Staff English Book Club: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

The Shenzhen Daily

For the third semester in a row, I am hosting an English Book Club, run in partnership with 15 Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) staff members who are dedicated in their creative learning approaches to language acquisition.  Every two weeks, about 100 pages of reading is assigned before meeting on Thursdays at lunch to hold an open discussion on not only what we read within the book, but how those ideas translate to our own personal experiences.  Dedicated and motivated, the members of the SUSTech Staff English Book Club area a testament to not only the collective efforts of the university but also to the individual ambition of each of these colleagues who dare to scratch beneath the surface of the words and express themselves in a constructive learning environment.

Group Discussion

The past two semesters we have read, Perter Hessler’s River Town and Anchee Min’s The Cooked Seed, respectively, each describing the dichotomies of cross-cultural integration into differing societies, from America to China and vice versa.  Taking a completely different approach this time, I chose Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which doesn’t deal with Sino-American complexities, rather addressing the “Metaphysics of Quality” through the story of a family motorcycle journey across the US Midwest.  Daytime rides through the plains set the table for nighttime discussions about “quality of life”, and how it pertains to our narrator, and in turn, each of us.

The members of our Book Club bring with them a unique set of personal circumstances which underscores the intricacies of our discussions where prompts seemingly flow from one to another, forming a stream of consciousness which is highlighted by the book’s narrative.  Careful to understand that there is no “right answer” in our biweekly deliberations, respect for other’s opinions is a key facet of our meetings, where group participation leads to constructive dialogue.  There are some members who are joining the Book Club for the first time while there are others who have participated in the past two groups, yet each encourages with support which goes to benefit everyone involved, regardless of their English skillsets.

Newspaper Article

Early in the book, Pirsig writes, “[w]e want to make good time, but for now, this is measured with emphasis on ‘good’ rather than ‘time’ and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes.”  I brought this sentence up at our first meeting, questioning the relationship of “good” and “time” and the effect each has on our lives.  The subsequent discussion which ensued served as an example of why I chose to volunteer my time with these Book Clubs: intelligent conversation shared among university colleagues which stretches beyond prescribed textbooks into a realm where creative thought and expression is fostered.  The SUSTech Staff English Book Club provides this opportunity every semester and it is my hope that we are able to continue to explore the boundaries of non-traditional narratives and the relationship the stories have on our own experiences as individuals.


Movie Review: “Isle of Dogs”

An off-campus English-language learning initiative I have done twice during my time at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) is the Staff English Movie Day, meeting up with students at a local theater to watch an American film.  Last year it was the Academy Award winner, La La Land, and this time, the Wes Anderson stop-motion animation, Isle of Dogs.  Deeper meanings can be found beyond the Jazz music or barking dogs; elements of Western film making which incorporate the English language, but, in both cases, don’t rely on it.

Isle of Dogs is set in Japan, although the keen observer realizes it could be anywhere which infuses corruption and hate as underlying fundamentals of national policy.  Similarly, the exiled dogs which the story revolves around could easily be replaced with migrants or any other excuse to find fault with a voiceless group.  It is through this notion of communication, or lack thereof, where the film plays with the viewer, as oftentimes the Japanese dialogue is not translated, and in one scene, lamented by the alpha mutts, saying about the main character, Atari, “I wish someone spoke his language.”  Language of course is why I am here in China and why I chose this movie to take my students to, yet it is the complexities of “otherness” which creates the chasm between the dogs and their masters and which adds to the intricacy of the movie.  Language, in this case, only complicates.

The Shenzhen Daily

As an educator, I believe that authentic learning takes place outside of the classroom, and within the movie, it is the banished “Trash Island” where the characters, both human and canine, learn the true nature of themselves and what they are capable of.  If students simply study within the parameters of standardized tests, little growth is obtained, and similarly, if the dogs stayed housebound to their masters, they too would never have realized their full potential.  Working together, Chief, Rex, King, Boss and Duke, our K9 heroes, overcome adversity (and evil Robot Dogs!) to expose the wizard behind the curtain, the scheming Mayor Kobayashi, and his plans to eradicate dogs completely from the dystopian near-future of the fictionalized Megasaki City.  A clever soundtrack by Academy Award winner Alexandre Desplat adds music to the noise, but what stands out is again, the voices.  Voices of dogs speaking, to be sure, but more importantly, the voice of hope over despair.

To say the film is entirely in English would shortchange not only the Japanese language but also the Japanese culture which sets the tone.  From the opening scene with Taiko Drumming to the deadly Wasabi which kills the opposition party candidate Professor Watanabe, the director sprinkles about subtle messages while keeping a defining plot line and character development.  Yet it was the English dialogue which drew me share this movie with my students but like the ending of La La Land where everyone doesn’t live happily ever after, it was the complex nature of the film’s message which I think was the ultimate takeaway.

Isle of Dogs is currently playing in Shenzhen, with English (and Chinese) subtitles)

Newspaper Article: “SUSTech’s Global Reach: Polish International Education Fair”

The Shenzhen Daily

The snow fell from the Eastern sky, a dizzying display of linen white landing softly upon the ground, cold as it was beautiful, painting the landscape of Warsaw into a dreamlike state.  I was in Poland on behalf of Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) along with two other colleagues, Dr. Liu from the Department of Computer Science and Dr. Yung from the Physics Department.  We were attending the Polish International Education Fair, an annual exposition which attracts local students and colleges, as well as a few international universities such as SUSTech.

Last year I had the opportunity to go on a similar trip to Cambodia, in an effort to recruit international students for my university’s undergraduate programs.  As is the case with the global finance and industry sectors, be they in Shenzhen, Phnom Penh or Warsaw, the internalization of staff, the mixture of ideas, and the conflux of cultures all go to create a dynamic workplace where everyone thrives, irrespective of where they come from.  Similarly, these practices are replicated on campuses across the globe, the university acting as a microcosm of the larger world, where distances between countries are mitigated by growing technologies and changing ideologies.  China understands the benefits of international learning, and platforms like the Polish International Education Fair offer a perfect opportunity for our university to share these prospects with students who are interested in performing on a global stage.

Education Fair

As an international educator myself, who has taught on four different continents, I have seen firsthand the value of multiethnic dynamics within the classroom.  For my students too, when the percentages of homogeneousness are decreased in favor of multiculturalism, it offers them lesson which can never be found in any textbook; challenging preconceived notions while at the same time bolstering cross-cultural competence.  With every passing semester, faculty and researchers at SUSTech continue to be hired from different countries around the globe, and through recruitment fairs such as the one in Poland, we are trying to mirror these numbers with an increase in our international student admission.

My educational experience on the European continent dates back to 2000, when I was completing a study-abroad program in Paris.  In the nearly 18 years since, much has changed with respect to the European identity, from infrastructure to economy.  Yet what remains the same, irrespective of location, is students’ desire for learning, and the collective knowledge that an education will create future opportunities across the globe.  My experiences studying in France certainly played a part in my decision to teach in China, learning then what I practice now: that education is lifelong and worldwide!


Warsaw is rich in history, renowned in the arts, and as I happily found out, almost unmatched in cuisine.  It was an honor to visit and represent not only my university, but also Shenzhen, with its ceaseless economy, entrepreneurial spirit, and expanding education.  I am grateful for those three days at the Polish International Education Fair, able to act as a bridge between these two incredible cities, and hope that there are students who soon make the educational decision to follow my global footprints from Eastern Europe to East Asia.

My Chinese Newspaper Article About California

Originally Published in The Shenzhen Daily

California has been my home since birth, although for nearly the past decade, I have been teaching abroad, on both the Asian as well as the African continent.  Yet at the end of every semester, during the Winter and Summer breaks, I usually make my way back to the Golden State, flying across that vast Pacific Ocean, going from my professional reality in Shenzhen to my personal reality in California.

Growing up in Southern California, I don’t know if I appreciated it as much then as I do now, as it took me living and teaching in a rural Ethiopian landscape to fully value the beauty of the California coastline.  But years later, those sounds of waves playing upon the sand remind me of the home from which I came, their echoes shaped differently each year by the countries which I visit.  Similarly, my return to the classroom at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) is influenced by my experiences from California, not only teaching English but also the inherent culture which encompasses language.  Just as I speak differently than someone from London, likewise, I speak differently than someone from New York, and following, the lifestyle of California is unique in its own respects, mirroring the culture of the Golden State which often proceeds at a seemingly more informed and laid-back pace than perhaps anywhere on Earth.

On this particular trip home, I had the opportunity to visit San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles; interestingly all named in Spanish, reflecting the rich and complex history which has shaped California.  Part of Mexico until 1848, California has always painted itself outside the lines of traditional “Americanism”, challenging the status quo while remaining true to its own identity.  It is this personification of my home state which has likewise instilled in me a desire to handle things differently, using creative approaches to the cross-cultural dilemmas I encounter around the globe while at the same time finding sustainable solutions with those I meet from different countries.

In a number of respects too, California is similar to Shenzhen, acting as a local leader in a national economy and a global leader in technological innovation while being geographically situated to welcome the world through its advantageous location.  Because of these parallels, my two years living and teaching in Shenzhen have gone rather well, able to adapt to the cultural differences while at the same time cognizant of the contrasting realities which I encounter daily.

While traversing these global peaks and valleys, California remains in my heart regardless of where I go, my visions of sunsets in Asia tinted by the hues of those I have witnessed growing up along the Southern California coastline, reflecting my dreams upon the Pacific which now acts as a widening gap between work and home.  It is these collections of memories which push me forward to continue experiencing the world, while at the same time reminding me of that place I am so Grateful to call home…

I Won my University’s “Teaching Competition”!

My university conducted an interview with me about this unprecedented win, and following, is an article both in Chinese and (roughly translated) English about my pedagogical approach to teaching:



Special Report on “Young Teachers’ Teaching Contest”

特等奖获得者Matthew Jellick:


Grand Prize Winner Matthew:

“The world is a big classroom and we should never stop teaching and learning”

第二届青年教师教学竞赛两位特等奖获得者中有一位是老外,他就是我校语言中心负责英语教学的Matthew。来自美国的Matthew从事英语语言教育已有十余年,曾在新西兰的米德尔顿田庄大学(Middletown Grange College)、埃塞俄比亚的读经台大学(Ambo University 和尔达瓦大学(Dire Dawa University)等从事英语语言教学,在南方科技大学任教是他首次在中国开启教学之路。

One of the two Grand Prize winners of the Second Young Teachers’ Teaching Contest is Matthew Jellick, a foreign English teacher in the Language Center at SUSTech. Matthew is from the United States has been teaching English abroad for nearly ten years including working at Middletown Grange College in New Zealand, as well as Ambo University and Dire Dawa University in Ethiopia. SUSTech is his first stop teaching here in China.


Matthew has been with SUSTech for 14 months.  Part of his responsibilities include teaching academic writing skills to Sophomore students as well as conducting Staff English Training courses. Matthew said he is very happy with his teaching work at SUSTech.  SUSTech is a young and energetic university that is advancing on the path of vigorous development. He is honored to work at the university and witness its growth and development. He said that teaching in such a newly-developed university gives him an opportunity to make more meaningful contributions. When looking back ten or twenty years later, he will be proud of the teaching work he participated in and the achievements he made.

Staff Class

Teaching and learning in the diversified classroom


As an ancient Chinese saying goes, if three men are walking together, one of them is bound to be good enough to be my teacher. Matthew believes that the classroom should be a diversified teaching platform that integrates various cultures. For him, the most important teaching method is to provide equal time for “teacher talk” and “student talk“. That is to say, although he is a teacher standing at the front of the class, every student should have his/her viewpoints and ideas listened to as an equal participant. When the students are learning from him within the class, he can also learn other cultural knowledge from them and their diverse cultural backgrounds. Matthew believes that one does not necessarily know more than the other. Only within a specific knowledge framework can one become a teacher of others, and beyond these specific circumstance, he needs to learn from others. In his opinion, suppose there are 30 students in a class and everyone can express his/her thoughts: then there will be 30 different cultural feedbacks in the classroom, which Matthew believes is very valuable in the teaching process. This is the teaching methodology most valued by him. He thinks that in teaching, especially language teaching, letting students express themselves can not only improve their speaking ability, but also improve their selfcognition and activate their thinking. Matthew believes that the sharing of ideas within the classroom is an essential part of a successful class.


A good textbook has an important guiding role for knowledge acquisition. In Matthew’s viewpoint,  good teaching methods may arouse students’ emotion and strengthen the interaction between students and teachers in the classroom, but a good textbook can further arouse students’ interest in learning and expanding their knowledge and cultural level. In the course of knowledge acquisition, the textbook can materialize the abstract knowledge so that the students can understand the concepts of that same knowledge more clearly. Teaching is a process of continuous adaptation. As a global teacher, Matthew needs to adapt himself to different geographical and cultural environments and students from different countries and different cultural backgrounds, and establish mutual trust based on mutual understanding and communication, and then promote each other through his the teaching process. A good textbook, as an important support mechanism in the teaching process, also needs diversified content, so that students can broaden their horizons and understand more world cultures while grasping knowledge.

Book Club

Expand the teaching platform and teach through lively activities


Matthew said he is very honored to win the Grand Prize in the Young Teachers’ Teaching Contest and regards it as a recognition and encouragement of his teaching. SUSTech provides good mechanisms and platforms for young teachers to develop their teaching ability so that they may accumulate experience and make progress in the path of their careers. The contest is a good practice to train their teaching skills and encourage them to improve on the path of teaching. Matthew has his own way of teaching. He doesn’t advocate cramming teaching, but tends to interact and communicate with students, so that the classroom is full of vigor and vitality. Matthew believes that a good teaching process should not be limited only to the classroom and therefore, he extends teaching outside the classroom. He provides the university’s staff with English training course and in his spare time, works with the English Speaking and English Book Club, providing a diversified platform of English learning for both students and teachers. He often encourages students to challenge themselves in the classroom. When he taught in Ethiopia, it was a great challenge for his outstanding undergraduate students in Africa to pursue a master’s degrees or doctorates in Britain, France or the United States, but if they succeed in doing so, they will broaden their horizon and benefit from it by obtaining knowledge and experiencing different cultural environments.

Speaking Club

Broaden the horizon while staying true to the original intention of education


Matthew enjoys every class with students. He not only shares the customs and cultures around the world with them, but also talks about what he sees, thinks, and feels with them. Shenzhen is a rapidly developing city that has gathered high-tech companies such as Huawei, Tencent and BGI. Matthew feels very happy to live in such a city and work at SUSTech, filled with vitality. He said that today’s world is a community of science and technology with different cultures integrated together. As an English teacher, he has the opportunity to work with colleagues of different professional experiences and backgrounds. He can not only get a lot of cultural knowledge despite the great working pressure, but also teach language knowledge through the teaching process and act as a cultural disseminator so that the people around him may experience the humanity from around the world.


Matthew said that if he has the opportunity to go to other countries for English teaching in the future, he will bring the cultural knowledge, teaching experience, customs and humanity he has learnt in China, just as he has brought the cultures of other countries into his classroom here.  While accumulating teaching experience, he will continue to be a discriminator of education and culture. In his view, he will lose motivation, passion and his own uniqueness if he stays in a country or university for ten years or more, so he will keep forward with the teaching experience accumulated and the humanities harvested, to pass the cultural customs he has learnt to the next stop. As he sums up his teaching attitude with a word, “the world is a big classroom and we should never stop teaching and learning.”

Staff English Book Club

One of the best teaching and learning opportunities I have been a part of during the time at my university, is the Staff English Book Club.  For the second consecutive semester, my students and I have successfully read an advanced-level novel, addressing both linguistic skill-sets as well as cultural dynamics through our bi-weekly meetings where open discussion and inspired dialogue foster unconventional education.

Last semester we read Peter Hessler’s “River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze” which highlighted an American male’s perspective of living and teaching in rural China during the 1990s.  This semester, in an aim to see a different viewpoint, we read Anchee Min’s “The Cooked Seed: A Memoir” which describes a Chinese woman’s migration to the United States in the 1980s.  Both books have painted the countries of China and the US through the lens of their respective authors, giving insight into the hardships encountered and enjoyments revealed, showcasing language as both a barrier and a bridge.


The Cooked Seed begins with Anchee Min descending into Chicago’s airport to begin her journey, in possession of neither money nor an education to assist her as she looked for a new start, convinced she had “no chance to sprout” back in Shanghai due to her age and occupation.  Throughout the story, sadness and hardship are underlying themes, extending from dubious financial transactions, ignorant racists remarks, and a complicated love life.  Yet what rises from within the beautifully-written 340 pages is the notion that hope helps to overcome, having paved Anchee’s path with lessons learned and dreams deferred.

For the staff who are in my class, the Book Club offers a unique perspective on language acquisition.  Liu Yuling, from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, says, “The Book Club is important to me because it is a gateway to English culture and literature. The Book Club shows us global culture – something which Shenzhen needs – while also cultivating good learning habits: to read, think and learn more!”


This semester too, both my parents and sister read along, with my parents joining us in person during their trip to China, and my sister using Skype to relay her thoughts on the book during a recent webcast from the United States.  Touching upon issues which stretch beyond individualized cultures, and instead expand to include the global world, it was interesting to hear the comparison of different viewpoints within our international classroom, with both China and the United States represented by different readers.

The Staff English Book Club offers a unique way to not only practice English, but to likewise understand the contexts in which language gains it’s sociocultural importance.  Learning opportunities such as these are an important mechanism to extend beyond the walls of a traditional classroom situation and learn about the global settings which define who we are, regardless of where we come from…

Newspaper Article about my Parent’s Trip to Visit me in China

This is the sixth article I have written for The Shenzhen Daily, the English-language newspaper in my host city of Shenzhen.  Titled, “My Parent’s Visit to China: Continued Global Education”, it highlights their visits to see me not only here, but across the globe, at different universities I have taught at, and the cultural and educational insight they get not only into the local people, but my students…

The Shenzhen Daily

My parents recently spent about 10 days visiting me in China, traveling to Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau.  Over the course of my time living and teaching abroad, they have had the opportunity to visit me in classrooms around the globe, including New Zealand in 2014, Ethiopia in 2015, and now China in 2017.  Growing up in a family which loved to see the world when I was young, those ideals have been instilled in me so that now, as an adult, I am able to incorporate traveling into my job.  To be able to share the cultures of these dynamic countries where I teach, with my parents, has become our new “family vacation” and something I am grateful for.

Back in 2014 I was teaching Korean students on a study-abroad program at Middleton Grange College in Christchurch, New Zealand, when I invited my parents to visit.  These cross-cultural opportunities seem to offer much more than the ordinary vacation, as I get to introduce my parents to the schools and students I am working with.  It offers an insight which most tourists don’t get to see – an understanding of the educational contexts of different countries, highlighting the importance of education regardless of where it is taking place.

In 2015, I invited my parents to Ethiopia, when I was lecturing at Ambo University as a Language Fellow.  Quite a change from the physical landscape of New Zealand, but still, inside the classrooms there remained a desire for knowledge on behalf of the students.  Ethiopian tertiary education may not offer the same resources as those in the West, yet my students showed interest in hearing about the cross-cultural dichotomies which exist not only in schools but in families.  They asked my parents about American family dynamics, curious about the degree of both social and academic freedom my parents allowed me growing up. 

Now in 2017, I again invited my parents to spend some time with me, seeing not only the local sights, but also Southern University of Science and Technology, where I teach, in Shenzhen, China.  Spending the course of a regular working week on campus, I was able to again introduce them to my students, including undergraduate Sophomores as well as Staff English students. As was the case in Ethiopia and New Zealand before that, they were able to have discerning dialogue with inquisitive students about the contexts of American education and culture.

Victoria Harbour

One topic which has come up in classrooms from Oceania to Africa to Asia is the importance of traveling, and the impact it has had on my parents, and subsequently, myself.  Each time they are asked, my Mom and Dad underscore the significance travel had on them, and how they were able to incorporate that into their children’s upbringing.  Years later as I continue to teach around the globe, I am grateful for the early exposure my parents showed me to different cultures so that now, as a teacher, I can invite them to help reiterate to my students the notion that Learning is Lifelong and Worldwide!