February 22, 2013

Bucknell sophomores Maxy Xiao (left) and Sean Xu created the University's first-ever service-learning trip to China.

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By Andrew Faught 

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Growing up in Shanghai, Bucknell sophomores Maxy Xiao and Sean Xu knew little of the hardships facing their peers in China's impoverished countryside — challenges that include everything from roof-less classrooms to unheated dormitories.

Xu was compelled to act after last year reading an article in Chinese social media about underfunded elementary schools in Yunnan province. He recently formed Go Beyond Class, a nonprofit organization run by Bucknell students that is committed to pursuing social justice through community service.

Building on Bucknell's longstanding commitment to service-learning, Xu and Xiao, the group's vice-president, will lead a 15-member delegation of students and faculty members to China May 11-29. They'll visit Shanghai and the provinces of Jiangsu and Yunnan to research how they can offset educational inequalities — from helping to improve playgrounds to providing solar-powered study lamps.

Participants are covering their own travel expenses and expect to hold fundraisers to raise money for improvements.  

"These students are not lucky enough to have the experiences I had," said Xu, an economics and political science major and mathematics minor. "Students in big cities in China rarely have the chance to know about educational inequalities because they don't have the information. I want to help improve study conditions for students, and spread the idea of a liberal arts education to China."

Xiao, an international relations major, says the Bucknell contingent will visit elementary, middle and high schools, and a campus for deaf children. Besides surveying needs, Bucknell students will provide English lessons and serve as cultural ambassadors. "A lot of these students don't get a chance to see the outside world," she said.

"We hope this brings something different to Bucknell, that it provides an opportunity for students to learn more about Asia," added Xiao, whose parents purposely enrolled her in a low-income school for two years as a child. "It was such an important experience. I realized that my hometown is the most developed place in China, but there are a lot of people elsewhere who need help."

It's anticipated that students will continue making visits to China, said Zhiqun Zhu, associate professor of political science and international relations and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Chair in East Asian Politics. Zhu, who will join the students on the trip, said the experience is an important complement to course work in Lewisburg.

"There is a Chinese saying: Walk 10,000 miles, read 10,000 books," he said. "One's education is not complete if one only studies by reading books. Service-learning is a form of active learning, and this way learning and service reinforce each other. Simply put, you kill two birds with one stone: active learning through service and direct experience of a foreign culture." 

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