Nov 23, 2016

My Story - From Xiaojie, A SOAR Alumna

Xiaojie with her teacher and classmates in school
Xiaojie with her teacher and classmates in school

I have many stories about SOAR, especially the story of how destiny led me to SOAR. Before SOAR came into my life, I was a middle school dropout.  I was thirteen years old, and like many other children in my village, I was busy working in the field day and night.  One day, in tears, I wrote a note in my crooked handwriting “Teacher, I want to go to school, please help me!”  I asked my friend to take it to my elementary school teacher.  

Why did I send such a message?  This goes back to my childhood.  When I was three, my father (who I later learned that was actually my adopted father) and my 13-year-old brother encountered a terrible storm when they were herding cattle in the mountains.  I heard that my brother’s digital watch caused both of them to get hit by lightning and die.  My adopted mother took me to live with  the third  of her seven daughters.   My adopted sister had two kids, and she also had to support her in-laws.  When I was nine years old, my adopted mother died of a stroke all of a sudden and left me all alone in the world.  Her death was a big blow to me, and caused me to become increasingly silent.  I was constantly afraid, and I had frequent red-eye diseases  from crying too much.  Fortunately I had a very kind adopted sister, who started taking care of me like a mother.  It was not unusual that kids from poor families quit school to help out in the field.  My adopted brother-in-law a farmer, was a straightforward person.  He told me not to go to school any more but stay at home to help the grownups with the farm work.  I quietly listened to him and agreed.  

It was the week in June that the entrance exams to middle school were going on, but I had to work in the field with the grownups.  Maybe luck started favoring me from that day on.  It  suddenly began to rain in the morning, so we couldn’t go to the field to work.  I confided in my adopted sister that I wanted to take the entrance exams.  My sister sent me off with a packet of Ramen noodles. I took the exams and got top scores.  However on the first day of middle school, I did not attend.  China had just rolled out the nine-year compulsory education policy.  Officials from the school district started to visit rural families whose kids didn’t go to middle school.  Due to my orphan status, my address had been registered with my adopted sister’s old address, the school officials couldn’t find me.  But because of that hand-written note sent from me, my elementary school teacher from fifth grade took the school district officials to my house and tried to convince my family to let me go to middle school.  My adopted brother-in-law agreed to it, but just couldn’t afford it.  I postponed my registration. That autumn, my elementary school teacher brought me the good news that the I was selected to receive financial support from the SOAR Foundation.

When I received the letter and 680 Yuan (about $100) from SOAR, I finally could return to school to continue my study.  I was like a fish returning to water saved by SOAR.

I am not an extremely  smart kid, but I loved learning, because I knew that was the only way to improve my life.  I didn’t have grand goals. I just wanted to leave the village I lived in, where we didn’t even have a major street.  I remember dreaming about opening a big supermarket in town one day, and it would have a lot of green vegetables, as we didn’t have many green vegetables, let alone fresh fruits.  We barely had enough to eat to survive at the time.

I didn’t do well in the high school entrance exams so I didn’t get admitted into a top high school.  My brother-in-law thought there was no point to continue my study if I didn’t go to a good high school, so once again I was prepared to quit.  That was when I received a letter from my SOAR mentor, Ms. Cui, who shared with me her personal stories to encourage me to keep up with my study.  I became more determined, and I mustered up enough courage to negotiate with my brother-in-law for the first time.  I cried to him, “As long as you agreed to let me go to high school, I won’t spend a penny of yours.  Although I cannot help you work in the field to make money, when I come back to visit you in the future, I’ll definitely bring you more than just a few bags of milk powder!” (His daughter only had up to 5th grade education, and when she came home to visit after she was married, she would only bring some milk powder.)  My brother-in-law was moved and agreed.  I went back to high school.  I got excellent grades in high school, so school gave me financial support.  It spared me any additional charge outside the 2,040 Yuan (about $400) that the SOAR Foundation was giving me.  In 2006 I got admitted into North China Electric Power University in Beijing.  I took train for the first time and travelled to Beijing to begin my four-year college life.  After I graduated in 2010, I switched jobs a few times until I settled down as an accountant in the Chia Tai Group. When I was Beijing, the person I was the most thankful to was Ms. Kejia Zhu.  She was both my mentor and my good friend.  She gave me advice on all aspects of my life including my dating and career life.  

I settled down in Beijing when I got married in 2012.  After I had my first child, I quit my job, and now I am a stay-at-home mom, welcoming a second child soon.  Despite these plain words that I type on my computer, this is my real life experience that I lived through.  I’m very grateful for everything I have, and my rich life experience is a great asset to me.  

I feel the love from all around me, therefore I give back endless love to the world.  Even though I found out after I got married that my biological parents were still alive, living in a remote village with their four daughters, and even though I found out that I was the result of their unfair preference for a son over a daughter,  all this no longer really affected how I felt.  When people asked me if I hated my biological parents for deserting me, I honestly don’t hate them at all.  Perhaps it’s because I had received so much love from others in my life. I always remembered how my adopted sister took good care of me.  I was grateful that my brother-in-law took me in.  I was especially grateful to my parents for adopting me despite the fact that they already had many children of their own. Maybe they didn’t have the heart to see me abandoned at just three days old. I’m grateful to my kind teachers.  I’m grateful to SOAR for finding me in such a remote village, and helping me return to school.  I’m grateful for meeting my husband in college, where he noticed me, a very   thin girl who  was always the last one to the cafe and always only buying a bowl of fried rice and some pickles.  It was he who helped me eat better and live a more exciting life in college.  I’m extremely grateful for my lovely daughter and the happy family life she brought me.  I’ve received so much love in my life that I don’t feel a shred of hatred.  With ease I will accept whatever cards life deals me, but I will not allow fate to dictate my path.  We cannot choose what life we are born into, but we can choose how we want to live our life!

Ever since destiny brought SOAR to my life, I have been extremely lucky.  I believe that all the other children SOAR helps will also be equally lucky if they stay their course and work hard for a better life.  Lucky stars will favor all of you, and SOAR will bring you good fortune.  Come on, you can do it, my little brothers and sisters!

Xiaojie and her family in Beijing, 2015
Xiaojie and her family in Beijing, 2015
Aug 23, 2016

A Lucky Man from Johns Hopkins University

Han in his Lab at Johns Hopkins University
Han in his Lab at Johns Hopkins University

From our archive, the following is an excerpt from the Key Note Speech delivered to the 18th Annual SOAR Foundation Annual Fundraising Luncheon by Han, a former recipient of SOAR Scholarships.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the SOAR Educational Foundation, Good afternoon!

I am Han, currently a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University, and previously a recipient of SOAR scholarships for many years. I am very pleased and extremely honored to be invited to speak to the SOAR Foundation 18th Annual Fundraising Luncheon. First of all, please allow me, on behalf of more than 8000 SOAR scholars in rural China, to offer our sincere thanks! A huge Thank You for your generosity!

I have always considered myself a very lucky man: not only lucky in my academic endeavors and life experiences but also fortunate to have met many great people. Today I want to share with you some of the greatest luck brought to me by SOAR.

I was born in an ordinary rural household. My family completely relied on my parents’ hard labors, so we were never rich. But in my childhood at least it was possible to eat, wear clothes, and go to school, so I have happy memories of my early life.  But all that changed in 1998 after an epic flood struck much of Southern China, with my hometown in Jiangxi Province near Gan River the hardest hit. Almost all the houses and farmland were flooded overnight, instantly putting my family into deep troubles. In our desperation, I was lucky enough to have found SOAR. For the first time, SOAR was offering scholarships in our village, but with only one available scholarship for that year. So when my teacher told me that our school had recommended me to apply for that scholarship, I got so excited that I actually jumped up and down in my teachers' office, and then ran straight home and told my parents the good news. This was SOAR bringing my first good luck – I did not need to drop out of school despite the flood disaster.

SOAR appointed a very experienced teacher and school administer Mr. Xu as the Scholarship Nominator for our region, who became the second good luck bought to me by SOAR. Mr. Xu is a serious task master who held me to the highest standard: every year when preparing my SOAR scholarship application, he did not allow any errors, not even a typo or an incorrect punctuation. So it was very tense every year during the application season. We must edit the draft many times before I could fill out the official forms; often I needed to write as many as ten drafts of my autobiography to be satisfied.  Because of this process, at the time I had mixed feelings about these practices: happy for the scholarship but also afraid of staying up late to prepare the material.  In retrospect, I am very grateful for this experience, because it helped me to slowly develop a healthy and rigorous study habit, so that I rarely made careless mistakes when writing or doing math problems – it is "a blessing in disguise" indeed.

Mr. Xu also kept my long term interests in mind and mentored me academically throughout middle and high school. In 7th grade, he suggested to my parents to transfer me from a local rural middle school to an advanced middle school in the county, because he felt that the rural school was not challenging enough.  In the big county town I started my independent life.  The transition was very difficult at first, I suffered from low self-esteem, barely able to speak a word during the opening day and filled my notebook with random thoughts.  But I was very motivated. I knew I could not compare to my classmates in many ways, but I could strive for academic excellence through learning and hard work.  I was also motivated for another reason: I had to pay a significant transfer fee each semester which would be wavered if I ranked within the top five of the whole class.  Knowing this, I took advantage of the challenging curriculum and worked very hard.  Fortunately, my efforts paid off. At the end of the first term, I took the top rank of my class and my teachers and peers were very surprised, and frankly so was I. From then on, I regained my confidence and was successfully admitted into the best high school of our region. So I am very grateful to Mr. Xu for opening up another world for me.

I was admitted to Beijing University after the college entrance examination, and my family was thrilled.  I learned from Mr. Xu there is a SOAR alumni association in Beijing, and attended an orientation session there two months into my freshman year.  At that orientation I met several SOAR board members visiting from the US, many SOAR alumni, and engaged in many lively conversations. When President Zhang asked about my future plans beyond college, I was stunned, because honestly I was still basking in the afterglow of being admitted to Beijing University that I had not given much thoughts to that question.  At the time I was enrolled in an eight-year program in “Basic Medical Sciences,” which awards a Bachelor, a Master and a PhD at the end of the eight years.  President Zhang’s question prompted me to reexamine my interests and priorities.  I consulted with many seniors and professors and asked many questions about the career paths after graduation, and how to equip myself during college and so on.  After two years of exploration, I identified my true interests, and slowly started to put together my career blueprint. I have strong interests in basic research, so I knew I wanted to take the academic route.  But to reach my goal, I needed to apply for a US program which led the world in basic medical research.  However, in order to do this, I had to drop out of the program at Beijing University which virtually guaranteed a PhD degree at the end.  To be honest, this was a very risky decision, because I was uncertain if I would be admitted to a good PhD program in the US.  If my applications failed, I could not return to Beijing University either.  As a man without a plan B, I kept myself very busy during my undergraduate years, learning, research, student activities, doing the best job I could for every aspect of my application process to the graduate schools in the US.  Finally, I got an offer from my dream school Johns Hopkins University!  I think this is yet another opportunity of good luck that SOAR gave me.  If it were not for the meeting with President Zhang during my SOAR orientation in freshman year, maybe I would still be in Beijing continuing the eight-year program.

Coming to the United States brought me closer to SOAR, and gave me the opportunity to share my story with the large SOAR community today. So once again I felt very lucky indeed!

This year is SOAR’s 18th anniversary. In the past 18 years, SOAR has bought steady streams of good luck to many students in rural China, and I am a living proof of it.  Without SOAR scholarships all those years ago, I could not imagine I would be pursuing my PhD in Medicine in the US.  SOAR’s is a very worthy cause which provides opportunities for the underprivileged and deserving students and exerts profound impacts on our lives beyond any measurements.

SOAR brought me great luck and I'm very grateful, and it is time for me to give back to SOAR. I would like to join the SOAR family, take over the baton, follow the SOAR tradition, carry forward the mission of SOAR, and bring the great fortune from SOAR to many more deserving peers in rural China!

Once again, thank you!   Thank you, SOAR, for making me a lucky man!

Han with His High School Classmates
Han with His High School Classmates
Han's Nominator to SOAR, Mr. Xu
Han's Nominator to SOAR, Mr. Xu
May 26, 2016

A Letter from China

Felix, aged 11, with his older brother
Felix, aged 11, with his older brother

On the eve of SOAR Foundation's 2016 Annual Fundraising Luncheon, the Foundation received a letter from Felix, who was among the few lucky students who have received the first SOAR scholarships in 1996.   What has been the impact of SOAR scholarships on Felix's life, who is now a 30-year old business owner in China?  Let us hear Felix's story, in his own words:

"Dear Sir or Madam,

This is Felix writing.

First, I would like to make a brief introduction of myself. I used to be one of the students supported by SOAR Foundation’s scholarships. For eight years I got a scholarship from SOAR every year from 1996, when I was 11 years old, to 2002, when I was admitted to college with a number one ranking in my county.

My hometown is in Northwest China, Gansu province, one of the undeveloped areas in China. I was born as the middle child in a poor rural family with three children. My older brother (pictured with me) was also academically excellent but never went to college because my family could not afford it. I was lucky to become the first group of students to get SOAR's scholarships starting from middle school, and my life has been totally changed because of that!

Now thirty years old, I am running a solar company as one of the partners in Guangzhou, the third biggest city in southern China. Our main business is solar lighting products exporting to developing countries, to brighten up the lives of the people who are still living in darkness, without electricity. I have also established my own young family here in the city.

Sometime, I would imagine what life would be like for me if I have not gotten those SOAR's Scholarships. Perhaps, I would still be working in the field back home, or maybe I would have become a worker on an assembly line. SOAR scholarships provided me with the opportunities to finish high school and go to college. The foundation also provided mentoring along the way on my journey. I have been keeping touch with Ms. Julia for 20 years, and she is my mentor from the SOAR Foundation.

With this letter, I would like to get reconnected with the SOAR Foundation. Although I am only at the beginning of my own business, and am still working for a better life for my own family, I want to become one of those benefited from the SOAR Foundation Scholarships to give back the gift of education to another talented kid in need, and I am hereby making a pledge to support one high school student. In fact, not only me, we have a big circle of friends, many of them are quite interested in my story as a student getting supports from the SOAR Foundation, and want to see what we can do to help on the platform of the SOAR Foundation.

Above all, please kindly reply with instructions on how we could help. For your convenience, I have provided my contact information. Please let me know if there is something more we can do to help. Thanks!

Sincerely,
Felix"

Over the past 21 years, SOAR Foundation's scholarships helped more than 8000 students just like Felix. 

 
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