Learning by Doing

Apr 14 2017
NYU Shanghai's picture
Written by NYU Shanghai

Once again, NYU Shanghai's Deans' Service Scholars (DSS) returned successfully from their early April service trips to Henan, Hunan, Yunnan and Cambodia, filled with a clearer sense of what it means to serve communities through an academic lens while experiencing cultures.  


Collaborating with the Yunnan Green Environment Development Foundation, scholars of the Yunnan group visited local wild golden snub-nosed monkey habitats and planted over 290 trees as part of their reforestation efforts. They also shared effective environmental protection practices with villagers.


“Before this trip, my idea of community service were derived only  from seminar information, and words on paper. However, after hard field work and active communication with people directly affected by environmental damage, I now have a better understanding of the essence of service work,” said He Ziqing ‘20.


With the help of the Chi Heng Foundation (CHF), the Henan team travelled to the HIV/AIDS-hit Shangcai county to connect with school children between the ages of 10-16 whose families and lives have been affected by the disease. With spirits warmed up over icebreakers and kite painting, the children shared their family stories and experiences with the scholars.  


“These children all faced some sort of difficulties in life: the lives of some families  were affected by HIV/AIDs, while the  parents of others had contracted the disease themselves. I found it incredibly meaningful and worthwhile to create joy and build up connections with them,” said Vittoria Vitucci ‘20.


Scholars in Hunan were grouped with US-based non-profit organization Peer Experience Exchange Rostrum (PEER) to teach local middle school students, using films and games to nurture bonding in an English language speaking environment. In addition, Gao Qian, who accompanied the students, said that different seminars were organized  on the cultural impact of new technology, trash recycling and entrepreneurship. Scholars also spent their evenings presenting 20-minute “TED talks” about their study experiences, passion for poetry, languages and even dining etiquettes.


Venturing abroad to Cambodia, the fourth group of scholars visited the Sunrise Cambodia orphanage center, the home of over 1,000 children, with the assistance from grassroots NGO Sunrise New Hope, to learn about the country’s dire need for educational resources.


“We spent our days helping teachers in the classroom and learning about life at the orphanage,” said Ian Quinn Lutz ‘20. “There's something really special that comes from developing a genuine connection with people who come from very different circumstances from your own.”


Before heading out on the trips, a series of seminars and workshops were organized to prepare  students with critical reflection and a “service-learning” approach to academic study.


According to Language Lecturer Glen Cotten, students are expected to gain a deeper appreciation for the meaning and value of service in relation to their responsibilities as global citizens.


“They will develop practical skills in consultation and cooperation as well as a greater understanding of the dynamics of social change,” Cotten said.  


On May 12, students will gather to present their Capstone projects with  a 6-9 minute documentaries about their experiences, research and  team collaborations.