Posted: July 17, 2012

Five St. Markers spent two weeks serving a rural town school in China this summer, as part of the 2012 International Cultural Exchange/Volunteer Trip, organized by Hand-in-Hand Rural Education Service. Hand-in-Hand is a 501(c) non-profit founded by Shawn Wu ’13. The 2012 International Cultural Exchange/Volunteer Trip, from June 17th-29th 2012, consisted of 40 volunteers. Of these volunteers, From St. Mark’s, Shenghan Li ‘13, , Felix Chan ’13, Alex Padron ’14, and Candice Wang ’15 joined Wu and 35 other volunteers, serving for 2 weeks at a school located in the rural town of West Wulanbulang, Wuchuan County, in the Inner Mongolia Province of China.

It was a challenging two-week experience. All volunteers lived in student dormitories—sleeping on steel or wooden boards— and ate in the school canteen. (each meal valued at roughly six cents). The volunteers worked 14 hours every day, beginning at 8 AM. The trip focused on cultivating the local students’ extra-curricular interest, nurturing their interest in studying (through teaching English classes filled with games that were prepared the day before), exchanging different ideas on how to study, and providing students with the moral support they are sorely lacking in their lives. “In the long run,” says program founder Wu, a rising VI Former and entrepreneur, “Hand-in-Hand Rural Education Service aims to change China’s examination-oriented education system.”

The St. Mark’s volunteers built connections with every student they encountered. Alex Padron ’14 spent the whole day after the Service Trip emailing all 17 students from his class, giving them encouragement and votes of confidence. Shenghan Li ’13 and Candice Wang ’15 received countless phone calls from their students since returning. On the last day in West Wulanbulang, Felix Chan ’13 was presented with a beautiful crystal heart by his students. Shawn Wu committed to becoming a regular pen-pal with 47 students, all of whom grew very close to him during his two weeks there.

“I learned a lot of things about myself that I never knew about before,” commented Padron, a rising V Former from Sherman, CT. “It is something I’m going to do every year from now on.” Wang, a rising IV Former, described her summer’s experience in rural China as “life changing.” Li, a VI Former this fall, said that the trip was “a mark in my life forever,” and declared that he would “show everyone the pictures I took, to make them realize that this (the state of education in rural parts of China) is a big problem.” Felix Chan praised his St. Mark’s classmate Shawn Wu for organizing the trip, adding that “I’ll definitely come every year.”

“Each St. Marker participating exemplified the quality of service the St. Mark’s mission statement promises to cultivate in its students,” remarked Wu in early July. “Hand-in-Hand Rural Education Service will organize more similar trips in the future, and hopefully even more St. Markers will lend their helping hands.”