The Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP) brings Chinese and U.S. undergraduates together to develop and implement poverty alleviation projects located in some of China's most impoverished regions. The program consists of two Sessions: one month intensive Chinese language and culture study at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and three weeks implementing a service learning project at one of Tsinghua’s 200+ e-Learning Centers in China’s poorest counties.
During Session One, U.S. students enroll in two classes: “Mandarin Speaking & Listening” and “Chinese Culture”. Students are placed into different language levels according to their Mandarin proficiency, and receive a total of 80 hours of instruction. Classes are limited to 15 students each, and beginner to advanced level students can be accommodated. The “Chinese Culture” class arranges for a variety of field trips in and around Beijing. Students who successfully fulfill course requirements will receive a certificate of satisfactory completion from Tsinghua University in the “Chinese for Foreigners Course”. The program is held at Tsinghua’s downtown campus, near Embassy Row, and Tsinghua provides full room and board.
Session Two focuses on implementing the service learning projects. The Session begins with four days of orientation at Tsinghua University’s main campus. U.S. participants meet their Chinese student partners, form their project teams, learn about China’s poverty alleviation issues, develop plans, and gather resource materials. After orientation, project teams consisting of U.S. students, Tsinghua students and faculty, then travel together overland to their assigned sites. On-site accommodations and meals are arranged by the e-Learning Centers. Equipped with world-class satellite and internet technologies for real-time distance education, Tsinghua's e-Learning Centers offer a wide range of educational resources for diverse audiences.
The primary service learning project for the U.S. participants is teaching conversational English to local teachers and students. Teaching English adds a significant new dimension to China's vocational training capabilities by reaching traditionally uneducated sectors of many rural areas. New audiences benefit from direct access to conversational English instruction from U.S. speakers. At the same time, the program helps U.S. participants learn first-hand about the real China by delivering community services on a personal level. U.S. students also have the opportunity to conduct research in areas of their academic interest. At the conclusion of the two-week service project, participants return to the Tsinghua campus for two days of debriefings and evaluations. The program ends with a ‘Certificate of Completion’ ceremony.
Hundreds of returnees from 2006 and 2007 projects consistently report that while their service-learning duties in the field may have ended, the personal transformations that began there continue to grow more profound as each day passes. What happened during those short but fertile weeks of service, when the line between teachers and learners often crossed or blurred, clearly changed lives and destinies in ways that will only grow more evident and promising.
For those who ask, “How did your being there make any difference?” there are literally hundreds of inspiring answers; and each one resonates with a profound personal awareness of the solutions necessary to shape a more just, peaceful and sustainable global future.