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!


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

Feb 22, 2016

Meet Duo Liu, a Former SOAR Foundation Scholar

Duo's student ID in College
Duo's student ID in College

After both of Duo’s parents passed away in his early childhood, he was raised by his Grandfather. His older brother dropped out of middle school to support the family, and Duo was dangerously close to doing the same when he was awarded his first SOAR scholarship in sixth grade. SOAR continued to support him with scholarships and a mentor throughout all six years of his middle and high school careers. He matriculated to college in Chongqing, and graduated with a BA in International business in 2010. Currently, he works as a Client Service Executive in the green energy industry in Shanghai.

And fifteen years after receiving his first scholarship, Duo Liu is giving back to SOAR. Duo says he donates to SOAR in order "to support other kids to stay in School just as other SOAR donors supported me all those years ago!”

Duo Liu's story is the best testimony to SOAR's mission: helping bright students in rural China stay in school so they can achieve their dreams, reach their full potential, and give back to the community.

As a donor, you can support SOAR in our mission: providing merit-based scholarships to extremely deserving but underprivileged middle and high school students in rural China. On average, we award approximately 1,000 scholarships annually so that these intelligent students can continue to attend universities, and achieve success in college and beyond.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the 36 donors who helped us exceed our goal in the 2015 Year-End Challenge by raising $3,880. 100% of your net donations have gone directly to providing scholarships. We thank you for your generosity and the life-changing impact you have made in the lives of these students.

Duo and his classmates in a high school dorm
Duo and his classmates in a high school dorm
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