a foreign language,” said senior theatre major Amy Keller. “It allowed me to see that language does not need to be a barrier that keeps people apart.”