Group icebreakers are always a little awkward. Standing in a circle just beyond airport security, we all introduced ourselves before taking a group photo to signify the start of our service trip. Traveling around the world together provided ample time and shared experiences to bond quickly. Over the next two weeks, we would be teaching together at the Dandelion Middle School. Some would volunteer in the English Summer Camp, while others would volunteer in the Music Summer Camp. Through the efforts of our Lexington High School Musical Outreach Collaboration volunteers, and in collaboration with the Wings of Music organization in China and the New Zealand National Youth Brass Band, we would end the music camp with a charity concert fundraiser in Beijing for Dandelion and its students. We followed our volunteering experience with days spent touring Beijing.
With 16 volunteers in total, this was our largest group yet. Some of the volunteers had come with HSF before in the summer of 2008 and wanted to go back again. However, the majority were new to the experience. It was my personal hope to expose these new students to the harsh realities our scholarship recipients live in, such that it might positively influence their outlook on life. When reflecting on his time at Dandelion, Eric Chew wrote, "I still miss waking up to the sound of dozens of violins, playing an amalgam of Bach, Mozart, and Taylor Swift. In my opinion, the camp was a wonderful opportunity for both the Dandelion students and me to get an in depth glimpse into each of our cultures. In the process of interacting with the students and making my day through the school grounds and the surrounding village, I had an eye opening view of the conditions that these children face every day. Just seeing their surprise towards our daily splurge of bao zi, bottled drinks, and snacks was an immensely powerful blow at my privileged lifestyle."
Jeffrey, the youngest in our group at only 13, said, "The experience I had in China was really life changing; it opened my eyes to see what the lives of other children in China were like...You don’t get a sense of their lives and how bad they have it, until you’ve slept in a hard bed, tasted the foul stench of the bathrooms, gotten countless mosquitoes bites as you squat uncomfortably just to try to [go to the bathroom]...And it had always thrown me off how nice the students were. How good-hearted they were. How they put a huge smile on their optimistic faces. And I respected them for that. They didn’t slump and mope all day, they took initiative to learn and try to help and give, even when they had nothing. Well...they didn’t have nothing, they had hope."
From written reflections and individual responses I have received from our volunteers, I am pleased to say the trip was successful. We made a tremendous impact and came back to the US with many new insights and fond memories. Katie synthesized our efforts well in her reflection, "At the end of the summer camp the kids wrote us thank you letters. While I was reading the letters I couldn’t help but smile. All of the kids want me to come back next year and I am most definitely going to try and do so. When I was reading, two of the kids mentioned how because of me they learned the importance of serving others. I was honored and touched." We were able to share more than just English and music lessons, but life values and perspectives.
Our service-learning trips continue to be incredible experiences for all, and we hope to continue to hold them in the future!
You can read more trip reflections here.
Pictures of our trip are now uploaded online!
Sneha Rao (Lexington High School '15)
Yanghui Chen (Wheeler School '14)
Scout Jones (Wheeler School '14)
Katie Bergmeier-Esterberg (Andover High School '13)
Eric Chew (Lexington High School '13)
Brendan Wang (Dartmouth College '15)
Eric Chiang (Lexington High School '13)
Tom Jeon (Lexington High School '13)
Saaya Maeda (Lexington High School '13)
Brendan Cue (Lexington High School '13)
Jerry Chen (Lexington High School '13)
Jeffrey Zhou (Boston Latin '17)
Cory Levinson (University of South Carolina '14)
Bora Kim (University of South Carolina '14)
Dawei Zhao (Wake Forest University '15)
Ted Mooncai (University of Pennsylvania '12)
Siblings David and Jennifer Liu lead another group of dedicated students to the Dandelion School to teach English for the summer.
David Liu (Harvard University '15)
Jennifer Liu (Phillips Exeter Academy '12)
Stephen Hall (Yale University '15)
Sarah Xiao (Phillips Exeter Academy '12)
Veronica Yu (Phillips Exeter Academy '11)
Jennifer Liu @ Dandelion - Summer 2009
From being a member of our trip in 2008, Jennifer Liu has moved on to organize and lead her own service learning trip to Dandelion. If you are interested in doing something similar, please contact us.
"After traveling to the Dandelion School last summer,
I became motivated to make a difference."
And she did just that. By taking three of her friends to teach at Dandelion with her, she was able to increase awareness for the cycle of poverty and show her friends what she has been fighting for, "I was finally able to explain to my friends what Dandelion meant to me by allowing them to experience it for themselves," (Jennifer Liu, Phillips Exeter '12).
This time around, Jennifer focused entirely on the service side of things. Her and her group went directly to Dandelion to teach the kids, displaying just how much of an impact it had on her last summer.
Jennifer Liu (Phillips Exeter '12)
Moeko Nakada (Phillips Exeter '12)
Calla Zhou (Phillips Exeter '12)
Vanessa Wang (Phillips Exeter '12)
Teaching at The Dandelion School - Summer 2008
It has long been a goal of ours to bring American students on a cultural learning exchange. This year, it was finally realized.
The Hope Scholarship Fund sponsored its first Community Service Learning Program this past summer. Twelve students from New England took the two-week trip consisting of two parts, touring and teaching. During the first week, we experienced the culture and saw the historic sights in Beijing, Xian, and Luoyang--three different capitals of China's past and present. After visiting the tourist attractions, our group taught English at The Dandelion School and while doing so saw a part of China most travelers rarely experience.
Our time at Dandelion was the focus of the trip, with the underlying mission to teach, and be taught. I was confident that despite going to teach, our group would learn a lot about life from their students, and from trip reflections it is very clear they did. Brendan Wang (Andover High School '11) said, "The experience there is something I will never forget. The kids there are so motivated to learn that if you don’t give it your all you feel as if you’d let them down. Staying in their dormitories really gave me a taste of what it was like to live their lives. To them the school dormitory was heaven on earth, and to a lot of us it was just about the worst place we’ve ever stayed in."
It's easy enough to say that over 20% of the Chinese population is living under the poverty line, but it's something entirely more moving to see, feel, and understand what that poverty means. Through our week at Dandelion, the group got to live next to the worst of conditions and is more globally aware and appreciative as a result. One of my students, Jim, let us visit his home to give us a better understanding. From a distance it looked like little more than a pile of bricks covered by branches and tin shingling.
Poverty is one of those things you cannot be taught, but must experience to understand.
As a pioneering group, I feel the trip was a great success. We had an amazing time experiencing China's culture and successfully prepared 160 Dandelion students for the upcoming school year. It was sad having to leave, and many of our students cried because of how close we had all gotten. Hopefully we will all be able to go back someday soon.
Click here to read some trip reflections from the volunteers!
Matt Coughlin (Merrimack College '10)
Connie Ho (Boston Latin '08)
Cory Levinson (Wheeler School '10)
David Liu (Wheeler School '10)
Jennifer Liu (Phillips Exeter Academy '12)
Vathana Ngeth (Wheeler School '10)
Michael Ma (Phillips Andover Academy '10)
Ted Mooncai (Wheeler School '08)
Shelby Poon (Milton High School '10)
Benjamin Wang (Andover High School '11)
Brendan Wang (Andover High School '11)
Dawei Zhao (Lexington High School '11)