In nearly a year of teaching at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), Matthew Jellick has initiated two clubs for both students and Chinese staff members, providing an authentic English environment and bridging their personal and professional lives through open-minded conversation.
Since joining SUSTech’s Center for Language Education (CLE) in late October 2016, the American has not only given both staff and students English classes but also organized an English Book Club and an English-Speaking Club and helped to edit the SUSTech Library’s English website and the English interface on its self-service machines.
Early this year, the members of the Book Club finished reading Peter Hessler’s River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, an English non-fiction documenting Hessler’s teaching experience in Fuling, Sichuan Province, from 1996-1998. Fuling is now part of Chongqing municipality.
The 15 club members, all university staff, met every other Wednesday during lunch, sharing their opinions on the book. “We not only talked about the book, but also about our lives. When we were discussing the changes in Fuling over the years, someone brought up how Shenzhen’s changed,” said member Lu Zhengming.
“The club has improved our speaking and reading skills, but most importantly, our cross-cultural knowledge. Matthew encouraged us to think, not just read. We communicated freely and Matthew even arranged a Skype discussion for us with Peter Hessler. We never thought we could talk with the famous writer,” said Huang Feiyan, another member of the club. “In a traditional English-learning class, maybe we are good at grammar, vocabulary and passing exams, but if you want to improve real skills, you should expose yourself to a natural English-speaking environment,” she added.
Jellick believes that English learning should be culture-based, so at the end of the Spring Semester, he organized a Potluck with the club. “Everybody brought their hometown food, from Sichuan, Hunan or even California. Food is a part of culture and we shared our cultural identities through the potluck. Real learning takes place in an authentic environment,” he said.
Jellick’s English-Speaking Club is called “Voice of SUSTech.” Students meet through weekly meetings, assembling every Sunday night to practice conversational English. In June, Jellick organized a field trip to Shekou, encouraging students to talk with foreigners. “I acted more as a mentor, not as a teacher in the club. The foreigner interviews in Shekou gave the students opportunities to practice their English skills in a setting which pushed the boundaries of their comfort zones. At first, some students were nervous. They were required to ask yes/no and opinion questions to interviewees, but in many cases, they turned ‘interviews’ into conversations, adding deeper substance to the prescribed questions. It was hard but enjoyable,” said Jellick.
Jellick holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching (TESOL) from the University of Southern California and a BA in Liberal Studies (Migrant Education) from Portland State University. Before joining the faculty at SUSTech, he had taught English in the United States, Mexico, South Korea, New Zealand and Ethiopia. Wherever he has taught, he has written prolific articles about global education and culture for the local press, including the Shenzhen Daily, Korea Times and Ethiopian Herald.
When he worked as a university lecturer in Ethiopia from 2014-2016, he initiated a Women’s Club as well as a Soccer Club. With financial grants from the U.S. State Department, he obtained 40,000 books to donate to the Ethiopian university he taught at, which had very few books in its library for research, let alone for enjoyment. Through gender-empowerment initiatives, Jellick encouraged African women to play Soccer and obtained a US$50,000 donation from Nike Korea to support women’s Soccer training in Ethiopia and Djibouti. With the Women’s Club, he was able to introduce his students to ideas outside of their prescribed setting, taking them to the capital, Addis Ababa, to see art and music and even to the African Union to watch U.S. President Barack Obama give a speech, where of course, he too mentioned Gender Empowerment.
“In Ethiopia, mostly men play Soccer with only a few women receiving cultural or tertiary education. Through my role, I did what I could to encourage women to find their voice, whether through sports or education, creating a viewpoint of equality to men,” he said.
In the future, Jellick plans to teach in more countries. “I’ve been teaching abroad from nearly 10 years and I know how to culturally adapt to the circumstance regardless of if I find myself in Africa or Asia. When I’m teaching, I don’t portray my culture as the best. Rather, I come here not as an American teacher but a global citizen, and I’m sharing my ideas learned from Mexico, Africa, South Korea and China to my students and hope that they too can be part of the global community.”