Skip to main content

Enriching the lives of children through English and arts-based education

China, Zhuhai
Dates May 15 - July 13
Program Focus

Partnering with a Chinese middle school to provide arts education and English lessons with a focus on creativity, leadership development, self-discovery, and personal growth.

Curricular Connections: While all students are welcome to apply, this program may be of particular interest to students taking service-learning courses or courses generally related to education, the arts, or Chinese language/society. (See below for additional details about connecting this program to your academic work.)

Program Leaders
Service Themes
  • Arts
  • Children & Youth Services
  • Education & Literacy
  • Homestay
  • No Foreign Language Requirement

DukeEngage-Zhuhai, China Overview

The DukeEngage-Zhuhai program began in the summer of 2010 with a mission to integrate arts education into the curriculum at Zhuhai No.9 Middle School (grades 7‐9) in China. During their two months in Zhuhai, DukeEngage students will work with their community partner, Zhuhai No.9 Middle School, to deliver a diverse selection of art and enrichment courses to the students. They will encourage Chinese students to understand school as the beginning of a lifelong journey — a place in which they can expand their boundaries, push limitations, and try novel pursuits. In addition, the DukeEngage student cohort will also teach oral English classes with a focus on listening and conversational skills. During their final weeks of service, DukeEngage students are expected to organize a culminating performance during which the middle school students will display their artistic talent and perform the acts and skills they have learned in their extracurricular courses. These performances will be intermixed with performances by the DukeEngage students themselves, as well as collaborative acts with the teachers at No. 9 Middle School.

Zhuhai, a southern Chinese city located within the former Special Economic Zone, is in many ways a perfect microcosm of 21st century China — a rapidly evolving country that continues to develop and transform daily, and acts as an influential force of the globe, home to extremely talented and innovative individuals. The intense momentum of forward development has also led to the building of new schools to meet demand. Professor Ku has partnered with the Zhuhai No.9 School staff and community for nine years in recognizing the greater needs of students. Institutions and students that once focused only on tests scores have now started to appreciate the importance of the arts as well as academics.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

Students will:

  • Recognize their creative capacity and leadership potential;
  • Apply classroom learning in the real world;
  • Gain a more nuanced understanding of the self and their place in the world — a process of self-discovery which will help students prepare for life beyond Duke;
  • Gain a deeper understanding and ability to respect and work with people with different beliefs, languages and cultural backgrounds;
  • Build relationships and connect with the hearts of people who may speak little or no English;
  • Gain flexibility by working in an unconventional, self-structured environment; and
  • Improve interpersonal skills along with the ability to work together as a team.

Partnership Opportunities

All Duke students work as a team throughout the program at Zhuhai No.9 School. They generally arrive at the school by 8:30am and teach 13 English classes a week (three on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; two on Wednesdays and Fridays – subject to change) at the seventh and eighth grade levels. Each class is 45 minutes in length with approximately 10-20 students. English lessons are up to the individual’s discretion to plan and teach; students are provided with the textbook used by the middle school and may create lessons in alignment with the curriculum. However, Duke students will simply take vocabulary from the textbooks and create new and innovative class structure involving games or other hands-on learning activities. Classes can even consist of choosing a theme for discussion for the day. Lessons are focused less on teaching grammar and more on promoting conversational skills and encouraging Chinese students to speak during class. (They are generally very shy initially and will refrain from participation.) Duke students will learn much about flexibility and impromptu lesson-making as they must often adjust their plans according to the diverse levels of each class. All Duke students share one large office with air-conditioning. However, with limited classroom facilities, most English classes will be taught on the school playground outdoors. There is a long lunch break during the school day. Many Duke students choose to eat with the local school children or work on lesson plans.

Additionally, extracurricular classes are taught after academic English classes three or four classes a week for one to one and a half hours. Past program participants have offered singing, breakdancing, ballet, modern dance, hip-hop, K-pop, film-making, Chinese dance, taekwondo, Chines Yo-Yo, Raas, acting, arts, guitar, cheerleading, baseball, football, Frisbee, and journalism. Many Duke students remain at No.9 School after hours to interact with students — talking with them, spending extra time to personally tutor students who seek additional help in either English or an arts-related area, playing pickup basketball games, etc.

On teacher workdays and Saturdays, participants will engage in other activities such as service opportunities at a local orphanage or a school for children with disabilities and autism, as well as with nearby primary, middle, and high schools. All participants should expect to engage in service opportunities on Saturdays. Sundays are free.

Program Requirements

Language: Students both with and without Mandarin Chinese language skills are encouraged to apply.

Coursework: Applicants who have been taking courses related to education, arts, and service learning are strongly encouraged to apply.

Other skills: Educational experience working with youth, or ESL teaching experience, will also be helpful to participants.

Personal Qualities: Your program leader will also be looking for the following attributes among participants:

  • Passion for the Arts: creative and willing to step out of the “comfort zone;” aspiration to learn and humility to be taught; strong desire to bring energy to the program and to inspire others; resourceful and willing to go the extra mile.
  • Ability to manage stress in novel environments, embrace unconventional cultural working conditions, and calmly practice coping strategies: seeks help from teammates when overwhelmed; responds with patience and perseverance to new or unanticipated situation and obstacles.
  • Self-reliance and cultural sensitivity: understands and meets their own physical and emotional needs in new environments with a positive attitude and realism; balances personal expectations with the realities present in new cultural and workplace conditions; effectively communicates and interacts with people of different age groups and culture; demonstrates judgment-free curiosity about the lives of others.

Curricular Connections

Students might be interested in participating in any of the following courses before or after DukeEngage Zhuhai:

  • Engaged Citizens/Social Change: EDUC/CESC 201S
  • Children, Schools and Society: EDUC 243S
  • Foundation of Education: EDUC 101S
  • All levels of Chinese language courses
  • Asian American Theatre: Theater 232
  • The Art of Public Speaking: The Natural Voice: Theater 248S
  • Special Topics in Film: Theater 290
  • Acting: Theater 145S
  • All levels of dance courses
  • Modern Chinese Culture: AMES 455
  • English Writing: Introduction Creative Writing: English 110S
  • Music in East Asia: MUSIC 234

Program Details

Description of Community: China has witnessed its largest internal migration in the last 30 years. Zhuhai, a key destination for migrants and a perfect microcosm of 21st century China, has grown from a fishing village to a coastal city with a population over 1.6 million. Zhuhai No.9 Middle School was built to meet the demand of this expansion. Located in Xinxiangzhou district, a newly developed urban community, Zhuhai No.9 School is within walking distance to public transportation, restaurants, shops, and the majority of host families’ homes.

Housing and Meals: All DukeEngage students will stay in a local hotel during the first week of the program, where each student will share a room with another DukeEngage student of the same gender. After careful evaluation, the program leader will place students with local host families chosen for their proximity to the school and for students’ safety. The host family accommodation has become one of the most important cultural immersion experiences in the DukeEngage program, fostering a dynamic cultural exchange. It allows the Duke students and their Chinese hosts to share aspects of their human experience in the simplest way, despite differences in political opinion, socioeconomic status, and language. Students are not permitted to stay overnight with relatives during the two-month program unless the program leader or site coordinator gives special permission. All host families will provide a single room, internet service, hot showers, and access to laundry machines. The Zhuhai Sports Center is about 20-25 minutes walking distance, and Duke students may use the sports facilities for a fee.

Duke students will receive a meal stipend and can discuss meal arrangements with their host families or eat at nearby restaurants. They can purchase breakfast and lunch daily at the No.9 Middle School canteen. Duke students can also arrange with host families if they would like to buy groceries and cook for themselves.

Health Note: Shellfish and soy are common ingredients in the local cuisine. Ready, nearby access to treatment for travelers experiencing a severe allergic reaction to these and other food(s) may be limited at this program site. Students who are considering application to DukeEngage-Zhuhai should review these facts with their families and medical providers before applying. Once accepted, a participant with severe food allergies is expected to inform DukeEngage,, of their specific concerns and needs. The DukeEngage staff will work with participants on a safety assessment to identify reasonable accommodations and meal options.

Transportation: DukeEngage arranges transportation to and from service placements and all scheduled program activities. Students can walk to school if their host families are within walking distance; others will be given funds to take public transportation or use a taxi service to their work site. If a field-trip is organized by the Zhuhai No.9 School, transportation will be arranged by the school.  Some field trips will require students to use taxis, subway, or China’s Long-Distance Bus System, rail system, ferries, etc.

Communication: Students will be provided with a basic local cell phone for program-related and emergency communication. Students will have internet access at their hotel (week 1) as well as at the homes of their host families.

Local Safety and Security; Cultural Norms, Mores and Practices:  DukeEngage strongly advises all prospective applicants to familiarize themselves with the challenges travelers commonly encounter at this program site in order to make an informed application decision.  We recommend starting with these two resources:

Opportunities for Reflection: The program leader or the program site coordinator will lead weekly reflection sessions during the first two weeks of the program. In subsequent weeks, Duke students will take turns leading discussions related to privilege; personal goal setting; relationship to the community and team dynamics, etc. Meetings also provide a platform for the exchange and contribution of ideas, and updates on individual work. In addition to the group reflection sessions, every participant will be required to write and post weekly entries on the DukeEngage Zhuhai blog.

Other Opportunities: Each day, quiet hours are held after lunch in school from 1-2:30pm — a time during which students can read, rest, or work on their own projects. During the week, students will have two or three group commitments in the evenings, generally from 6:30-9pm. There will be down time on other evenings and each Sunday. However, past participants have embraced the cultural norms and hospitality of their Chinese hosts and often joined their host families for activities on Sundays. No student is allowed to travel beyond Zhuhai City proper at any time, except with program-led activities. Open water swimming is not a sponsored activity in any DukeEngage program.

More Information

Documentary films and blogs from past DukeEngage-Zhuhai participants:

Blogs and websites:

Documentary films about China today:

Chinese feature films:

“Mao’s Last Dancer”

“To Live” by Zhang Yimou

“The Road Home”

“Shower” by Zhang Yang

Book about arts: 

The Arts of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Benjamin Zander

Books about contemporary China:

  • Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory – Peter Hessler
  • Factory Girls – Leslie Chang
  • China in 10 Words – Yu Hua
  • Mao’s Great Famine – Frank Dikötter
  • Wild Grass – Ian Johnson
  • One Billion Customers – James McGregor

Additional books about modern to contemporary China:

  • China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power – Rob Gifford
  • China Shakes the World: a Titan’s Rise and Troubled Future – and the Challenge for America – James Kynge
  • River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze – Peter Hessler

Books about Chinese society past and present:

  • Mao’s Last Dancer – Li Cunxin
  • Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China – Jung Chan
  • Spring Moon: A Novel of China – Bette Bao Lord
  • A Daughter of Han: The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman – Ida Pruitt, as told by Ning Lao T’ai T’ai

Many DukeEngage-Zhuhai alums realize service is not a one-time experience; it is about helping others and about sacrifice and giving, which do not have an expiration date. Some of them have created new organizations upon their return, or become involved in existing organizations, such as the following:

  • Harmonies for Health is a Duke student-run nonprofit organization that provides music therapy and performances to children at the Durham Ronald McDonald House and elders at Durham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
  • Duke China Care is an independent, student-run service organization at Duke University, and a recognized China Care Club under the China Care Foundation. Our goal is to help Chinese orphans through fundraising for their needs. Cultural and mentorship activities are planned for adopted Chinese children in the local area to foster pride in, and understanding of, their birth heritage.
  • Kidznotes is a music program in Durham that aims for social changes. It provides musical lessons to students from K-12 envisioned as an educational enrichment free of charge for the local the communities particularly the children of the lowest-income families in Durham area.
  • Global Engagement Program – A Leadership Program for American Students with Global Mindset – Global Engagement Program provides students with beneficial interactions with international students and scholars at Duke, preparing them to be true global citizens. Selected students will be involved in International House program activities for a semester and receive training on cross-cultural awareness and communication as well as career and leadership development.
  • America Reads/America Counts tutoring program


Learn more about DukeEngage China from past participant & guiDE, Alexander

The guiDE program provides DukeEngage alumni a pathway to continue their commitment to service and civic engagement by providing leadership, mentorship and service opportunities that support wider DukeEngage efforts on campus and beyond.

Click here to contact Alexander

Learn more about DukeEngage China from past participant & guiDE, Andrew

The guiDE program provides DukeEngage alumni a pathway to continue their commitment to service and civic engagement by providing leadership, mentorship and service opportunities that support wider DukeEngage efforts on campus and beyond.

Click here to contact Andrew