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

China, Zhuhai
Dates May 16 - July 13
Program Focus

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

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

DukeEngage-Zhuhai, China Overview

China is a rapidly evolving country that continues to develop and transform daily. The intense momentum of forward development has led to the demand for innovative approaches to bridging test-driven education with the growth of self-expression, reflection, and communication.

The mission of the DukeEngage-Zhuhai program is to integrate arts education into the curriculum at local public schools in China. In 2020, DukeEngage students will work in two different sites. Before working in urban Zhuhai, the program will begin in a rural high school in Qingxin County. The experience in Qingxin will challenge students to better understand the diversity and complexity of the society in which they are serving.

For the reminder of the program, DukeEngage students will work with middle school students at No. 9 Middle School in Zhuhai to deliver a diverse selection of art and enrichment courses. 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 cohort will teach oral English classes, with a focus on listening and conversational skills. During their final weeks of service in Zhuhai, DukeEngage students will 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.

By the summer of 2020, thousands of Chinese youth and DukeEngage students will have had a transformative educational experience through DukeEngage, in many cases continuing after the program.


Goals for Students

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

Duke students will spend their first week at Qingxin County No.1 High School, and the rest of their time at Zhuhai No.9 Middle School. Both schools are located in the Province of Guangdong, north and south of the provincial capital Guangzhou respectively.

All Duke students work as a team throughout the program. They generally arrive at school by 8:30am, and teach about 13 English classes a week (two or three per day). Each class is about 50 minutes in length, with approximately 10-20 students.

Duke students are provided with the textbook used by the school, and may create lesson plans in alignment with the curriculum. However, students may also simply take vocabulary from the textbooks to create new and innovative lessons 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 playground outdoors. There is a long lunch break during the school day. Many Duke students choose to eat with the Chinese students or work on lesson plans.

Additionally, three or four extracurricular classes are taught each week, after academic classes. Past program participants have offered singing, breakdancing, ballet, modern dance, hip-hop, K-pop, film-making, Chinese dance, taekwondo, Chinese 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: understand and meet 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

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

  • 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
  • Silk Roads and China: AMES 207
  • Dance and Dance Theater of Asia: AMES 246-01
  • T’ai Chi and Chinese Thought: AMES 246-01
  • English Writing: Introduction Creative Writing: English 110S
  • All levels of music courses


Program Details

Description of Community: China has witnessed the largest internal migration the world has ever seen in the last 30 years. Qingxin County is surrounded by farmland and located in one of the poorer mountain regions in Guangdong Province. It is behind the rest of country in both economic opportunities and education development. Zhuhai has grown from a fishing village to a coastal city with a population over 1.6 million. As a result, schools were built to meet the demand of an influx of urban denizens. School sites are within reasonable walking distance of various kind of transportation, restaurants, shops, and the majority of our host families’ homes.


Housing and Meals: All DukeEngage students will stay in a local hotel during the first few days of the program, where each student will share a room with another DukeEngage student. Then Duke students will be placed 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.

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 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. 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: Students can walk to school if their host families are within walking distance; all others will be given funds to take public transportation or use a taxi service to their work site.


Local Safety, Security, and Cultural Norms: If you have special needs related to health, cultural, or religious practices, please contact the DukeEngage office,, to discuss whether or not your needs can be reasonably accommodated in this program.

For information related to how your religion, race, sexual/gender identity, ability or other aspects of your identity might impact your travels, we recommend starting with the Diversity, Identity and Global Travel section of the DukeEngage website.

We encourage students who have questions or concerns about health or safety in international programs to check Duke’s International SOS (ISOS) portal for relevant information.


Reflection and Enrichment: Duke students will take turns leading discussions related to privilege; personal goal setting; relationship to the community and team dynamics, etc. There will be down time on most 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 permission from the program leaders.


More Information

Documentary films and blogs from past DukeEngage-Zhuhai participants:

Articles 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