September 3 2008
When Indiana State University sophomore Erin Braun traveled to rural China to teach young children, she ended up learning a few things about herself in the process.
"What I gained internally was much more than what I had come to give," Braun said. "It was those moments of sharing with people a half a world away that opened my mind and brought me clarity about how I should live my life. If I can be half as selfless as the people I met, I will have done more in my life than I ever thought."
A double major in social work and business management with a minor in psychology, Braun spent two months in China with 16 other students from around the U.S. through the International Student Exchange Program. The first part of the program was dedicated to learning Chinese at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The latter half was spent teaching English to children in Liupanshui in Guizhou Province, an underdeveloped and relatively poor region in southwestern China.
"We worked on touching lives, making friends, helping with goal setting and just trying to inspire the students who had difficult lives," Braun said.
Many of the students Braun taught had never been out of their poverty-stricken villages.
"It was hard to look into their brilliant faces and realize that most of them would never continue their education beyond sixth grade because their poor families had limited financial means and needed the children to work on their farms," Braun said.
Braun, a Newburgh native and graduate of Castle High School, knew she wanted to study in a foreign country since coming to ISU as a freshman. She decided on the rural China program because of its service-learning component.
"I thought it would be a great opportunity to study abroad and also volunteer instead of just being a tourist," she said.
Yet fully immersing herself in the Chinese culture and the lives of the country's people was not without challenges.
"In rural China there was just a lack of comforts of home," she said. "There was a lot of culture shock."
Braun is a vegetarian, which presented a unique set of problems when it came to sampling the local cuisine. Even with a diet consisting mainly of vegetables and rice, Braun quickly discovered that authentic Chinese food was "much better than our American version."
"I got pretty competent in using chopsticks," she said.
The American students stayed in dorm-style rooms and mattresses were a luxury not afforded to everyone. Sometimes the electricity would go off for hours at a time, leaving the students to teach the children by candlelight.
"I definitely gained an appreciation for modern conveniences while in rural China," Braun said.
Braun, the daughter of Randy and Judy Braun of Newburgh, won't soon forget her experiences abroad and the native people who affected her life so profoundly. The trip helped further her passion for the career she is planning after graduation-- coordinating international adoptions.
"International adoption is something I've been interested in for a long time and my trip to China just confirmed that this was a career I want to pursue," she said.
Writer: Emily Taylor, assistant director of media relations, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo and cutline: Erin Braun poses for a picture while visiting the Great Wall of China. The ISU sophomore spent the summer teaching English to children in rural parts of the country.
Erin Braun, a sophomore at Indiana State University, gained a new perspective on life after spending the summer teaching English to children in rural China.