News from Alumni House

Sharing gifts abroad

Mark Dollhopf ’77 is executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni.

It’s over 90 degrees with humidity nearly to match. I’m dripping sweat on my laptop keys as I write this article, and it’s not yet 8:30 in the morning! I’m with the Yale Alumni Service Corps in Xiuning, China, on this tenth day of July. Xiuning is in the southern province of Anhui, about a five-hour drive from Shanghai. I’m sitting in the back of a high school classroom watching one of our Yale alumni volunteers teach magic to the students. Over 20 of them are tightly squeezed around him, intently watching his every move and trying to make out his sleight of hand. He flips the perfect card (the one they picked beforehand) out of the deck with one hand and catches it with his other, and they cheer loudly.

It’s magic. But not just of the playing card variety.

It’s magic that this volunteer—or any of the other 196 alumni, family members, and friends who are on this trip—would travel halfway around the world on their own nickel, and on their own vacation time, to share their gifts of time and talent with these Chinese students—students eager to absorb all they can from these visitors from the West.

We are staging a “Xialing ying,” a summer culture camp, for over 1,300 schoolchildren in this rural village. (Mind you, this is China, and this “village” has a population of about 274,000.) It is the first time that this school, or the town for that matter, has ever seen such a large contingent of foreigners. The students in the primary school have never seen a Westerner, except on TV. They stare at those of us with red hair, blue eyes, or black skin. Where do these strangers come from, this place called Yale?

The high school students are accustomed to the four Yale-China fellows who each spend two years teaching English in this remote area. The Yale-China Association has been sending young graduates as teaching fellows to China for 100 years, but this is the first time they have sent so many alumni of all ages to one location at one time.

Our alumni volunteers are teaching whatever they choose to teach, whatever passion, skill, or talent they wish to share with our Chinese hosts. We are teaching English, singing, collage, photography, filmmaking, painting, drama, drawing, yoga, dancing, quilting—the list is nearly endless. By the time our “camp” ends in a week, we will have taught 780 classes. In addition to these classes, we are coaching sports for would-be professional athletes, teaching business skills to would-be entrepreneurs, directing a musical with would-be Broadway stars. Our volunteer doctors are shadowing Chinese doctors in the local hospital, sharing wisdom and skills from home.

We are expanding horizons.

And we are doing this in the name of Yale, as part of an alumni association trying to make good on the promise that alumni can not only give to Yale, but they can also give for Yale, on behalf of Yale. Yale is recognized in China as a force for change in scientific, technological, and scholarly advancement. But we can also be a force for community service: leaders in giving back to society. The Chinese keep asking us, “Who pays for these teachers to come to China, and why would they?” But what better teachers does Yale have than the alumni—who understand why it is important that we “give back” for the common good?

It’s also magic that these alumni volunteers—some of them classmates of yours, no doubt—are joined by 50 of their children, ages 7 to 17, who are also experiencing what it is to make a difference in someone else’s life, what it is to share their own gifts of time and talent, in this case with Chinese schoolchildren of their own age whom they are joining in these classes. Alumni parents have discovered that Yale Alumni Service Corps trips are an incredible way to teach—to have their children experience firsthand—the joy of giving.

This is the new Association of Yale Alumni: alumni who are dedicated to the proposition that as a Yale family we can change lives, we are accountable for the gifts we received at a place called Yale, and we are willing to share these gifts with the rest of the world.

Come join us and share your gifts.


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