New challenge

by Ian Stewart - HCE Mentor

I’m Ian, a recent graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno. I studied hard in college, cranking out my chemical engineering coursework and doing tons of extracurricular activities. These were the defining years of my life, but I couldn't help feeling mentally and emotionally drained after graduating. That's why instead of going straight into a career, I spent a gap year in China with one of HCE's families. Here's why I think you should too.

New Challenge

HCE’s mentoring program sounds pretty simple. Mentors provide children with a multilingual, cross-cultural learning experience for 20-30 hours a week. Working with children comes naturally to some people, but as a STEM graduate with no teaching background, I struggled at first. How do you deal with misbehavior? How do you teach something that doesn’t click? What’s the best teaching environment? None of it made sense to me—and I absolutely loved it! Each day brought a new challenge. The lessons I learned broadened my understanding and prepared me for the working world.

Exciting Travel

Southeast Asia is a popular destination for a reason. People take months off from work and school to backpack through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. As it turns out, China is a fantastic home base for traveling through Asia. I worked out a contract with my host family that let me travel for a month and a half out of the six months I spent in China. After spending Chinese New Year in the hospital for food poisoning (I got better!), I visited Beijing and the Great Wall. I hiked through beautiful trails in Chengdu with engineering students on a study abroad program, and partied each night in Shanghai at a different nightclub with people from all over. I got scammed in Bangkok, rode motorbikes through northern Thailand, and rang in the New Year at one of the world's biggest beach parties. Traveling adds flavor to life, and the HCE program helps you get moving. 

Unforgettable Friendships

The memories and connections you'll make in China will surprise you. From the the crazy Dutch dude who borrowed my shirt at a hostel and disappeared the next day or the girl working in finance who asked me to strip for a bachelorette party, I left China with amazing stories and friendships. My host family’s 50+ year-old driver couldn’t speak English, but called me his 朋友 (péngyou: “friend”), and promised to call when he came to California. I hung out with another graduate from my university so often that we’re definitely going to be groomsmen at each other's weddings. And then there’s my host family! Tina, Victoria, and Victor are like family to me now, and we've made plans to visit Disneyland later this summer after I move back to America. There’s a whole world of lifelong friends and crazy experiences awaiting you on the HCE program.

China is wonderful, and my new love of hot pot basically guarantees that I’ll be back once a year.

Time to Reflect

After college, I felt committed to the career path that I’d planned. But it didn’t feel like something I could do for the rest of my life. So, I took a break from "the real world." I came to China and let my mind wander. I worked on the projects I found interesting. I took a vacation for the first time in years without even thinking about work. It paid off immensely. During my last few months in China, I spoke with old contacts and made a new plan. I sent off applications for exciting positions. I interviewed with different companies and had my choice of multiple job offers. Now, I'm returning to America with a great career in store, and I'm amazed with how well things have turned out.

New Appreciation for Home

I come from Las Vegas, Nevada, and I went to school in Reno. Growing up, I was surrounded by sparkling casinos and sleepless cities. To be honest, I never would’ve imagined that I’d miss it so much. Don't get me wrong: China is wonderful, and my new love of hot pot basically guarantees that I’ll be back once a year. But being away from home helped me realize what I home means to me. To me, it means means shady taco trucks on the corner. It means three-hour drives through the desert to clear my head. It means a place where I’m available for my family if they need me. And all it took was a six-month trip to the other side of the world for me to figure it out. The value of the experiences, lessons and friendships you’ll get from traveling and mentoring with the HCE program is beyond measurement. That’s not to say it’s won’t be hard at times—from my experience, living in China can be challenging. But I wouldn't have traded my time here for anything. I've gained so much since coming here back in September, and I'm confident that you will too if you take the plunge. Feel free to reach out to me at if you have any questions! I look forward to sharing more of my experiences with you, and hope I can help you along your own journey with HCE.

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