When the opportunity to go to China was presented to 14-year-old New Hampshire native Matthew back in 2012, he immediately knew he had to take advantage of it. After a summer of bagging groceries and fundraising—and with a little extra help from his parents—Matthew was able to raise enough funds to go abroad and experience the language and culture he had been studying in school for four years.
When Matthew returned from China, he came back with a worldlier disposition, “It was such a life-changing experience to see both a completely different culture and country. Everything was opposite from what I was used to—from being in another time zone, to seeing how much bigger their cities are, to witnessing how differently they are built. It made me realize there’s so much out there in terms of the ways that life happens.”
Matthew knew he had to go back to China, and he distinctly remembers the moment he came to this conclusion. On one of the last days of his trip, he visited a Buddhist temple located in a densely populated neighborhood. He remembers stepping into the temple and being transported into a different world—one that was peaceful and serene, and such a contrast to the busy city he had been in just seconds ago. As he was wandering, a voice inside him said, “I am going to come back here someday. I don’t know when, but I’m going to find a way back.” Less than a year later, Matthew came across the Global Citizen Scholarship–an annual EF scholarship that awards students a trip to attend a Global Leadership Summit. That year the Summit was being held in Shanghai. So he decided to throw his hat in the ring and apply.
At the time of his application, Matthew had begun growing a passion for real estate and urban planning. He had remembered the way Shanghai was planned and the striking disparity between it and the neighboring rural areas. He observed a lot of industrialization in the city thanks to manufacturing job opportunities and yet knew that there was much poverty. Many individuals from the rural areas weren’t able to quickly assimilate into the city culture after living much of their lives on farms. After reflecting on this issue, Matthew put together a proposal to provide short-term free housing in sections of large Shanghai apartment complexes. His proposal included a six-month stay for people new to the area so they’d be able to gain resources in job training and also be exposed to employment opportunities. Matthew’s futuristic proposal awarded him the scholarship and the opportunity to present his idea at the Summit in Shanghai.
After joining thousands of like-minded students at the Summit, Matthew returned home motivated to continue pursuing this passion. “I was definitely inspired by what I learned at the Summit. I thought about how there were other young people there who were interested in sustainable businesses and social responsibility.”
When Matthew returned from his second trip, he continued to pursue his interest in real estate and took an internship at a local real estate company. Once it was time to apply for colleges, he decided to take a gap year and gain more experience in real estate. Matthew went on to become the youngest licensed real estate agent ever in New Hampshire. He credits both his experience in China and at the Summit for forging this path.
He’s taken learnings from his Shanghai proposal and incorporated them into his current work, where he tackles redevelopment projects in New Hampshire that revitalize rundown buildings to rebuild communities. “These areas had previously not seen any development, so projects like this can really turn things around to provide opportunities for people and breathe new life into that community.”
Now, at age 20, Matthew has long-term goals to run his own real estate company–focusing on community development and social responsibility both at home and internationally. At the moment, Matthew is devoting himself to mastering his field by learning as much as he can. He wanted to leave future student travelers with this parting advice: “When you travel, you will probably want to stay connected back home. But get off of social media and stop worrying about what’s going on back there. Just enjoy the experience that you have in front of you. Take it all in because you don’t always have an opportunity to travel. When you do, you should definitely make the most of it by being present and engaged.”