New challenges

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 was 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 Challenges

HCE’s mentoring program sounds pretty simple. Mentors give children a multilingual, cross-cultural learning experience for 20-30 hours a week. Working with children comes naturally to some, but as a STEM graduate with no teaching background, I struggled at first. How do you handle 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 to backpack through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. 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 my six months 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 club 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 connections you make in China will surprise you. From the the crazy Dutch dude who “borrowed” my shirt at a hostel and disappeared the next day to 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 contact me 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. I never would’ve imagined that I’d miss it so much. 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 home means to me. It means means shady taco trucks on the corner, and 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 that out.

What Are You Waiting For?

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 there won’t be hard at times—living in China can be challenging. But I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything. I’ve gained so much since coming to China 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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