Teach in China program tops century mark

September 20, 2012

Zahra Garrett '05
Zahra Garrett '05

Max Resnik '11
Max Resnik '11

Although Max Resnik ’11 and Zahra Garrett ’05 don’t know each other, they have a lot in common: Both found teaching English in China to be a significant personal and career opportunity. Resnik recently returned from a year at Qufu Teachers University in Shandong Province, while Garrett just arrived in Qufu along with two brand-new alumni.  Nine others from the Class of ’12 are starting their duties at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guandong Province.

Resnik and Garrett are among the 127 graduates who have participated in Skidmore’s Teach in China program, which got its start in 1989 thanks to connections made by a former English professor during his sabbatical at Qufu. In keeping with China’s global ascendance, program participation has increased dramatically, from four or five in the early 1990s to last year’s high of 18. Some 40 alumni apply each year for 15 to 20 positions.

Now working at an education and sustainability grant-giving organization in New York City and producing a documentary film, religion major Resnik says his major takeaway from his year in China is “how important it is to have a vibrant connection where teachers and students both have a say.  I loved my students and got to know them well enough so that we could engage in real conversations about real issues.”

A dance and theater major, Garrett was working as a stagehand in San Francisco when she came across the Teach in China program in Skidmore’s ScopeMonthly e-newsletter. “It seemed like a great opportunity to travel abroad, develop new skills, and gain clarity about what makes sense for me careerwise,” she says.  She figured, “If I can not only survive but thrive in a culture so different from my own, in a country where I don’t yet know the language, I can go anywhere.”

Accepted candidates take an orientation seminar taught by program director Sandy Welter in the spring of their senior year, to prepare them for their teaching assignments. Each teacher is housed on the university campus and paid a monthly salary—enough yuan to cover food, travel, and entertainment.

Young people can land jobs teaching English abroad in other ways, but too often they get "beat up and spit out," notes Welter. "What makes our program unusual is the extent to which we vet and train the teachers we send to China. Both the Chinese universities and the Skidmore teachers know that if anything goes wrong, I'm going to be in touch. This program has a voice."

She says the grads’ experience of teaching in China is much different than seeing the country as a tourist or even as a study-abroad student. "During their year, these young alumni are defined and viewed as professionals living and working in a university setting. When they return to the US, their cultural identity is grounded in choice and commitment, not just in the arbitrariness of birth and location."

Teach in China  veterans often come to the realization that they love teaching and move in that direction. Others decide on graduate school in fields like international business, law, or human rights, literacy, and Chinese history and culture. 

Skidmore’s 2012–13 Teach in China class

Sun Yat-Sen University, Zhuhai City
Qufu Teachers University, Qufu City

For further information, and to apply:
Eliza Camire-Akey
Off Campus Study & Exchanges

Sandy Welter
Master of Arts in Liberal Studies