All posts by mjellick

Teacher and Traveler

Fifth Chinese Newspaper Article

The notion of global education is spoken of often, with the understanding that we, as global citizens, are being brought closer together due to technological innovations and ideological practices, regardless of the distance which may stretch between respective countries. No longer is China “on the other side of the world” from California, rather, it is an overnight-flight or a telephone call away, bridging that gap which explorers have fraught over for centuries. Following, the benefits derived from this smaller collective of learners allows for the exchange of not only educational ideas but similarly, cultural practices.

This Summer, one of my students at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen, took the opportunity to study at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, enrolling in the 2017 Summer International Acting Institute Program, through USC’s School of Dramatic Arts. Not necessarily a course which would be accessible in a traditional Chinese educational context, it was for this same reason that Krystal, a gifted student in her own right, chose to survey a trail which led off the prescribed path, following, what she described in her Personal Statement, as “the sum of craftsmanship, spirit, creative ideas, and inspiration.”

Matt & Krystal at USC
I completed my Master’s Degree in Teaching at USC, and while home in California this Summer, took time to visit campus, meeting up with Krystal to see her class while also touring the university. Offering innovative practices to learn not only the specifics associated with Dramatic Arts but also the creative approaches to underlying theory, the four-week course steered away from rote learning and instead used exploration as a guide, encouraging students to “let go” and let inspiration lead the way. Krystal mentioned that at first, this methodology surprised her, but after seeing the relationship between patience and practice, she realized that a redefinition of her approach was needed if she was truly to understand the varying identities which each of us have, and how we go about choosing which one we showcase to others both on and off the stage.

A leader in STEM-related fields, SUSTech offers students an impressive education in those subjects, partnering with the entrepreneurial spirit which thrives in Shenzhen. When coupled with ambitious students who wish to gain different perspectives from across the ocean, there is no limit to what cross-cultural and integrated educational partnerships can do, acting as a catalyst for cooperation and a mechanism for change. For myself, to be able to bridge two universities which have played an integral part of own my educational journey, acts a testament to the power of global education and the reach is has which stretches beyond distances and over time.


Student Interview: Shenzhen – New York

This past semester, I taught the (adult) Staff here at my university.  It was an interesting and exciting 16 weeks, working on English language acquisition while also addressing issues pertaining to global educational inequalities.  Myself, as an American who had recently taught in Africa, contrasted my experiences with theirs, most of whom had undergraduate level education in China but had traveled abroad for Masters and Doctoral work.

One of my students, Sandy, approached me after class asking if I could help her son, Michael, as he was a Senior in High School exploring options for universities in the United States.  I of course welcomed the opportunity to assist him, meeting the next week to discuss the circumstances surrounding his decision.  During his high school years, Michael’s parents had taken him on an extensive tour of American universities and he had decided upon completing his tertiary education in the States.  He came to me with questions about specifics including the difference in campus culture between the University of Miami and the University of Wisconsin(?!) as well as the educational guidelines for deciding upon a major with the option to change if need be.  It was refreshing to speak with a student who viewed the university experience as a part of collective personal growth, not solely limited to what takes place inside a classroom.

One of his interests was NYU, and he was curious to learn more.  Through my networking as part of the USC Alumni Association of Shenzhen, I had come in contact with Mark, the President of the NYU Shenzhen Alumni Association, and reached out to him to see if he would be interested in sharing information with Michael.  We set up a lunch meeting, and over the best Cantonese food I have ever eaten, we discussed the cultural and educational realities of being an International Chinese student at a place like NYU.  Throughout the nearly three-hour long meeting, we touched upon issues ranging from class size to campus diversity, and from the availability of Chinese food to the safety measures implemented by the school.  Michael and his parents listened intently, asking valid questions which addressed legitimate concerns while Mark told them of the countless benefits of attending school abroad, both from an international as well as domestic perspective.

Needless to say, Michael accepted the offer to attend NYU in the Fall, and has since been involved with the university’s preparatory committees both in Shenzhen and Hong Kong.  He and his parents will fly to New York in August for the welcoming convocation and begin the long (and expensive) path of university life in America.  In an effort to share his story, I interviewed Michael last week, and have now put together a 10-minute video where he talks about his decisions, the process, and his hopes for the future.  As someone who continues to have the opportunity to view education through different cultural lenses, I was grateful to have met Michael through his mom, one of my students; a testament to the global perspective I try to highlight in my classes.

If you have the time, I encourage you to watch the video, as it highlights the circumstances of a modern day young Chinese student and his understanding of international education, including the benefits of an expanded worldview which comes with studying abroad, where truly, the world is your classroom…

TOEFL: Linguistic Gateway to the World

Last year at this time, I was teaching on behalf of the U.S. Embassy’s Opportunity Fund, working with at-risk students in Ethiopia, helping them prepare for and apply to colleges and universities in the United States. This included preparation for the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), Personal Statement essay writing, and of course, training for the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language). All three are necessary for admittance to U.S. universities such as USC, Brown or Cornell, securing these students a path out of East Africa and paving their future with an education which will in turn help them reach their dreams.

This summer I find myself once again teaching TOEFL, this time to Chinese university students, most of whom have a vastly different set of educational realities which face them, including postgraduate degrees abroad and applications to some of the world’s leading high-tech companies.

Yet it is the same amount of motivation which I have found in classrooms around the world — students understanding the importance of English and the role it plays in acting as a gateway to global ambitions. The use of an adjective to describe a noun isn’t what will lead to aspired accomplishments, rather it is universal acceptance which comes with learning a second language and the social adaptation which underscores the importance of tests like TOEFL, measuring not only linguistic ability, but cultural understanding as well.

Two hours a day over the course of four weeks I worked with students at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) on speaking and listening skillsets associated with the TOEFL test. Contrast transition words providing clues to important shifts in the speaker’s content while intonation and variations in pitch highlight meaning and connotation.

Group Work

The topics of our listening examples shed light on Americanisms, where distance is measured in miles and where weight is abbreviated as lbs. The 30 students in our class laugh at the unfunny jokes, feign interest in the topics discussed, and gaze at words like vitriolic; the whole time understanding that this is a necessary means to an end. Intensive linguistic learning takes place on a different set of gears than in a regular 16-week semester, but still, lessons are shared by all, with myself careful to facilitate learning, not to master.

With previous experience teaching TOEFL courses in Ethiopia, and before that, South Korea, I feel confident that my practice within a Chinese context has likewise gone smoothly, encouraging student learning through cooperation, giving them ownership over materials which at times may seem as foreign to them as the idioms often mentioned in our listening exercises.

As the teacher, I am able to learn too, gaining cultural insight from my students, much as was the case in Africa, as each set of students learns differently. Grateful for these global opportunities, I hope that my instruction through TOEFL pedagogy will similarly give these students the same international prospects I have been afforded, expanding their worldview while opening a linguistic gateway to the world.

China – Cambodia: Cross Cultural Education

The physical divide that exists between Shenzhen, China and Phnom Penh, Cambodia has been mitigated by nonstop flights and social media, bridging the gap which stretches across the South China Sea.  As a result, the development of cooperative educational, economic and environmental partnerships has reached outside of the boardrooms and into the classrooms of respective universities, looking for ways to implement creative and innovative ideas into the minds of students before they take their seat at the corporate table.  Cross-cultural educational exchanges offer opportunities whereby students and teachers can learn about the complexities of life in different countries while at the same time working collectively on finding solutions to common problems both inside as well as outside the classroom.

Through research, innovation and entrepreneurship, the university I teach at, Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), has a goal to become a top-tier international university which attracts scholars and students from across the globe focusing on interdisciplinary research.  With both undergraduate and graduate programs which emphasize Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, SUSTech is looking beyond borders to attract the best and brightest students to continue their studies in a dynamic learning environment.  Last month in Phenom Penh, Cambodia, I had the chance to work with my university’s Global Engagement Office on a recruiting and interview trip whereby we met with local students and educators about the opportunity to study in Shenzhen, where they can be taught by international professors surrounded by a global city.  For Cambodian university students, this affords them the prospect of expanding their educational, personal, and professional horizons, learning from world-class instructors while coupling their newfound knowledge with practical applications in one of the fastest growing cities on the planet.  For SUSTech, it helps to expand the global framework of their student-body, giving credence to the notion of internationalization, and the benefits which it brings to everyone involved.

The dichotomy between Chinese and Cambodian education is decreasing as our world becomes smaller and more globalized.  Innovative curriculum development paired with creative teaching pedagogy has gone to increase matriculation in both countries, in turn paving the road for sustainable growth as it pertains to the economy.  No one country acts as a model for the other, rather both China and Cambodia trade cultural and educational ideas, learning from one another much the same way students pair on a class project.  University scholarships, such as the one which SUSTech offers Cambodian students, underscore the importance of this bilateral partnership, with keen eyes peering towards the future where these ideas are rewarded with success.

Cambodian Royal Palace

Much like myself, an American teaching in China, the Cambodian students we interviewed understand the benefits of leaving one’s homeland for different cultural and educational opportunities overseas.  It isn’t that one country is better than the other, instead, it is the comprehension that the unique and varying perspectives we have as global citizens is what ultimately adds to the collective dialogue we wish to engage in together.  Similarly for these students, when they interact with their professors and classmates at Southern University of Science and Technology, they will help create a platform which is receptive to new educational ideas from different cultures, highlighting the model already in place between China and Cambodia.

Field Trip: English Speaking Club

For the past two Semesters, I have led the Southern University of Science and Technology’s Speaking Club, “Voice of SUSTech” through weekly meetings, assembling every Sunday night to practice conversational English in an informal environment.  These gatherings – not classes – act as a practical platform for English language acquisition in an authentic setting, where rankings, competitions and tests are not part of the curriculum.

In an effort to underscore the notion of genuine learning opportunities I helped the students plan a field trip outside of campus, where they could practice their English conversational skills in a setting which pushed the boundaries of their comfort zone.  Within language attainment, it is challenges which foster growth, whereas rote learning only promotes an adherence to bygone practices.  Wishing to promote lessons that the students could utilize outside the classroom, we organized a “Foreigner Interview Project” at Shekou, an area with many international restaurants and shops, so that the students would have ample opportunities to speak and interact with people from across the globe.

Mexican Lunch
Lunch at Tequila Coyotes Cantina

Gathering at Noon in a Mexican restaurant, there were about 20 students, in addition to five staff, each of whom joined for this unique educational experience.  Language is a part of culture, and even the introduction to Spanish language and Mexican food sparked curiosity, as during our lunch, Sophomore student Liu Changgao found an immediate interest, sitting down to interview the owner of the restaurant, creating an instantaneous cultural exchange between the two, bridging any division of separation through simple conversation, with English acting as the common language.  Ideas and practices such as these were the goal of this project, and a Chinese student speaking with a Mexican business owner is a testament to this notion, and an example of the power of comfortability with language in an everyday setting.

Over the course of nearly two hours on a Sunday afternoon, the students and staff from the Speaking Club were able to interview people from across the globe, including Russia, France, Greece, the United States, and numerous other countries.  Asking a series of about five questions to the respective interviewees, the SUSTech students reported back with positive results, meeting people such as a Ukrainian filmmaker, a Uruguayan professor, and a Dutch researcher.  In many cases, the “interviews” turned into conversations, with dialogue flowing in each direction, adding deeper substance to the prescribed questions.

Interview Selfie

Part of my role as a foreign teacher within a Chinese educational context is not merely to espouse the importance of second language learning, but to similarly share the cultural aspects which encompass language.  Through activities such as this field trip, students and staff alike learned not only communicative skillsets associated with conversation, but moreover through the dialogues, they learned about cultural aspects associated with South American and European countries and the complexities which affect their realities living and working in China.  Not only were the student’s language skills enhanced through the “Foreigner Interview Project” but more importantly, their worldviews were expanded as well.

Book Club: “River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze”

This Spring Semester the Staff English Class began a Book Club, reading Peter Hessler’s “River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze”.  Meeting every other Thursday during lunch, our group consists of SUSTech Staff members who enjoy English literature, and who value the notion of constructive dialogue as it applies to both cultural and educational frameworks.  The Book Club consists of 17 students as well as myself, acting as a facilitator, reading three chapters (about 100 pages) every two weeks, coming prepared with issues which we both agree and disagree with, along with questions and concerns about the writing.  As active and engaged readers, the Staff Students take notes during their readings, highlighting and underlining important passages which speak to their own experiences.  Challenging ideas while understanding context allows for the discussion of different viewpoints, learning that when combined, our individual realities form a cohesive bond.

Book Club Discussion

River Town follows the path of Peter Hessler from 1996-1998 while he was a Peace Corps. Volunteer at Fuling Teachers College in Sichuan Province.  Much like my own current set of circumstances in 2017 Shenzhen, he taught English and culture in a university setting, writing about many of the challenges and opportunities which I too encounter on a daily basis.  For our Staff English Class, this seemed like an ideal book to study, as even though it describes events from 20 years ago, in a number of respects, it mirrors the complexities which both myself as well as my students face in modern day China.  Development may improve infrastructure and access to foreign capital but cultures change less rapidly, providing learning opportunities to explore our differences in opinions.  Whether along the Yangtze River or the South China Sea, there is no right answer, rather a combination of ideas which encourage discussion and ultimately lead to compromise.  Literature reflecting life!

To underscore our understanding of the book, I reached out to the author to see if he would be interested in speaking with us directly about his experiences in China, discussing with our Book Club via videoconference.  Peter Hessler still writes, most notably for The New Yorker, and his articles continue to delve past the surface limitations of image and into the greater depth of substance.  To our delight, he agreed to set up a time to talk with us, allowing a refined definition of the words we are reading, told by the author some 20 years later.  It is these expanded opportunities for learning – stretching beyond language into culture – which emphasizes the true nature of global education.

The SUSTech English Book Club is another example of the creative ideas for learning which are being fostered by those who understand the value of authentic educational models.  Twenty years ago, students in Fuling learned new ways of approaching common ideas by being introduced to an American teacher who brought with him a different perspective.  Today, as I work with motivated staff students in Shenzhen, I too am looking for innovative approaches to teaching about English and culture as well.  Reading River Town in our Book Club provides us with such an opportunity, where we reach beyond the traditional classroom, beyond our own circumstances, and beyond time and place, only to arrive at a new understanding painted by differing viewpoints which allows reflection as we continue to move downstream.

Shenzhen Daily Newspaper Article

I have had the opportunity to write for newspapers in Korea, Ethiopia, and now China, getting an article published in The Shenzhen Daily, the only English Newspaper here in South China.  As is usually the case, I wrote about the cross-pollination of culture and education:

“Global Education: Differing Ideas to Common Dreams”

Peering through the morning haze which hovers like a blanket over Shenzhen, I walk through a campus overlooked by neighboring skyscrapers from across the street, seemingly created from scratch within the last week.   These buildings of gleaming glass house companies which are recognized across the world, not only creating products that will be used from Africa to America, but similarly, attracting talented employees from countries on nearly every continent.  Creation through innovation – this approach to business has helped China along the path to prosperity it currently finds itself on, utilizing a local as well as international workforce to create a positive economic and educational environment which tries to benefit everyone involved.

On a daily basis at the university I teach at in Shenzhen, I hear the word “Internationalization” used with frequency, recognizing its importance, trying to emulate these successes in the classrooms which are being demonstrated in the boardrooms.  Foreign professors sharing their expertise with international students who likewise come equipped with different viewpoints are both an integral part of a constructive learning environment.  The world outside of campus is becoming less and less homogeneous, reflecting a changing business climate and it is prudent to prepare students for these realities.  Similarly, the approaches in deliverance of classroom information should also address the non-traditional methods of communication, shying away from conventional lectures and instead embracing cooperative learning models where students lead discussions; as involved in their learning outcomes as they would be in an innovative company which promotes cohesion, not separation.

Geographically, Shenzhen has an innate advantage, as people from all corners of China come here in search of brighter futures, creating a multicultural city of sorts which boasts regional cuisine, distinct dress, and even local music from the varying provinces across the country.  These cultural complexities are what draws others – from outside of China – to Shenzhen, to teach, learn, and work, experiencing both professional and personal development with lessons taking place daily in their offices and on the streets.  These examples of difference should be fostered inside university campuses as well, promoting learning from a variety of backgrounds, exposing students to different ways of thinking while expanding their worldview.

As an American with teaching experience on four different continents, I try to highlight not only Western methodology and pedagogy but furthermore, allow my students virtual access to the other places I have taught.  The internationalization of the classroom underlines the global environment we find ourselves in and likewise helps us to define the role we as individuals play.  Lessons which extend outside of campus, from participation in an American Book Club to a Webinar with African students helps to shape a different approach to common problems.  As a global citizen, I am grateful for my teaching and learning experiences here in Shenzhen, crouched underneath those clouds of haze yet knowing that the bridges built from here extend into that vast beyond where the possibilities are endless.

Matthew Jellick holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching from the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, and is currently a lecturer at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen.