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Over Spring Break 13 Lawrentians, led by Mathematics Master Ramon Olivier and Director of Student Research Elizabeth Fox, ventured off to China for a two-week journey wrought with community service, exploration, and cultural immersion. Making stops in Beijing, Shanghai and Anhui, students visited some of China’s most famous cultural landmarks, including the Shanghai Museum, the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven. A boat ride up the Huangpu River was also on the agenda, granting the students an opportunity to view Shanghai from the water. Fully immersing themselves in various aspects of Chinese culture, students experimented with unique and unusual foods, dined at a “hot pot” restaurant, saw a Kabuki show, and toured a silk factory.
While in Anhui, Lawrentians engaged in the community service facet of the trip, working daily with Chinese elementary school students participated in thoughtfully prepared lesson plans that addressed a wide breadth of educational topics. Non-Chinese speaking Lawrentians were paired with Lawrenceville students who are fluent in Chinese to enhance communication between the two student groups. Skip counting, focus on English pronunciation, and learning American folk songs and commonly played children’s games were among some of the subjects covered. Lawrentians were placed in the unfamiliar role of “educators” and were given the unique opportunity to foster and develop their leadership and communication skills in an effort to effectively engage a student audience. According to III Former Cristian Torres, the most challenging aspect of taking on this role of educator was communicating with students that spoke a foreign language. “Although there was a language barrier, we got really close to them, and they to us.” Yet, in spite of his lack of fluency in Chinese, Torres found that he was able to really bond with his students. “What I found most rewarding was the opportunity to touch the children emotionally.”
For the Lawrentians that ventured halfway across the world, the trip was both a challenging and rewarding experience. Immersed in an entirely different culture, The Lawrentians were afforded an opportunity to hone and enhance the interpersonal and leadership skills that they ordinarily develop over the course of the school year. Not only did these Lawrentians improve in these areas, but they also formed lasting relationships with their pupils, touched the hearts of those whom they met, and gained in-depth insight into Chinese culture and history.
The community service trip to China was first brought to the attention of Lawrenceville’s International Programs Office by Alice Huang two years ago. Through her diligent efforts and hard work with Director of International Programs and History Master Michael Hanewald, the program was offered to students for the first time last year. Due to the enormous positive response from last year’s attendees, the program was offered again this year, and according to Louise Wright, the Associate Director of the International Programs Office, it may be offered again in future years. Charles Li, V Former and veteran of this trip, coordinated many aspects of the program, including the community service portion, with Mathematics Master Ramon Olivier and the International Programs Office.The China trip is but one of the many community service and international exploration trips offered by Lawrenceville’s Global Discovery program.
-Matt Farkouh ’14