In Taiwan, the education focuses heavily on exams and grades, and students spend 12 years of school learning rote memorization. The testing culture is so dominant that our youth often feel suffocated by the stress, and many develop depression or even commit suicide. Similar issues occur in Asian regions such as Japan, Singapore, China etc.
Students in Taiwan often feel defined by their grades, as grades and exam scores determine which college and which major they are eligible to study in. In the Taiwanese population of 23 million people, approximately 1 million are college students, and 50% of them have no idea what they want to do in the future and feel extremely lost. They don't know who they are, what they're passionate about, what career to go into and what they can do for the world. If our young people feel hopeless about the future and lack ambition and dreams to make a difference, how can they lead our world to a better future?
In order to guide youth to find their path and develop a sense of purpose, we designed a low-barrier game-based educational experience called the “Wandering Challenge”.
In the challenge, students form a team of 3 and complete 30 missions outside of their classroom in 3 weeks. These missions encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, challenge themselves emotionally and mentally, ask themselves soul-searching questions, and listen to marginalized groups to comprehend the needs in the society.
The missions are categorized into 4 dimensions to cultivate different traits and skills:
1. Self-Awareness: self-understanding, introspection and self-development
2. Adventure & Challenge: courage, grit & perseverance and problem-solving skills.
3. Connection Rebuilding: communication and interpersonal relationship skills
4. Social Participation: global citizenship, empathy and social responsibility.
We design missions to be fun and challenging, yet meaningful and reflective.
In “Self-Awareness”, we have missions like writing your own eulogy that encourage students to form a habit of introspection.
In “Adventure & Challenge”, we have missions like planning a trip with zero dollar that cultivate students’ courage to step forward in uncertainty and foster problem-solving skills when they face rejections and failures.
In “Connection Rebuilding”, we have missions like writing heart-felt letter to parents that encourage students to communicate across differences.
In “Social Participation”, we have missions like preparing a meal for the homeless and sit down with them to exchange life stories that guide students to develop empathy and critical thinking.
All of these are necessary skills to be successful in future careers, and more importantly they would lead students reflect about who they want to be in the world and what they care about, inspiring them to step toward a path of purpose.
Over the past few years, we have held over 67 challenges in 25 cities in Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and the US, providing service to over 11,000 students. In total, they completed over 44,000 missions, impacting 220,000 people through their actions. They raised awareness and understanding about issues such as the environment, homelessness and migrant workers, they also brought positivity and warmth to this society.
After the challenge, many students gradually found more courage to explore the path they want to take and are willing to step out of comfort zone to challenge themselves. Here's what they said:
"Before wandering challenge, I didn't know what I might want to do, but now I found that I want to protect children's dreams, and I might go into children education in college."
"I used to be embarrassed about wanting to be a stand-up comedian, but after the mission I am no long afraid to tell people my dream, and I think being a comedian to bring joy and laughters to others is a meaning path to take!"
Hannah participated in 2014, and through the missions she gradually found connections with the society, so she began looking for ways to create impact. She found her passion in voicing for the ex-criminals and helping them return to the society, and she founded “Free the Handcuff” project in 2018 and formed a team to work on the cause. She expressed: “I went from not having any vision for my future to now working on things I’m passionate about, and City Wanderer was critical to my journey."
We also collected data on students' self-assessment on their growth, and 73% of students said they are more willing to face uncertainty, 68% of students said they are more confident in their problem-solving skills, 81% of students are willing to let go of stereotypes to understand others, and 73% of students are willing to try taking actions on socials issues they care about.
Our Innovative Secret Sauce
Wandering Challenge incorporates elements of gamification and experiential education:
1. Curiosity: Without knowing the missions beforehand, students choose to start the journey because they are curious in exploration
2. Freedom: Students could start and end with any mission, so the learning journey is customizable
3. Creativity: All missions are done in the real world, thus there is no standard process or a correct answer to solve the missions
4. Choice: It is hard to complete 30 missions, but by giving options students can learn to set their own priorities
5. Reflection: Each mission is designed with relevant guiding questions for students to develop deeper learning and independent thinking after their mission experience.
Since the 3-week challenge is done outside of the classroom and in the city, it is easy for us to bring such program to a different country and different city. The challenge can be done in any place and any context, as long as the missions can be modified to fit different culture.
Our partners from Japan, Malaysia, China and Hong Kong received training from City Wanderer in Taiwan about how to hold a wandering challenge (which includes components such as organizing the opening and closing ceremony, designing local missions, recruiting volunteers to guide participants etc) and now they are onto the path of scaling the challenge in their own country!