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Largest, most diverse group of grads to teach in China

August 24, 2011

Largest, most diverse group of grads to teach in China

AmyChicagoan Amy Bergstraesser '11 spent six months studying in Chile as an undergrad, not to mention a three-week Skidmore travel seminar in Istanbul, Turkey. Vermonter Max Resnik '11 also studied abroad twice during his four years, in India and Morocco. Now, they and 18 other recent Skidmore grads - the largest and most academically diverse group ever - are poised to take advantage of Skidmore's Teach in China program, a year of teaching English and western culture to Chinese university students studying to be English language teachers.

Nearly 100 Skidmore students have participated in the program  which got its start in 1989, thanks to the connection a former English professor made during his sabbatical at Qufu Teacher's University. In keeping with China's global ascendance, program participation has quadrupled over the years, from an average of 4-5 in the early 1990s to this year's 20. More than 40 Skidmore graduates now apply each year.

 Bergstraesser, a government and Spanish double major whose dream job is U.S. secretary of state, will teach at Sun Yat-Sen University in Zhuhai City, Guangdong Province, while Resnik, a religious studies major whose passion is fostering intercultural understanding, will teach at Qufu Teacher's University in Qufu City, Shandong Province. Bergstraesser arrives Sept. 6, Resnik on Aug. 26. (See the complete list of graduates and placements below.)

Says Bergstraesser, "I want to be an international lawyer. To know the Chinese culture and the language is integral to being an effective citizen in the 21 st century and vital for my chosen profession."She also indicated that law schools look favorably on students who have spent time in the real world after college.

MaxResnik, who taught English to and took excursions with 29 Chinese middle schoolers this summer in Burlington, Vermont, sees the program as a "perfect post-graduate path?a valuable opportunity to hone my teaching skills and learn how to mediate differences in culture." Admittedly outgoing and gregarious, he adds that he's eager to "practice my silence and meet people on their own terms and at their own pace." (Read the program blog Max has established.)

Participants take an orientation seminar taught by program director Sandy Welter during the spring semester of their senior year to prepare them for their teaching assignments. Each teacher is housed on a university campus and paid a monthly salary in Chinese yuan, which covers food, travel, and entertainment.

Participants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0, excellent English language proficiency, demonstrated foreign language proficiency, study abroad/travel experience, public speaking experience, teaching/collaborative research/leadership experience, and multicultural/international interests. They are not required to be proficient in the Chinese language because they will speak English at all times in their classrooms.

There are a lot of ways for young people to land jobs teaching English in foreign countries but 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."

By the end of their year abroad, all of the Skidmore teachers will be able to speak enough Chinese to shop, travel, and communicate regularly with their students and colleagues, Welter says. Some students have extended their assignment in China to two or even three years so as to continue to hone their language proficiency.

Max in ChinaTheir experience of teaching in China is much different than seeing the country as a tourist or even a study abroad student, adds Welter. "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."

Many Skidmore teachers come to the realization that they love teaching and move in that direction. Others decide to attend graduate school in international relations, international business, law, human rights advocacy, literacy, and Chinese history and culture. 

The 2011-12 Skidmore Teach in China Class

Qufu Teachers University, Qufu, Shandong Province, PRC
Andrea Bruckner, English, Government
Robert Campbell (2010), Physics, International Affairs
Danielle Crickman (2010), English, Women's Studies
Eliza Dunaway, Art History
Emily Gorbach, Spanish, Social Work
Nicholas Liu-Sontag, Environmental Studies
Molly Quinn, French, English
Edward Ray, History
Max Resnik, Religious Studies
Nicole Sumner, Religious Studies

Sun Yat-Sen University, Zhuhai, Guangdong Province
Margaret Ashur, French, Government
Amy Bergstraesser, Government, Spanish
Jacob Boersma, History, International Affairs
Matthew Brauch (2010), Theater
Jennifer Chan, Asian Studies, Business
Shi Li Li, Economics
Lauren Napper (2010), Business
Xiao Ying Pan, Psychology
Zachary Schwartz, Business
James Yick, International Affairs, French

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