Experience Report - Service Learning Program

Remembering the Danish Service-Learning Trip to Nanjing

The city of Nanjing was filled with the colors of spring this march, when the Education and International Exchange Division of the Amity Foundation welcomed the visiting group from Denmark. The twenty four students in the politics class of Silkeborg Højskole, including two students in wheelchairs, were accompanied by two of the home institution’s teachers.

Højskole, or in Chinese, Renmin Gaodeng Xuexiao/ 人民高等学校 or Guomin Gaozhong/ 国民高中, refers to a particular type of folk high education in Denmark. It is a special boarding school providing an adult education independent from academic granting institutions. The history of this type of education can be traced back to the mid-19th century. In 1844 the highly regarded scholar N.F.S Grundtvig established the first boarding school in Rødding, Denmark, which aimed at providing students with a more general education. This type of folk high schools and their educational traditions have since been well preserved within the educational system of Northern Europe.

In the beginning years of development they began by teaching farmers to read which contributed to the elimination of widespread illiteracy among adults. After 160 years of development, the schools have evolved to include more modern forms of education. Activities now include music, outdoor sports, politics, arts, third world research and other course related activities, leading to the development of student’s independent thinking and open-minded attitudes.

Every spring semester, students of Silkeborg Højskole look forward to their ten-day trip to China. The students spend their trip in three of China’s most popular cities: Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai. As the host in Nanjing, the Amity Foundation not only provides an opportunity for them to get in direct contact with Chinese NGOs, but also conducts a series of Service-Learning activities aimed at helping the students develop a deeper understanding of Chinese history, culture and modern society.

At Hongshan School for Migrant Workers’ Children, the students have the opportunity to teach children not only how to count in Danish, but basic Danish greetings as well. Disproving the common misconception many young children have that every foreigner with blue eyes and blonde hair speaks English. Even though the school children were only in the second grade, they bristeled with curiosity, wonder and a thirst for learning and by the end of class many students were able to count to three in Danish. However, many of the children seemed more interested in gestures than language.

I grabbed the attention of a boy who was running about playing, and pointed to the girls, “Why don’t you go over there and play with the girls?” The boy replied quite frankly, “Who would wanna play girly games with them?” However, the girls’ organized and patient way of playing games eventually caught the attention of the boys, and everyone spent a very happy afternoon together formed in a big circle, singing and dancing. When it came time to part, the children rushed forward to shake hands warm-heartedly with their new-found older Danish friends, shouting, “See you tomorrow!” Who can tell what the future might hold, perhaps they will have a chance to meet again some day.

While the time spent playing games with the children was filled with happiness and childish innocence, conversations with students from Hohai University were of a more serious and enlightening nature. At Hohai University, the students from College of Harbor, Costal and Offshore Engineering, guided their far-away friends through their campus full of violet orchids.

Conversations erupted, about the students’ interests and life experiences. Despite different cultural backgrounds they never seemed to run out of things to talk about. Their youthful vitality seemed to accentuate the greenery and energy that spring had brought to the school gardens.

The two wheelchair-bound students were not held back because of their disabilities and also shared the other students travel experiences. After a spring snowfall in Beijing the students had the opportunity to climb the Great Wall of China. Wearing gloves, one of the disabled students used his both hands to support his own body weight as he slowly, one step at a time, climbed up the Great Wall. When he removed his gloves, I could see for myself, the band-aids and light bruising on his hands. However, because the girl’s body was frailer, teachers and classmates alike took turns carrying her, together completing their travels in Beijing.

The students at Hohai University were very caring, taking the initiative to assist their two wheelchair bound friends from Denmark

Peter, one of the teachers, tells me that Denmark provides various handicap access solutions to help disabled people lead a more independent life. Restaurants, hotels, railway stations and other public places are all designed to be easily accessed by disabled and wheelchair bound people. Denmark also has cars specially designed for people with different disabilities. In order to make sure the two disabled students could go through with this trip to China, the Danish government provided travel expenses of two extra, strong and physically fit, students, “employing” these travel companions helped the wheelchair-bound students throughout their journey. During the time that we spent together, it was also clear that their disabilities did not make them feel inferior. They discussed future prospects and dreams with hope and passion. Their fellow students did not look after the two students excessively, only giving them a hand when they needed it, letting them do everything they can by themselves. This kind of equal treatment and attitude is truly commendable.

For Jonas, the other teacher, this was his fifth trip to China since the beginning of Silkeborg Højskole and Amity’s cooperation. He has joined the English worship with his fellow Chinese believers at St. Paul’s Church, enjoyed the beautiful night scenery at the Confucius Temple Area and even tasted authentic Mexican food in Behind The Wall Bar on Shanghai Road. He is already quite familiar with many of Nanjing’s nooks and crannies. When it came time to say farewell, he led everyone in dedicating an originally composed song to their new-found friends in Nanjing, expressing deep-felt friendship.

What a most rewarding spring this was! We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to Ivan Hanse and Kacey Ingalls for their great contribution to this report.