For Brunswick County Early College High School student Xuan Chen, volunteering and service are a part of life.
At the 2019 Brunswick County Intercultural Festival, people lined up in front of the table with a sign that read CHINA. Xuan (pronounced Shin) Chen asked the first person in line for her name. He then dipped a pen point into an ink bottle and with a few flurries wrote Chinese characters on a strip of paper. “Your name,” he said with a smile and handed the paper to the girl.
Chen, a student at Brunswick County Early College High School (ECHS) in Bolivia, was not only in charge of the China display, but also the volunteer webmaster for the entire festival. He also recruited about 40 other students to volunteer. “I want more people my age to recognize the importance and benefits of giving back to the community,” he says.
Festival chair Mari-Lou Wong-Chong was impressed with Chen. “He did a promotional video for the festival and was coordinator of the website,” she says. “He promised me he would do it, and he did it.”
Secanda Seifred, counselor at ECHS and the school’s National Honor Society advisor, says she’s impressed with Chen’s involvement with the Intercultural Festival. “He got a lot of students to volunteer, and they were exposed to that [event],” she says. “That expanded their horizons.”
Chen, 18, says that students at ECHS are required to do 10 hours of community service each month throughout their tenure at the school. In September he starts his final year in the five-year program and volunteers as often as he can. He assists teachers in their classrooms at Belville Elementary School and belongs to six clubs at ECHS. He was elected president of both Key Club and National Honor Society for the 2019-20 school year and is active in quiz bowl, the art and international clubs, and debate.
“Participating in clubs helps gather volunteer hours,” Chen says from the library at Brunswick Community College, the home of ECHS.
Katherine Weeks, ECHS program coordinator and Key Club advisor, has high regard for Chen. “He is very responsible and mature,” she says. “He runs two major clubs, was speaker at a Kiwanis event and gets things done. He is very reliable.”
Cheryll Skaggs, principal of ECHS, says the school emphasizes 5 Rs: respect, responsibility, relationships, rigor and relevance. “Xuan exemplifies all of that,” she says. “He takes personal responsibility and develops relationships across grade levels. He never does less than his personal best and has high expectations. He looks for opportunities to create relevancy to his learning.”
Chen’s parents chose to immigrate from Fujian Province, Ningde City in China in 2009 for job and educational opportunities in America. His father accepted a position
as a chef at a Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia, and Chen, 7, entered a private Christian school. Through English as a Second Language classes and talking with his classmates, Chen became fluent in English.
Though he says the language wasn’t as difficult to master as the food. “The first day at school I had chicken nuggets,” he says. “That was okay, but after that it was an American-style hot dog.” He remembers it as salty, not sweet like in China. “I hardly ate lunch at all at school for almost a month.”
After a year, Chen’s father accepted a job at a restaurant in Charlotte. An opportunity to own Yummi Yummi restaurant in Leland brought the family to Brunswick County, and they settled in Belville. Chen’s sister, Hannah, 8, attends Belville Elementary School.
Chen says his family members are lawful residents and he hopes to become an American citizen. First, he wants to make sure he understands the questions before he takes the citizenship test. “I consider myself Americanized now, but I still have a vast knowledge about Chinese culture and Chinese history,” he says. “It’s important for me to maintain the knowledge of how to speak in proper Mandarin, especially since I want to be in business.” He says he learned Mandarin and Chinese calligraphy from social media.
Keeping his grades up is also important to Chen. His grade point average is 4.36, and he’s one of the top students in his class. He plans to attend North Carolina State University and major in business. He considers Chinese calligraphy, public speaking and writing speeches his hobbies, but he also enjoys dressing in classic men’s suits. “I used to dress up [in a suit] every day,” he says.
“He’s very dapper,” Weeks says. “He likes those suits.”
“He’s a great ambassador for the school and for young people in general,” Skaggs adds.
Chen’s dream job is to work for an international company where he can use Mandarin and English. “I want a traditional job where I can wear a suit every day.”
But whichever job he holds, volunteering will always be a part of his life.