On a mountain in China, Xiaomin Mou one day saw an old man carrying water in a bamboo bucket on his back. She began to think, now what would this man do with a Palm Pilot?

“It made me realize that you can’t just sit in front of your computer and program faster technology, assuming that it is for everybody. You have to see the people in this world to know what they want. After working in China, I have a much deeper understanding of what I can do to make people’s lives better.”

Mou was born in Chengdu, China. At age nine, she moved to Pittsburgh. It was not until she was in the MISTI program at MIT that she made her first trip back to China to teach Internet technology at the Xi’an Jiaotong University High School. There she taught students to create home pages, write HTML, and use the Internet.

Although she knew the Chinese language and culture, working there opened her eyes to subtle differences between China and the U.S. For example, the Chinese are inclined to work alone and competitively, rather than together. “I tried to focus my teaching on all I learned at MIT about teamwork and respect. Soon we were like family,” she says, adding that their class project on teamwork was commended by the Shaanxi Province Education Commission.

Mou, who last year earned from MIT a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and computer science and this year earned a master’s, is now studying for a Ph.D. She will return to China this year for a third MISTI internship.

“I’ve become aware of world problems and developed the confidence to serve society on a world level,” she says, adding that the most valuable part of the internship was building relationships. “I learned that although we look different and speak different languages, we all share the same heart. This is our instant connection.”