Long-Term Impact of HKIS Service Progams

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Dear HKIS alumni,

I have recently completed my doctoral dissertation, “Teaching for Social Conscience in Hong Kong Secondary Schools.”  The picture above is from my graduation at the University of Western Australia in Perth in March, 2010. I was very happy to be accompanied to my graduation by my mother, who typed up all of my HKIS interviews and by my father, the elder Dr. Schmidt, who coached me through the 4-year process.

A bit about my research . . .  The research I conducted at HKIS explains how students who have taken courses and have had service experiences in Hong Kong or in Asia began a ‘journey of social conscience’ during their high school years.  The results are fairly consistent: if students take certain courses, go on service trips, and continue to engage in further courses and experiences, it’s likely that their way of perceiving and acting in the world will be impacted in predictable ways.

But what happens to that journey after students graduate from HKIS?  I’m frequently asked, “What is the long-term impact of our service programs upon students?”  Does the impact of service make irreversible changes within students that continue to influence them in the future, or do those thoughts ‘wear off’ in time as students join other communities and become involved in different interests? The answer to this question is especially significant as the school is moving forward with plans to start a Service Learning Center that will be housed on a yet-to-be-constructed site next to the middle school.

This blog entry and my requests to alumni to write a response is my first attempt to answer this question.  I hope that this initial brainstorming will give me direction to do a more formal longitudinal study in the future.  Please answer my question below in all honesty so that I can get a better understanding of the long-term impact of our service programs.  While this may go without saying, I want to emphasize that I’m not looking for a ‘right answer.’  Understanding the impact of our programs, for good or for ill, is of greatest importance.

More could be said about my research or about what other researchers have found on related topics, but I don’t want to unduly influence your remarks. (If you would like to know more about my research or discuss other aspects of this question more personally, feel free to contact me: mschmidt@hkis.edu.hk).

So, here’s the question:

How have the courses you took and/or experiences you had at HKIS related to social awareness and service impacted you since leaving high school?

Thanks,

Mr. Schmidt

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About martinschmidtinasia

I have served as a humanities teacher at Hong Kong International School since 1990, teaching history, English, and religion courses. Since the mid-1990's I have also come to assume responsibility for many of the school's service learning initiatives. My position also included human care ministry with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Hong Kong, southern China, and others parts of Asia from 1999-2014. Bringing my affluent students into contact with people served by the LCMS in Asia has proved to be beneficial to students and our community partners alike. Through these experience I have become committed to social conscience education, which gives students the opportunity to find their place in society in the context of challenging global realities.
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18 Responses to Long-Term Impact of HKIS Service Progams

  1. Amy Vlastelica says:

    The experiences I had as a student at HKIS (and subsequently, a teacher) have resonated with me for years. I wasn’t actually too involved in service learning in high school. I participated in Amnesty International on campus and my family actively volunteered with Mothers Choice. I went on one Habitat for Humanity interim, although most interims had some service component integrated in them, even if they were adventure trips. I didn’t take any courses that incorporated service learning. I wasn’t careless about service, but felt uncomfortable and lacked confidence in interacting with people less fortunate than me or who spoke different languages than me. But every student at HKIS is exposed to service through community gatherings, interim and service clubs (even if participation is encouraged for college apps, more power to them!). In many ways, a social conscience is something one has to work at and desire for themselves. However, the exposure I had to service learning at HKIS lingered and a social conscience continued to emerge in other ways after graduating.

    Interims were always the most memorable and the life and people skills I received on those trips took the place of the work experience I lacked that most American teens got during summer breaks. They help bring the privileged student body of HKIS down to earth. I went to undergraduate university in the US and unlike many of my American peers, I had a much more global worldview. Having a global mindset carries with it the responsibility of social awareness and the need for service. I found other activities to have less meaning and I made closer connections with people who had similar social or international passions. Realizing third culture kids are in a unique position of intimately knowing two or more cultures, I felt a sense of purpose and duty to pursue socially conscious work. Not everyone can be social activists or work in NGOs and my tools and skill sets are in the arts. For a time, I struggled with the arts because they felt self-absorbed and superficial, not really making a difference. It took me years to realize social work can take many forms and now in graduate school, I am developing social action simulations for my MFA thesis. These simulations (in the style of Crossroads Foundation Life-X) are a way to expose the public to social need and promote social action. In many ways, I guess, I want to create an ‘interim’ like experience (in intensity, exposure and service) in a simulated exhibition; bringing real world experiences (or the closest thing to them) to local communities that may never have the opportunity to travel to other countries like we did at HKIS. I am also working with the new Envision Peace Museum to develop socially charged exhibitions and programming for a wider public.

    As a high schooler, I do not think I was mature enough or ready to absorb what my experience at HKIS meant. But the seed was planted and the impact of my experiences at HKIS have continued to reveal themselves in my adult life. This ‘unfinished business’ is in large part what drove me back to HKIS in 2007 to teach. Despite not having been involved as a student, I knew the most meaningful activities to advice and lead as a teacher would be service. I was SO impressed with how passionate kids could get in service and with the work they produced (in Humanities I In Action, etc) that made real differences to people. However, I know that this doesn’t mean the students who are less involved in service are not reaping the benefits. Students should be encouraged to find their strengths and interests in high school and they will hopefully be inspired to apply these in socially or environmentally aware ways. I would love to see the new Service Learning Center employ all subjects, from math to PE, emphasizing a cross-disciplinary approach to service.

  2. Dan Murphy says:

    The following are excerpts from my current application to do Service-Learning research in Asia post college:

    ————————————————————————————————
    After my ninth birthday my parents sat me down and told me our family was about to take a risk. “We are moving to New Delhi, India”, they said. After stumbling over options on how to react I replied sarcastically, “Have fun.” I hated the idea of leaving all of my friends behind. I despised trying new things and I was certainly not about to move to Asia no matter what my parents said.
    After arriving in India I was scared and hesitated to venture outside of the familiarity of the American enclave. I was bitter towards my parents for making me come to this foreign place. After only two years in India my parents told me we were moving again. This time I approved. But, my hopes of returning back to the United States were shattered when they announced that Hong Kong was going to be our next destination. At the advanced age of eleven I realized we weren’t leaving Asia anytime soon. I forgave my parents. I realized I should make the most of living abroad while I had the chance and that’s what I set out to do.
    My first attempt to interact with local Hong Kong residents was through joining a local rugby club. While learning to play the game was fascinating I still found it difficult to engage in the personal lives of my teammates. Seeing this difficulty, my parents and teachers recommended turning to service opportunities in addition to playing rugby. I finally settled on a program at Hong Kong International School called Service On Saturday that allowed me to volunteer in a home for the mentally and physically handicapped.
    This turned out to be a lucky move because in learning about the struggles and issues that Hong Kong citizens face I found that integration I longed for. It even led me to persuade others to participate in volunteering. I finally saw the benefits that participating in service had on my life as an American living in Asia. When it was time for me to return to the United States for college, my outlook on starting a new life in another country had matured.
    By the time I came to St. Olaf College, my experiences growing up attracted me to major in Sociology and Anthropology. I have had the opportunity to experience classes and programs that incorporate community work and service into the curriculum. This past summer, I participated in St. Olaf’s Leaders for Social Change program, which seeks to partner students with local community members in an effort to create civic engagement and experiential learning. I worked at the Community Action Center of Northfield (CAC) doing both social policy and client interviews in an effort to familiarize myself with the local community so that I could educate fellow students about social issues faced by the residents of Northfield.
    ————————————————————————————————–

    As an HKIS graduate, I often realize just how lucky I was to have had the service experiences I did. I participated in SOS, the Interim trip to Calcutta, Habitat for Humanity trips and other service activities. I think I truly took for granted these experiences, especially the fact that they were internationally based. While attending school here in the U.S., many of my peers (while they have traveled) did not have quite the same experiences growing up as I did. I am slowly realizing that these experiences and service opportunities that HKIS provided created the individual that I am today. It was these experiences that made me seek to find other service activities after HKIS. I recently submitted an application that would allow me to do research on Service-Learning curriculum and teaching styles. I never would have thought I’d be so interested in an area like this but the more I learn about my self the more I realize how the experiences I had growing up and at HKIS have influenced me. I have participated in other service programs post-HKIS but I can honestly say that being exposed to such opportunities while at a young age is invaluable. Many people really get serious about service opportunities while in college. While this is obviously wonderful, the exposure that I had at a younger age doing service has really given me an unique perspective to life and the world.

  3. It’s interesting to see Amy’s comment before me on this blog post, as she is a generation above me in the HKIS family (she was actually teaching at HKIS when I was a student there, and coincidentally was a leader one of the Habitat For Humanity service trips I was a part of in high school). I’m not sure how much of this is due to a change in times, a difference in our individual experiences, the content of service trips versus mine, or something else, but my experiences are quite difference than hers. I loved the service trips in school, and most of the people I was on them with did too. It was not just an experience to do real, meaningful work, it was an experience to travel, form friendships both with people on your trip and the people you were meeting as a component of the service, etc. Service trips seemed to be much more popular than other ‘adventure / challenge’ interim trips when I was in school.

    As you asked in your original blog post, “what happens to that journey after students graduate from HKIS?”, perhaps Amy’s response is a partial answer to that question. She went from feeling “uncomfortable”, “[lacking] confidence in interacting with people less fortunate than me or who spoke different languages than me”, while a student at HKIS, yet her experiences on those early trips stuck with her to the point where she was leading the very same service trips later in her life. Clearly there was some sort of calling with the trips she took in High School that brought her back to service later on in life.

    This also echoes my experience with other alumni of HKIS. As I have spent the last year-and-a-bit working to start a non-profit organization, I’ve had a number of discussions with HKIS alumni during fundraisers, meetings, etc. While very few HKIS alumni work professionally in the fields of service or charity, it is still a core value that seems to be ingrained in the alumni I am meeting even 10, 20, 30 years after they’ve graduated.

    I often hear from alumni that service was a huge part of their time in high school, yet they could no longer dedicate the time after graduating and moving through college into the professional world. While they can no longer find the time to take service trips or work with the organizations they worked with in school, they have not forgotten the importance of service later on in life, and are willing to support charity through other means later on in life. Perhaps the leading reason HKIS alumni donate is that they see the work I’m doing as an embodiment of the values they were taught at HKIS.

    I have yet to meet an HKIS alum uninterested in supporting service projects in some capacity since I graduated as a member of the class of 2009, and I believe this is partly because the service trips in high school had the same impact on them that they had on me: the message that we, as students attending HKIS, are very fortunate and have the means to help others. From Habitat For Humanity trips to service Interims, the school puts at the student’s hands a meaningful way to help others that lasts long after they graduate from high school.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Charles. You are gaining a valuable perspective on this question as you are working with teachers and alumni who are supporting your exciting venture with solar-powered computers that grew our of your Senior Project.
    Certainly the HKIS community is proud of your work, Charles, and we wish you all the best in 2011 as you reach a critical stage in the growth of your work.

    Charles received the Alumni Service Award last year for his creation of “Solar Leap,” which aims to supply computers to communities that are off-grid. The proceeds from the 2011 HKIS fashion show will also support his organization. You can learn more about “Solar Leap” at his website: http://www.solarleap.org.

  5. Giorgia Franchi says:

    I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the experiences I had at HKIS in relation to social awareness and service led me to being a human rights lawyer.

    Looking back, I believe it was around the 9th grade when I first became aware of the impact that charity work could have, both on myself and others. I had been selected to travel to Vietnam on the Christina Noble Foundation interim. Prior to leaving for Ho Chi Minh City, we were asked to read Bridge Across My Sorrows by Christina Noble, the founder of the organisation, and this provided an amazing introduction into what we would experience once in Vietnam. It provided a whole other layer to my experience – how the will of one woman changed the lives of so many children, and how this in turn helped her grow as an individual.

    In the following years I became involved in other types of community work, volunteering for Mother’s Choice, World Vision, and Habitat for Humanity through another interim. My friends were similarly involved in these types of organisations, and a few of us even travelled to Thailand one summer to volunteer at Pattaya Orphanage. These experiences were eye opening – not only because they put some perspective on my life, which had always been privileged, but also gave me an understanding of cultures, languages, and history.

    In 10th grade I enrolled in an interdisciplinary class which provided a blend of literature, history, and service work. This was the first course which I took at HKIS which expressly incorporated service in the curriculum. What I saw from this course was that everyone in my class – whether academically minded or not – engaged in the service part of our class. Our experiences in an orphanage in Foshan brought our class together, and whenever we are together again we often reminisce about that trip days.

    Once I was in university, I found it difficult to marry my interests with my law courses – they were often dry, and not related to humanitarian work. It was not until I began an internship with an immigration and human rights firm that I found my niche. It was an extension of what I had always done at HKIS, a way to incorporate service work with my career. I have since qualified as an immigration/human rights lawyer. This area of the law changes quickly depending on government agenda or foreign policies. It is a fast paced, challenging, and gratifying profession, not only because I can help those who are vulnerable and who need representation to protect their rights, but also because I am always learning from my clients about the rest of the world.

    I have recently become a Trustee for a charity that works with children in South East Asia with fellow university graduates. I have no doubt that my desire to work in this field has been a result of the exposure HKIS gave me to service in society, which I am very grateful for.

  6. Claire Fong says:

    Hi Mr. Schmidt!

    Great to be able to be part of your research!

    I think one of the biggest ways that service at/through HKIS has impacted me is developing a strong sense of awareness. Not just social awareness, but it has also branched out to other forms such as cultural and environmental awareness. By being able to see other places and other people outside our own community, it helped to widen my perspective, but also remind me that there are many other kinds of lives happening right now. It made my worldview more three-dimensional. I think it also developed my comfort in interacting with new surroundings, and being able to be excited instead of hesitant.

    Being at HKIS showed me the importance and value of an education, and I think that led me to follow the path of becoming a teacher as well! 🙂 Being able to volunteer at orphanages and rural schools, go on interim trips around the world (Mongolia!!) definitely deepened my character and vision for what I want to give back when I “grow up”. I think the service opportunities at HKIS enabled me to see more, which means to think more, and to think more, is to be able to take action, and move forward.

    It was at HKIS that I first learned about the term, “third culture kid” and I didn’t really realize that was a very small group of people until I left for university. I wear that title with pride, because it shows of the richness that my upbringing contained. I finally met another third culture kid in my B.Ed program, and it is interesting to be able to connect on that level and share that special bond. I think the way that HKIS is connected to so many things outside of its immediate physical environment is the greatest aspect, because it opened doors for us to see that we may be privileged, but that is not all there is in life, and we should be part of what is outside of us too. Living in a bubble doesn’t get us anywhere. HKIS enabled us to be able to survive anywhere and contribute what we can to the current place we are in.

    I hope that was helpful. Please let me know if I can answer anything further!

    All the best! 🙂

  7. Throughout my childhood, my mother volunteered my sister and me to help out with a variety of service projects that her service clubs were organizing. Whether it was manning tables and face painting at cultural parties for expat children in Singapore, painting walls at an elderly home in Hong Kong or throwing parties for children at hospitals in Hawaii, I learned from a young age that service was fun and enriching. This realization made volunteering with SOS at HKIS and going to Foshan with my English World Cultures (EWC) class a natural step. Little did I realize at the time what a profound impact that being at Foshan would have on my life!

    One of my struggles as an HKIS student was the cliques at school. Having just moved to Hong Kong from Singapore American School where there was greater sense of unity among students, I didn’t understand why the student body was so divided, especially among lines that seemed superficial to me. However, this all changed when my EWC class went to Foshan. I was astonished and perplexed to see the boundaries between students disappear as each student spent time delighting in his or her baby. How was it that a day ago social associations based on fashion or wealth mattered, yet now we were simply content with enjoying each other’s company and being with the babies? Somehow, in that moment, we were changed. Humbled. Grateful. Empowered. Provoked by social injustice, but at peace with our baby in our arms. Unified. It was almost like magic.

    Perhaps the beauty of service was suddenly so profound to me because it was one of the first times where I served with people my own age for a prolonged period of time in which individual and collective transformation was evident. Furthermore, Mr. Schmidt did an incredible job of helping us discuss and process our experiences of service learning. Facilitating group discussions with thoughtful and challenging questions, he prompted deeply introspective reflection. As I listened to my classmates share about their experiences, it was evident that Foshan had given us a greater sense of social awareness and for some, a renewed sense of purpose. We were convinced that service scars people in the most beautiful of ways. Reflecting upon my own experiences, I began to believe with greater conviction than ever before that service learning was an important and powerful means to bettering oneself, finding a sense of inner peace and creating a more unified world.

    Life after HKIS has been a constant pursuit of social justice and service – I attended Pepperdine University, excited by their commitment to service learning and the myriad of opportunities to participate and even initiate our own service projects. Never have I met such inspiring, compassionate and relentless students for social justice that brought Margaret Mead’s quote to life, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”! Learning about social justice outside of the classroom, like at Foshan, by spending time with people who have survived social injustices and were willing to share stories with us was especially educational and empowering. These stories, faces and names have motivated me to pursue a masters in Conflict Studies and Human Rights at the University of Utrecht on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship (a beautiful way in which the Rotary lives out its motto, “Service above self” and commitment to building a more unified and peaceful world).

    With each step, I have become more convinced that service heals the world. The decision to take one’s mind off his or herself and instead focus attention and extend care to someone else is life changing. It makes us realize our shared humanity and lets us be at peace with one another. Perhaps none of these epiphanies about service would have existed, and my life would have taken a very different turn, had it not been for Mr. Schmidt’s efforts and that of other HKIS teachers to integrate service learning into the educational curriculum. (Perhaps, given the academic and competitive nature of HKIS, I would have applied to all Ivy League schools and to this day, be suffering the heartache of – God forbid – a 3.99 GPA 🙂 …but here I am, proud to say I achieved neither).

    Thank you, Mr. Schmidt, Ms. Talbot and your cohorts, for giving me – and so many others – such enriching learning experiences outside of the classroom! You have given my life a much grander purpose and I continue to be inspired by your energy, innovation and love for others.

  8. Rachel Kim says:

    I taught English for the first time to third graders in Zheng Cheng, China on a trip with MetoWe during my sophomore year. Likewise to how I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I knew they didn’t understand what I was talking about and writing on the chalkboard. Towards the end of the lesson I brought them outside and they gathered around me with their paper and pens while I read an alphabet book aloud. As I was closing the book at least four hands reached out for the book and soon ALL the children were fighting over the book. They asked me questions in Chinese and pointed to or flipped to a previous page I had read to quickly. I was stunned because I didn’t understand why they were so desperate to write down what they didn’t understand.
    I’m now at Smith College planning to become an education and child study major. I hope to gather as many experiences as I can babysitting, volunteering and student teaching before applying for graduate school to gain teacher’s licensure. In high school I assumed I would study to become an elementary school teacher and return to the countries I had served in as a volunteer teacher or a social entrepreneur who trained local people to teach their community children. However, even before I arrived at Smith I became involved in SmithSTAND. SmithSTAND is one of the 400 chapters of STAND, the student-led division of the Genocide Intervention Network (now partners with Save Darfur). We work on the grassroots level to prevent and end genocide and mass atrocities in Sudan, the Congo and Burma. Recently we’ve been also focusing on the Ivory Coast, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya. Our work involves lobbying elected officials, call 1-800-GENOCIDE, tweet questions to elected officials like Obama and Hilary Clinton, writing letters, writing articles, screening documentaries, hosting panels and making noise to show that the international community CARES.
    I’m not working with children and I may or may not be helping to change the lives of children, but I still value education. As the social media coordinator of SmithSTAND, I’ve learned so much about U.S. politics, student activism and conflicts around the world. I’ve not only educated myself, but talked to professors, students, family members and friends about why we should care and how we can help. Often times I think back to high school and remember how passionate I was about teaching YOUNG children. I wonder if by being apart of the anti-genocide movement, I’m missing out on chances to help serve children.
    All in all, my experiences at HKIS gave me something to be passionate about. I always loved being around children and teaching them, but before HKIS I didn’t know about all the ways they were suffering and the ways I could help them. I hope to find a balance between pushing elected officials to make change and directly caring for and educating the children in our world.

    A summary of my service related experiences at HKIS:
    -Humanities in Action w/ Mr. Schmidt
    -Foshan x2
    -Cambodia x2
    -Zheng Cheng, China w/ MetoWe
    -SOS at the Chi Ling Buddhist Primary school using art to teach English
    -Interim in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
    -Service, Sacred and the Society w/ Mr. Schmidt
    -Senior Project trip to the same center in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
    -Interim in South Africa
    -Senior Option as a TA in a second grade classroom at HKIS’s lower primary school
    -Speaking to Mr. Schmidt’s SSS class and all Humanities in Action classes about my service experiences at HKIS and how I’m involved in the anti-genocide movement as a college student

  9. amyymburns says:

    The older I get, the more I come to appreciate the education I received at HKIS, especially the education I received in the area of service. It really planted a seed in me and has shaped the way I look at the world. I think having these experiences at such a young age (going to the orphanage in Foshan in 6th grade) and throughout my middle school and high school years was a privilege. I am especially appreciative because I know that the circumstances I was born into could have potentially isolated me from seeing and experiencing the living conditions of those different from me. Comfortable circumstance indeed, but they would mean so little if not for the service experiences I had at HKIS and that I hope to have in the future. It inspires me to see that so many alumni feel similarly and that they aspire to “do good” in this world, whatever that may look like. I think if I had to put my finger on the one most valuable gift my service experiences gave me, it would be the awareness that all lives are precious and beautiful and that we are all connected somehow in this big complicated world of ours; that despite the large expanse of life experiences that separates me from you and despite whatever beliefs you may have that conflicts with mine, we can still find a common ground and see each other as equals.

    Thanks you Mr. Schmidt for all the work you have put and continue to put into the service initiative at HKIS. It’s priceless.

    My Service Experiences at HKIS:
    -Visiting orphanage in Foshan in 6th, 8th, and 9th grade
    -Visiting orphanage in HK for mentally handicapped in 7th grade
    -Volunteering at Crossroads
    -Teaching English to local students for Humanities I in Action
    -Interim: Spending a week in a center in Thailand w/ girls at risk of being trafficked
    -Interim: A week volunteering at orphanages in Kolkata
    – Service on Saturdays: Volunteering at Cheshire Home for the elderly & handicapped
    -Senior Project: Working with asylum seekers in HK to produce a music cd

    My Service Experiences Outside of HKIS:
    -Handing out Japanese rice balls to the homeless in Tokyo
    -Volunteering to teach English to international students at Georgetown University
    -Spreading awareness of global humanitarian crises, specifically in regards to North Korea. Follow Link: http://studentorgs.georgetown.edu/think/
    -Volunteering at a school for street kids in New Dehli
    -Volunteering with Jumpstart to read storybooks to children in public libraries in DC
    -Volunteering with Jane Goodall’s Institute in Beijing for a summer

  10. Tiffany C says:

    To be completely raw and honest, I have done nothing meaningfully service-oriented since graduating from high school. Yes, I was part of a Habitat build on a lazy Saturday afternoon last semester, and yes, 22 dollars is automatically deducted from my bank account every month to sponsor a nine-year-old boy from Columbia, whom I have never met or have any real connection with. And of course, I entertain the thought of doing something about this world on occasion. Something meaning something pertinent and something large–and by large, I mean something so large that it is exhausting and heartbreaking to even comprehend. I also think about the impossibility of fixing skeletons, the enormity of global crises, and how it is too much.

    Almost seven years ago (it is hard to believe…), I wrote about the beginning of the journey I hope will never cease to exist. I wrote it with the passion and fervor of a young adolescent, wildly excited about the infinite possibilities that lay ahead of me. But like with any spiritual and personal adventure in life, there is much wandering and uncertainty. It isn’t that when God first moves us, we will believe in him forever and always. And it isn’t that when we first land our dream jobs, we will be content for the rest of time. There is much doubt, and much wandering. What I have described above as my college experience thus far, then, isn’t testament to the fact that fires do burn out or that journeys do expire. I believe that once you open your eyes to something and really see for the first time, there is no going back; you can’t pretend you didn’t see it. What this is now, for me, is perhaps a state of mental stagnation. I think in time, I will do something. I will act on the belief that I carry weight and on the simple fact that I can. Inspiration, feeling, cognition, behavior may be inconsistent and depend on a number of things, but the way people see will always be what it is.

    It is convenient when we move on from high school to be busy, to engage in other commitments and to focus on self-improvement. We’re always busy with something, there’s always something to do that is not saving a baby or the world. Objectively, it’s convenient as it is practical. But for myself, and I believe for every other student coming out of HKIS, the social conscience is always there, whether it is at the back of our heads or not.

    What I value from my education at HKIS is not how it has transformed me as a person, or as anything, or how it has prepared me for the larger world. I think more than anything, it is how I have come to see things differently. How I see, think and feel about abandoned children and earthquakes claiming tens of thousands of lives in days is important to me. My experiences from service-oriented classes, interims, and extracurricular activities have helped me realize and understand the idea of what it means to have a human conscience, or simply, what it means to have a soul. An education lacks substance if we forget everything we’ve learned. But the understanding of the self, the soul, and everything in between is hardly meaningless—it’s what people take with them from HKIS. That’s what makes it so special.

    Thank you Mr. Schmidt for all the work you’ve been doing and for every learning experience. You are changing lives and I am so proud of you!

  11. Minori says:

    I believe the social awareness and service component of HKIS education was absolutely essential. I had been exposed to abject poverty and exploitation before my Vietnam interim in 2001, and those injustices did break my heart. However, the interim in Vietnam shook the foundations of who I was and subsequently influenced so much of who I was to become. I believe that particular interim was as impactful as it was, because it did not only expose me to the injustices of the world as other trips had done, but it encouraged students to dig deeper into that world. The trip accommodated for times of reflection, processing discussions and questions specifically about injustice, poverty, and the “tough questions” in life (Who am I? Why is there suffering in the world? Etc, etc.)

    Without the conscious decision and effort of the facilitators to accommodate the social awareness/service aspect of education, my Vietnam trip would have been just another trip in a developing country seeing sights and dodging poor people, reinforcing the ever-prevalent “us vs them” perspective.

    On the other hand, I believe the level of impact varies greatly between students. From what I can remember, there were students on the same interim who found the spiritual or service aspects of the trip boring and lacking in meaning, which was unfortunate for them as that was the major bulk of our trip. I, on the other hand, remember doing a pre-interim project on child labor/sex trafficking to prepare for the visit to Vietnam. Would I have gleaned some social awareness/service related lessons without the help of the curriculum and/or the facilitator? Maybe. Are there students who won’t come away with any profound life lessons despite the best efforts of the facilitating teachers? Most likely. But I have no doubt in my mind that it made a massive difference to have social awareness/service aspects consciously built into school curriculum. That is what made the service interims and religion courses different from service clubs without good supervision and interims in developing countries without service component, at least in my experience.

    As for the “how long?” question, I would say the profound spiritual/social awareness/service experiential lessons have stuck permanently. I still feel the sense of urgency for service and humanitarian efforts as strongly as I did on that trip in Vietnam. I can also say that I am, in a way, addicted to the satisfaction of living a life that positively impacts other lives. The only difference between then and now is that I now know how to focus and direct that sense of urgency (better than before, anyway). I now have the knowledge, the skills and the awareness of my personal strengths to focus my efforts and passion into things that generate change.

    Mr. Schmidt, I hope this makes sense and answers your question. If there are bits that are incoherent, or if there are thoughts you’d like elaborated, please let me know. Very cool thing you’re doing! I’d love to hear your analysis when you have it!

  12. Jena Wong says:

    My first memorable experiences with service came from taking a course called World Cultures in grade 9 with Mr. Schmidt and his wife Ms. Talbot. A question that was directly and indirectly addressed throughout the year that helped give me a frame of mind for engaging in service-type activities was “How does giving my time to touch and impact other lives help develop and shape who I am?” At the end of the course, we were each required to write a paper, “Who am I?”. I was only able to answer this question because of the service experiences that World Cultures had provided me throughout the year.

    In October that year, our class had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Fo Shan, China at an orphanage. We were told that these children were deprived of attention and something as simple as holding them to let them know that someone cared for them was enough to make a measurable impact. I had never been to an orphanage prior to that trip, so I was excited and nervous not knowing what to anticipate. During that weekend, I loved on the children as much as I could before we had to leave. I had made several strong connections with the children, so it was difficult for me to leave on the last day.

    After much reflection on my high school experiences with service, I realized how blessed I was to have such raw experiences of selflessness, compassion and empathy in a unique environment. I recently graduated from UBC and in my four years of post secondary, I have had generic volunteer positions involving hospital work or working with elementary school children. These experiences were nothing comparable to those I had during high school. I feel a longing or urge to get involved with the community the way I did in HKIS. I also had the privilege of participating in the interim “Children of Kolkata”. I had the opportunity to spend time at a street children shelter, Future Hope, as well as an orphanage founded by Mother Theresa. Returning to Kolkata has been on my mind ever since.

    Spending time in orphanages and shelters has given me much exposure to the realities of human poverty and disability of which I was unaware living in a fast-paced, wealthy city. During these volunteer experiences, I learnt the importance of being selfless. I realized that fear is a selfish emotion because the emotion stems from being afraid of what happens to the self. I found the courage to devote my entire self to the children at the orphanages and shelters. This meant not being afraid of changing diapers, bathing the disabled, losing a little sleep, approaching someone or catching a cold. Finding the courage to embrace uncomfortable situations was the best thing I ever did and has helped me realize and confirm my dream of helping people for the rest of my life. My high school service experiences were definitely the driving forces pushing me to realize that dream.

  13. Pingback: Former Student Jena Wong Comments on Long-Term Impact of Social Conscience Education | Social Conscience Education

  14. Pingback: Alumna Jena Wong Comments on Long-Term Impact of Social Conscience Education | Social Conscience Education

  15. Sheron Luk says:

    It all began in eighth grade as we began to choose classes for the highly anticipated first year of our high school career. As we learned about the different math, science, religion classes we could take, the one choice that I still remember today was between Humanities I and Humanities I in Action. I have to admit, I was a pretty selfish brat at that age, as were most middle schoolers… I hope. I did not like the idea of committing my Saturdays to a Service on Saturday that was required in Humanities in Action. Honestly, I just wanted to sleep in. But with the coaxing of friends, I begrudgingly ticked the Humanities in Action box on the course list. Little did I know that choice would still have a profound impact on me today.
    There is something about the transition from adolescence to maturity. Most kids are used to doting parents at a young age, and the world pretty much centered around that child. It’s quite easy to forget the world around us when we are secluded as children in a bubble formed by our parents. It was really only until Humanities in Action that this bubble burst, and it was explosive. I was baffled by the statistics of people living in poverty and the number of those who go without clean drinking water, not to mention also the rate of deforestation occurring on our planet, and our melting polar ice caps. I still remember Melanie Ho’s horrifying speech about rape in the Congo, her hand forming a gun, describing how men would shoot women after raping them. I remember my disgust with the fact that most of our food was synthetically created through GM processes. The image of cows corralled together, standing in their own feces, pumped with antibiotics and then killed to be served on our plates is still burned into my memory. By the end of the year, it even became a concern by our teachers that we had become cynical and lacked hope for change in the future. But I believe that ultimately that wasn’t the feeling that Humanities in Action has left me, or my fellow classmates, with. Rather, I felt a sense of action to change the conditions of the world. I fought hard during high school to maintain that flame of service lit. Admittedly it was hard, as academics came to clash with after school activities that were meant for service. Reconciling the clash between academics/pursuing a career and my need to help rehabilitate our world was a main issue as I moved through high school.
    This conflict of mine was resolved when I took AP Environmental Science in my senior year. After having left Humanities in Action I longed to learn more about GM foods, desertification, rising sea levels: issues that we had delved deeply into in Humanities in Action and were seemingly left hanging. In Environmental Science, I found myself once more learning about global issues and the circumstances of our environment. My love for academic science and rehabilitating our world in its entirety came together in this class. I realized that our Earth’s environment affects each and every person living on this planet, and the health of our environment is crucial for the wellbeing of humankind. I am now a first year at Barnard College, Columbia University pursuing a major in Environmental Studies, a field that I believe I can be truly passionate about and pursue a career in.
    The spark was Humanities in Action, and it left me a sense of general awareness of my surroundings and the bigger picture of things. I believe, hopefully, that I have lost that bratty self-centeredness I had had as a middle schooler. The words “keeping the flame alive” has since continued to echo in my head and I take every opportunity I can to make a small change. Being in college requires a lot of academic work, but on the other hand also provides an immense amount of opportunities to help the community around you. At the beginning of the year I received various emails from service groups and I decided on Peer Health Exchange, a club that spends its Fridays teaching health workshops to schools that cannot afford such classes. It has been a rewarding experience as I watch students learning about STIs and HIV from my time given teaching in class. Honestly, Humanities in Action and Service, Society, and the Sacred are classes that both have left me with a better understanding of myself and what my role is on this planet. These were the types of classes that allowed me to reveal my true self, rather than the normal high school class that consisted of demonstrating my skills in memorization or spewing facts out to demonstrate my academic prowess. Because I was allowed to develop my own ideas and share with the class, I believe that my teachers for these classes may truly understand me. Maybe even, at times, better than I understand myself. ☺ THANKS MR. SCHMIDT AND MS. TALBOT.

  16. This comment is from Olivia Chin, class of 2009, who took Humanities I in Action in her freshman year.

    Dear Mr. Schmidt,

    I’m really happy to hear about your research in teaching students to develop a social conscience and to see the strong impact that your Humanities in Action course continues to have on HKIS students. I also want to let you know what a huge impact it had on me and how I navigated these past 8 years (wow…) after taking your course.

    For me, your course and the journey that it led me onto can be summed up in a term that you might also use – a labyrinth experience. I find it amazing how things come around full-circle especially when I have to do a lot of self-reflection, like currently as I am thinking about my next steps after graduation. From your course I got my first exposure to real suffering around the world and the fundamental connection between humans that should compel us to reach out to those in suffering. I remember being so filled with sadness for the orphans in Foshan, for the children wasting their youth away in sweatshops, for the people getting trafficked for sex and human labor, and being compelled to help all of them, but at the same time I felt a deep sense of helplessness myself. I did not understand how to live in Hong Kong among people from a good socio-economic standing yet lead a socially responsible life. I thought I would have to live some sort of double-life: a civic humanist in theory and mind, but in practice unable to fully integrate these humanist ideals into my life because of societal and familial expectations. In retrospect I see the black-and-white way in which I was thinking but as a high school freshman it was tough to process all the lessons that I was taking away from your course. I distinctly remember the moment that I decided, well if I cannot make a positive difference in the world, I can at the least try my best not to contribute to the existing suffering. So I chose to pursue dance because a) I developed a passion for dancing! b) I enjoyed the challenges of beginning to dance at a later age and c) I knew I’d be dirt-poor as a “starving artist” so I couldn’t possibly afflict harm in any systematic or significant way (again, my past black-and-white mode of thinking). As funny as my third reason sounds, it was indeed one of my top reasons for pursuing dance. But I was so wrong in thinking that I could isolate myself from this world through dance. The truth is that I’m always going to be connected to the poor as well as the affluent – in the practical sense, because of the environmental and economic impact I make simply by living in a increasingly globalized world and because of the people in my social network, and on a spiritual level because of the innate human connection that I share with everybody else. And I actually do not even want to be disconnected. I need and want to serve others with my full heart, soul, mind, and strength – with all that I have in terms of material resources, education, interests/skills etc. I came to this realization through two pivotal experiences in my junior year of college – when I accepted Christ as my personal savior and took a course on racism. The inextricable link between evangelism and liberation work became clear as day to me. Jesus freed me from spiritual bondage and beckons me to help free people from the cycle of poverty, racial prejudice, and other injustices that prevent them from enjoying the abundance of God’s provisions. I am also in an extremely fortunate position to share my blessings. The journey to that realization took a little longer than it could have had I immediately took action after Hum I in Action but I am grateful for where I started with your course and the important take-away lessons through those wonderful twists and turns along the path. I would not have had it any other way.

    My immediate post-graduation plan is to return home and continue doing serious reflection and research into my options. I have two ideas swimming in my head. One is actually a version of an idea that I once briefly mentioned to you in 9th grade – I want to found a social entrepreneurial supermarket chain that sells fair-trade products. I believe it is beneficial and it can be done. Another idea that excites me is to work with refugees in Hong Kong. I’ve applied through the HKIS Alumni Program for a summer internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and I’m continuing to seek volunteer opportunities in legal aid programs that work with refugees and other under-served populations. I want to see how lawyers use their knowledge and practice as a tool to serve others because I find the law and public policy fascinating and powerful. I will also keep an eye out for NGO and NPO work so that I can gain perspective from another dimension of humanitarian work. Somewhere along the horizon is graduate school, likely a joint JD-MBA program because of my interests in both law and business, or in international development.

  17. Edward Tsui says:

    Hi Mr. Schmidt,

    It’s been a very long time – hope all is going well with Mrs. Talbot and the family. I just wanted to drop you a note after reading the SCMP piece about your work. It’s great how your Humanities in Action course at HKIS is changing lives. I don’t think Trisha, my wife, and I had the privilege to experience that particular course during our tenure at HKIS (Class of 2000) but I still remember the “Who is Jesus” course, the “World History” course (taught by Mrs. Talbot ), and numerous other courses that highlighted the importance of serving others (Mr. Bickel’s, Ms Wong, Mr. Sathyaraj etc).

    With regards to the question on how courses at HKIS related to social awarenness and service have impacted students since leaving high school, in short, I think the impact is significant. When I reflect on my experience at HKIS, the core value that comes back over and over again in my mind is the service of others. While the outside community may associate HKIS with affluence, privilege, and exclusivity, from a alumni that spent 7yrs at HKIS, the key value I takeaway is of service. In particular during my high school years, I don’t think there has been a comparable stage in my life where service was more encouraged and advocated by my surrounding environment. It was not only “cool” to serve with your peers (SOS, Interact, Amnesty, Mother’s Choice, etc), it was the norm. If you were an HKIS student, service was a part of your life.

    While I do not ignore that the motivation of students to serve may in itself be self-serving during high school (i.e. to pad college resumes), I would argue that the practice of serving others becomes ingrained in a student’s muscle memory during those years – like riding a bike. It’s a skill set/experience that students often tap back into later in life. For some, it may just be that service becomes a part of their identity/hobby and serving others becomes a means in itself (like riding a bike can be a hobby) – while for others, they may serve others under different motivations (i.e. Christianity, other religious beliefs). Either way, it was during HKIS HS that we learned how to serve others and ride the bike. Whether “biking” becomes a part of your core identity, I think this question can only be truly answered after leaving HKIS.

    For our household, we strive to continue to serve others because of our Christian faith (1 John 4-19: We love because He first loved us). We are grateful for HKIS imparting the importance of service during our formative years in high school – and for what it’s worth, we just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you and Ms. Talbot for your dedication to HKIS and defining, advocating, and illustrating what it means to serve others!!

    Best Regards,
    Ed and Trisha Tsui ’00

  18. Pingback: Stirring the Soul With a New Story: A Letter to HKIS Alumni | Social Conscience and Inner Awakening

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