By Xiyao Fu
Xiyao was Skillseed’s China Hands Intern and Apprentice in 2018-19.
I first learned about Skillseed at the end of my first year of college. The more I heard about it, the more fascinated I was by its vision and impact. Looking into the themed learning trips that it crafts --- from Bali to London to Hong Kong, from environmental stewardship to creative arts to micro-finance --- I was electrified: isn’t this the ideal education that I dream of?
Combining deep knowledge of the local community and the subject at hand, Skillseed turns the world into an infinitely rich classroom, students into their own teachers, and accessible skills into impactful actions.
For me, learning has never been constrained to a classroom, I have learned so much about resilience from running marathons, about empathy from volunteering with the blind, and about nature and myself from strenuous hikes in the Himalayas.
With my strong belief in experiential learning in mind, when I saw that Skillseed was hiring a “China Hands” intern, I didn’t hesitate to apply: why not use my Chinese skills and knowledge about China to help more youths travel and learn experientially?
In Skillseed, autonomy and team-spirit rule hand in hand. One of the best parts of my internship was the flexibility in terms work timing: you can start working between 8:30 and 10:30am, and leave accordingly between 4:30 and 6:30pm, plus every Thursday is remote working day for the whole office. With this sense of control over my own time, I started to ask myself: when do I work best? And later, how can I work even better? The Skillseed office is like an enchanting home -- various types of tea and snacks are ready to cheer you up, one entire wall is a chalkboard space for doodling ideas, and a bunch of cushions lie in the corner on a furry carpet.
The welcoming environment and the trust, understanding and support from my colleagues made me feel excited to go to work everyday. Most of the time we would work individually on our own projects, but each day at lunchtime we would go out as a whole team to explore food options in the vivid Jalan Besar neighbourhood, and check in with each other on work and life.
I loved how my own work at Skillseed constantly stimulated me to think, research and experiment. As the resident “China Expert” on the team, the Skillseed Directors would share with me their development plans for China, inviting me to help them find solutions through research and implementation. This process pushed me to examine the different forms of Chinese education and to think deeply about how Skillseed’s mode of education and social impact could fit into this larger picture.
As a student within the Chinese education system for the past 12 years, I found it liberating to examine this system from the viewpoint of an educator outside of China, and for its strengths and weaknesses to emerge in front of me. The work required a huge amount of research, comparison and translation, but also enabled me to combine research skills that I had trained in college with the insights about China that I had from my lived experience of growing up there. More importantly, my work contributed to making my dream education for youths real!
During our lunchtime chats, I gradually recognised that every Skillseeder shares a similar experience of working at Skillseed. Bonded by the vision of impactful, experiential education, and driven by a passion to employ our skills and talents towards what we believe in, we take advantage of the highly autonomous work environment to constantly challenge ourselves, do the best job that we can do, and accomplish our vision by working together. I guess that’s the secret of Skillseed’s success: autonomy accompanied with mutual trust and support turns a small team and young employees into an unstoppable power for social impact, as the six core principles written next to the office chalkboard say:
doing RIGHT; being PROFESSIONAL;
valuing PEOPLE; seeking GROWTH;
being PURPOSEFUL; thinking SMART
Every day at Skillseed, we were crazily busy, but I found the process of working towards these principles so fulfilling and rewarding (so rewarding that everyone refuses to go out for lunch before starving). When everyone -- no matter if they are employees, interns or volunteers -- is valued and motivated to seek meaning in their work, how can a social enterprise not be efficient and creative? When the education message of Skillseed courses is lived out by the employees themselves, how can the courses be not authentic? While the two months of my internship were fleeting, the deep sense of belonging to the Skillseed family will stick with me for a long time!