For one student at Miss Porter’s School in the United States, writing is a way to tell the world about education in China.
News Decoder: Hello, I’m Marcy Burstiner, the educational news director for News Decoder. I’m going to be talking to Luna Lee, who wrote a story for News Decoder titled, “I will not let the kids of ‘Forgotten Schools’ be forgotten.”
It is about children in rural China who must endure real hardships for the opportunity to attend school. Luna is currently a student at Miss Porter’s School in the state of Connecticut in the U.S., which is a partner school to News Decoder. She spoke to us about her experience getting published, about the organization her parents run that helps these forgotten schools and about what it is like to travel between cultures.
Luna, welcome to News Decoder. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Luna Lee: I was born in Shanghai. I’m Taiwanese-Japanese, but I’ve lived in Taiwan for my whole life. But before that I did live in China for seven years, but I kind of grew up in Taiwan. Most of my family was there. I went to an American school. So that’s where I learned English, and I learned how to write there. And we did go to Japan to visit my mom’s side of the family.
‘I can’t sum myself up in one word.’
News Decoder: Is it easy for you to go from one culture to another culture?
Luna Lee: Yeah, actually I feel like the difference in cultures — it’s kind of hard for me because sometimes I mix up my languages, or sometimes I don’t know if things make sense for other people.
And I feel when someone asks me, “Where are you from?”, I have to think about it because sometimes I don’t know what to respond, because I feel like I can’t really sum myself up in one word or a location. Because like I always say, “Oh, I’m Taiwanese-Japanese, but I live in Taiwan.” And then I start to go on and on about where I’m from, or how I came to be this way.
News Decoder: Do you think that people in general who you meet, they want you to be more simple?
Luna Lee: I feel like they don’t really mind, but I feel sometimes I find myself thinking, “Oh, I wish I was more simple.” But then when I think about it more, I’m like —“Oh actually I’m happy to be like this.” Because I really like seeing the contrast of cultures or how people do things differently.
There are weird things in all cultures.
News Decoder: What was the most surprising thing you found when you came to the United States?
Luna Lee: It was a really small thing like — “Oh, like why do you guys have this food?” Or I thought things were weird. But then I thought about it and it was like — it wasn’t weird. Because I feel like my cultures, they have their own little weird things.
News Decoder: What was one thing you thought was weird?
Luna Lee: In America? Okay, so I went with my friends to this carnival and then, there’s fried butter or sticks of butter in the fire, and I thought that was really weird. I remember I took a photo of it, and I sent it to my friends back in Taiwan.
Then I thought about Taiwan and their food. And I was like, “That’s not weird at all.” Because in Taiwan, there’s other, really weird food. So I was like, fried butter isn’t that absurd.
News Decoder: It’s a bit absurd. The story about the “forgotten schools,” was that your experience when you lived in China?
Luna Lee: It started before I was born, and it’s still going on because of my parents.
News Decoder: So do you go back there and spend time with them helping them out on that?
Luna Lee: So usually we go like once or twice a year to help them out. But then because of COVID we couldn’t get volunteers to go all the way to China because of quarantine restrictions. So it’s been harder, and right now we’re only donating money and supplies. But we’re hoping to get back actually going there and helping out the schools. We normally help out two locations in the mountain area of China. It snows there, it hails there, and it’s not really suitable for schools. So that’s why we decided to help out there.
News Decoder: Is that near Shanghai?
Luna Lee: We had warehouses in Shanghai, and we collected supplies like toys and like clothes and stuff. And then we brought it all the way to the locations.
News Decoder: And how did you do that? Did you fly?
Luna Lee: I’m actually not sure what we did with the boxes, but the volunteers — we all flew together. And then we stayed in small hotels there.
You value education when people don’t want you to have it.
News Decoder: Why did you choose that to write about?
Luna Lee: I felt like I had a lot to say about it. And I could really elaborate on why I thought it was important. The real part of the story wasn’t to show off about the organization or its accomplishments, but it was really to spread awareness about education and how we can support students.
News Decoder: What do you think about the difference in education with what you experienced through your parents organization in China, the school you went to in Taiwan and the school you’re at now?
Luna Lee: I feel it’s really hard to compare — the schools I went to and the schools we visited. Because they’re really different. And I feel the students in the [forgotten] schools are what really changed the school environment. They were really determined. They were never sad about going to classes because they’re the ones who wanted to go to classes themselves. And then I feel the students in my old school — everyone really didn’t look forward to school as much. They would always be like, “Oh, I just don’t want to go to school,” or “I just want to go home.”
And I feel that’s really different because the students we visited, they were actually encouraged to stay home because they had to like raise, help out with their families or their parents’ job. I feel it’s really different. But then they wanted to get an education.
News Decoder: Do you think that is because it was hard for them to get an education that they wanted the education? Do you think that the students you’ve gone to school with don’t appreciate it because it is easy?
Luna Lee: I’m not necessarily saying that. But I feel it does play a part in what’s happening. The schools we visited, I actually did ask a couple of students, “Why do you want to go to the school?” or “Why would you not, why wouldn’t you stay home?”
They would tell me that they wanted to go because of how much they wanted to learn and how they wanted to change. So they didn’t want to stay home and do what their parents wanted them to do. They wanted to go out, go to school, and find a way to get out of there. And I feel the school I used to go to, everyone really took advantage of their easy access to education. And maybe that made them not want it more.
I remember talking to a couple of students in the forgotten schools. And they told me, “Oh, what’s your school like?” and at the time I didn’t — I felt like I didn’t want to tell them because I didn’t want them to feel bad. But then I realised that they were just curious. They wanted to know what it was like. And then after I told them they said, “Oh, that sounds really good. Like I want to go there.” And then I feel that made me sad but it made me happy that they were determined enough to go to that school.
News Decoder: What made you sad?
Luna Lee:I feel there they were people — students who really wanted an education and then seeing other people with really easy access to it made me really sad — to see that they weren’t given the same opportunities.
News Decoder: What’s your next step?
Luna Lee: I just want to keep spreading the word or try to get as much as help as possible because the quarantine restrictions are still really rough. So I feel after it gets dropped, hopefully we can continue doing what we used to do instead of just shipping things there.
Writing is a way to share stories.
News Decoder: How did you get involved with News Decoder?
Luna Lee: I actually got an email from the school — one of the students at school saying there was a thing with News Decoder. And I thought it was really interesting. I thought I might as well try and write something and then send it in to see where it goes. Because I thought I really wanted my story to get shared. It can kind of get people’s attention. And I just want to help out and spread awareness.
I’ve always liked writing. I feel like it was a way for me to express myself or to share stories, without having to think about it really hard. Because writing always came naturally to me. And I feel like it was an easy way to just talk about my feelings.
News Decoder: When you pitched the story to News Decoder, did you just send the story in or did you go through our pitching process?
Luna Lee: At first I was really hesitant about sending my story in. So I kind of looked at the website and I saw what type of stories were there and I was scared at first. Because all of them were really big and there’s a lot to think about. And I was like, “Oh how am I supposed to compare myself to this?”
News Decoder: What was your first response from News Decoder?
Luna Lee: Oh, so first I received an email about — thank you for submitting this story. After I realised that it was getting published, I felt it wasn’t real. But when it actually did — it wasn’t until I saw the link, and I was like,“Oh, this is like real.” I looked at my article on the website, and I was really proud. And I think I cried a little.
My parents were really proud because they didn’t know I was doing that. When they saw that I was writing about their organization, they’re really proud.
News Decoder: Other students that you go to school with, would you encourage them to do the same thing, to write stories?
Luna Lee: I think it’s a really good way for them to express themselves and show themselves through writing or shine a light on what they think is important.
News Decoder: Do you think it’s important for young people like yourself to put their voice out through an article, through journalism?
Luna Lee: I feel people can express themselves through many different ways, but I feel like journalism is a really good way and I would definitely encourage them to do so.
News Decoder: Have you taken journalism classes?
Luna Lee: I never took courses or classes. But I just kind of learned by myself. But in December, I am taking a course about journalism, so I’m really excited for that.
News Decoder: Well, thank you very much. Hopefully you’ll be writing for us again.
Luna Lee: Hope so. too.
Three questions to consider:
- What does it mean to “travel between cultures”?
- What did Luna find was a big difference between the students she met at the “forgotten schools” in China and the students she went to school with in Taiwan?
- In your community, how does education differ from one school to another?
Marcy Burstiner is the Educational News Director for News Decoder. She is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and has taught journalism for more than 15 years at the California Polytechnic University, Humboldt. She is the author of the textbook Investigative Reporting: From premise to publication.