As members of a robust international school community, Ross School students are always in contact with cultures different from their own. Expanding on those experiences, two underclassmen have opted to spend their summer in immersive programs designed to help them to better understand how others live.
Chinese native Daisy Yao, a 10th grader in her second year at Ross School, will spend 15 days of her summer living and working on Montana’s Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation as a volunteer with Visions Service Adventures. For the past 30 years, Visions volunteers have helped residents respond to the challenges of contemporary reservation life: high poverty, inadequate housing, and insufficient social services. In gratitude, the Cheyenne have welcomed the organization’s members into the fold, inviting them to experience aspects of their culture usually hidden from outsiders. As a result, the program offers participants the chance to make meaningful contributions to a community while gaining deep insight into a different way of life.
Daisy’s father inspired her to apply for the program. She aided him in work supporting homeless youth in Russia, an experience she enjoyed that set her on a path to service. Additionally, he grew up in an area near a tribe of indigenous people and passed down to her an appreciation for different cultures. “I want to see the ways that people help each other in different countries,” Daisy said. “Community is [a part of culture] that we need to preserve or it will disappear.”
Among the ways in which Daisy and other volunteers will help in the community are working with children in the educational youth day camp and serving meals to the elderly, as well as carpentry and gardening projects like building wheelchair ramps, renovating playgrounds, and making home repairs. She will also have the opportunity to participate in activities like drum circles, traditional beading projects, storytelling, a visit to the tribe’s buffalo herd, and most exciting to her, a powwow.
“I think doing work and adapting to the environment will be just fine for me because I’m an international student,” she said. “Being an international student is an advantage because I already get to explore many cultures.”
Tenth grader Sarah Langleben plans to spend her summer in Taiwan studying Mandarin Chinese as a participant in the U.S. State Department’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). The immersion program is designed to prepare American students to become global leaders by solidifying their communication skills in one of seven offered languages. NSLI-Y is both rigorous and incredibly selective, with an acceptance rate of about 16 percent. Those selected commit to more than 120 hours of classroom instruction.
Sarah will be in a cohort of 24 students from around the United States. Together, they will study Mandarin Chinese at Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages, which is located in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s third most populous city. Beyond that, they will share in service opportunities and cultural activities. Though they’ve yet to meet in person, the students are already connecting with the aid of social media and video chat.
Sarah, who is already bilingual in Spanish and English, has been studying Mandarin for two years. She hopes this program will help her to cultivate a deeper understanding of the language, as well as the confidence to speak outside her native tongue, something with which she struggles even while speaking Spanish. Moveover, she is excited to learn more about a culture that has had such an impact in her life. “Ross has so many Chinese students, and it will be cool to see where they live,” Sarah said. “Understanding where people come from and who they are is really important.”
Through these programs, both Sarah and Daisy intend to spend their summers living outside of their comfort zones and walking in the shoes of others, hoping that in the process, they’ll develop a broader perspective on the world. “Although they may look different, I think people are more similar than they think,” Daisy said. “There’s no difference between different countries except for the language.”