About the Author: Rob Foley serves in the Consulate Expo Liaison Office at the U.S. Consulate General Shanghai.
The Shanghai World Expo attracts more than 400,000 visitors each day, and the USA Pavilion alone greets in excess of 40,000 guests on an average day. Despite these large numbers, there are many who for various reasons cannot attend -- one group being the young patients of Shanghai Children's Medical Center. It was in the spirit of Expo outreach -- what we call our “Pavilion in the City” program -- that we traveled across Nanpu Bridge into Pudong District to visit children from the internal medicine and cardiology wards of the Jiaotong University-affiliated Children's Medical Center. Our group was comprised of consulate staff, three bilingual American “Student Ambassadors” from the USA Pavilion and even Elmo from Sesame Street Workshop's Expo show.
As the student ambassadors and Elmo traveled from room to room, the smiles on the faces of the young patients was evidence of their joy at getting to meet a big, red, furry friend and interact with American university students, all of whom used their excellent Mandarin to speak with the children and their family members about their lives in America -- home towns, favorite foods and activities -- and also share what brought them to Shanghai to volunteer at the Expo. After visiting the internal medicine ward, we met a group of cardiology patients for a fun exchange with Elmo, presentation of gifts, and a group photo. With music from Sesame Street playing in the background, Elmo and the student ambassadors played with the children and also interacted with parents, nurses, and hospital staff.
Bringing the USA Pavilion for a visit to the Shanghai Children's Medical Center truly embodied the USA Pavilion's theme of community building through bringing people together. Anyone who has spent time in a hospital as a child knows how challenging it can be to be sick and in a place far from home, and so the chance to bring some fun and a sense of play to these children undergoing difficult and prolonged treatments while promoting an understanding of U.S. culture and values was a wonderful thing.
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