Cultural Connections

More than 125 years ago, Horace Dutton Taft wrote, "A great advantage of boarding school is that it gives opportunities for students to get out of themselves. They must work for others." It is an understanding that lies at the heart of the Taft School motto—Not to be served, but to serve—and one which Khai Shulman ’23 has fully embraced.

“Service work is something I try to incorporate into my life on a regular basis,” explains Khai. “Through the service work, I am able to gain real experience and broaden my outlook and view of the world, which is not something that can be done through a textbook. It also allows me to introspectively examine my own biases and work towards a leadership mindset.”

Over the summer and with support from a Meg Page’74 Fellowship, Khai traveled to Vietnam’s Hue province, where he spent three weeks in the township of Thuy Bang working with children in the Duc Son Orphanage. Founded by Buddhist nuns 35 years ago, Duc Son is now home to nearly two hundred children who range in age from newborn to 18. Through a family friend, Khai learned that the nuns were eager to welcome older, school-aged volunteers, particularly those who identified as male. For Khai, the opportunity seemed like a perfect fit.

“I wanted to share insights of American culture and expose the kids to multiple perspectives while increasing my own understanding of my multi-cultural upbringing,” notes Khai, whose mother is a Vietnamese-American refugee. “Overall, I hoped to serve as a positive role model for both the boys and girls, and build a lasting relationship with the orphanage.”

Working with groups as small as ten and as large as 40, Khai prepared daily English language lessons for the children, taught them Western games, and offered swimming lessons.

“I would create structured English lessons for the kids; in return, they would teach me words and phrases in Vietnamese. After a period of studying each morning, we would then transition over to indoor games, where we both practiced new-found language skills,” says Khai. “The nuns explained to me that it was essential for the children to take a long midday rest. While they rested, I would explore the city of Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, and pick up materials that the orphanage lacked. The afternoons were filled with additional English lessons, field sports, and swimming lessons. In all of our activities, I encouraged the children to be confident and curious, and to take on leadership roles. The experience made me realize that there are so many future leaders in the world, who just need the platform and resources to become successful. I plan to stay in touch with the orphanage via zoom and to possibly create an annual Taft trip to volunteer at the Duc Son Orphanage. The work at Duc Son would benefit both Taft students and the orphans, by exposing both groups to new ideas and perspectives while embracing Taft’s motto. The trip is life-altering, as one is exposed to non-western philosophies of thought (working in a Buddhist Orphanage in Vietnam), while working with remarkable children.”

To honor her commitment to compassionate health care, the Meg Page’74 fellowship is awarded annually to students who wish to explore an experience or course of study devoted to the provision of better health care in areas such as public health, family planning, medical research, mental health, and non-Western practices of healing.