By Shunying Wang, ’15
Behind the glory found in receiving the “Prudential Spirit of Community Awards”, it is the growing story of this international student at Pacific Lutheran University.
This is a story of Mi-Li Chi, one of the 70 international students enrolled in Fall semester this year at Pacific Lutheran University. She comes from Taiwan. People call her Emily.
As a first-year student at the age of 21, Emily found her way to college along a distinctive path. Because of her active involvement in community service, she won the “Prudential Spirit of Community Awards” when she was 18. The award is given by the largest volunteer service recognition program in the United State, which has a program in the Taiwan region, limited to the youth who are engaged in community service.
“I heard of this opportunity to volunteer in India from my friend,” Emily recalled. Her group visited Manipur Hoomi, India. To the villagers there, “technology” was a curious noun. “It was in the middle of nowhere and had no electricity and running water,” Emily said.
The volunteers’ group settled down for two weeks for the first time and returned for the same purpose the following year in spring break. The main project during their stay was to speak from church to church to collect funds for the village orphanage. Besides in India, Emily and her group also fundraised in another village in Thailand for four weeks.
“I don’t remember how much funds we have collected at the end,” she said. It seemed to Emily that the amount of money was less important compared to the social awareness her group raised.
Their act not only helped the areas in need revealed the reality the villagers lived under poor conditions to the modern society. Children in the orphanage were simply offered two meals per day: curry and rice. Adults and children could be suffering from hunger and housing in India, while we in the United States complain about other miscellaneous problems that matter the least compared to theirs. Even though the orphans only had a little, they were still happy, Emily recalled. They were happy because they appreciated the little they had.
“That should be the ultimate lesson for everyone,” she said.
After her service in India and Thailand, Emily then worked for the Taiwanese government under the youth committee, as an international volunteer advisor. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” Emily said. “It’s my favorite quote.” Her job was to expose youths to community service, broaden their knowledge about social issues, and introduce them to volunteer work. Emily acted as a competent advisor because what she had learned educated her to be one. “She was a great leader,” Jonathan Gong, one of Emily’s group member said.
In 2009, Emily won the national award from the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Her involvement and achievements became widely recognized. The idea of volunteering and engaging in community service began to appeal to the public in Taiwan as Emily earned more media attention. “I think my time spent in India made me stand out from other applicants,” Emily said. She remembered how isolated she was from the outside world before volunteering in India. “I was kind of selfish because I only cared about myself,” she said. “I had no interest in social issues.” But the volunteer opportunity enabled Emily to see the hidden world in India that had not been fully discovered. Ever since then, she started to care.
Later in 2010, Emily decided to go back to the same village in India and a different place in Thailand for longer time periods. The award Emily gained did not prevent her journey from extending further. She appeared to be prepared anytime for more mission trips.
“There is so much to learn out there rather than just sitting in the classroom,” Emily said. “The volunteer work seems like doing someone a favor, but after all of them, you will actually feel like you are the one who gains the most.” She appreciated the experience as it allowed her to view the world from different lenses.
Emily explained that her life was like many connecting dots. The rule says that we cannot jump to other dots directly without following an order or connecting the previous ones. “I enjoyed the moment when I figured out all of the sudden how things are always connected, and how one leads to another,” she smiled. “If I had never visited India and Thailand, I would have not been the same.”
The same smile appeared in every single one of her pictures, taken from different trips. It was the kind of smile that only could happen after experiencing and perceiving what others did not get to see. It was also like a symbol that represented an attitude about cherishing life.
However, entering the university is not the ending of her story.