Category Archives: Uncategorized

Visiting Professor to the Center for Language Education

Last week I had the opportunity to host a former professor of mine, Dr. Gena Rhoades, whom I invited to give a series of workshops at my university here in Shenzhen.  Presenting for both teachers and students alike, her workshops geared towards Pedagogy included “Student Engagement: Motivating the Unmotivated” while the presentations which focused on student needs included, “Preparing for the Future”.  Practical yet useful, the approach to teaching and learning strategies reminded us all that attention should be paid to sustainable practices which value the individual, not just the result.

I met Dr. Rhoades when she was my professor during my master’s program at the University of Southern California (USC).  I remember her teaching approach then, appreciating us for who we were as individuals, not just as students.  Years later, and in my own classrooms, I too try to emulate this method, giving credence to my student’s background, and in turn, trying to incorporate those elements of complexity into my curriculum.  Too often, I am afraid, students can be relegated to a number on a data sheet, grouped with others to whom they have no correlation other than similar standardized test scores.  Yet we as individuals are unique and bring with us varying circumstances which make up not only our being, but our reasoning, too.  The boy in the back of the class majoring in Electrical Engineering is different from the girl on the other side of the room who wants to be an international choreographer yet is getting a degree from a STEM university.  We need to celebrate these differences, not mitigate them.

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Shenzhen Daily Newspaper Article

At Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), I work in the Center for Language Education (CLE), where we try to invite guests such as Dr. Rhoades to come and share their expertise with us, and by extension, the entire university.  With an aim to continuously learn about new approaches, and in turn, utilize them in the classroom, the teachers in our center understand the value of professional development, and the positive implications it has on not only ourselves, but our students as well.  From Dr. Rhoades’ perspective, she too gets to learn about the complexities we face, both inside as well as outside the classroom, and how we manage them, trying to turn them into learning opportunities.

I am grateful for the support of my university in helping to bring Dr. Rhoades to Shenzhen, and similarly, to my former professor for taking the time to come here, helping to bridge the cultural and educational divide which exist, irrespective of location.  The world is becoming much smaller, and the ability to share ideas as they pertain to English-language learning has perhaps, never been so important.  Yet for all the discussion about pedagogical approaches, it is of utmost importance that we never loose sight of the students and their needs.  For it is they who will lead us into the future, and it is in our best interest to provide them with the necessary tools for that journey…


University Magazine Article: “My Teaching and Learning Experiences at SUSTech”

Since first arriving in the Fall of 2016, I still believe that it was guided happenstance which somehow brought me to Shenzhen, having spent the previous two years living and teaching in Ethiopia, and before that, four years in Korea.  At the time, I was looking to return to an Asian educational context after my experiences on the Horn of Africa, but Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) wasn’t necessarily a specific destination, rather, I simply wanted to work once again in a high-tech learning environment, surrounded by educators with similar aspirations and goals.  In the Spring of 2016, while still a Teaching Fellow on behalf of the US State Department in Ethiopia, I presented my research on the topic of Gender Education at the International Conference on Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in Baltimore, USA, and decided to sit for an interview with SUSTech, and the Center for Language Education (CLE).  Immediately, I was drawn to the mission of the school, and its ambitious transformation into a leading world-class research university.  Specifically, within the CLE, I was interested in how we could, as a center, help with English-language acquisition not only from a linguistic-based approach, but moreover, translate that fundamental knowledge and apply it to authentic communication outside the classroom.  My educational experiences in Africa, unlike those in Asia, had placed an emphasis on oral traditions, and I wanted to see if I could apply those same principles to a context which favors standardized testing and the curriculum associated with it.  So, with an ear towards the past and an eye towards the future, I tried to listen to my heart and returned to Ethiopia to finish my teaching assignment, while visions of South China began to tint my horizon, a color I thought I was familiar with, but as it turns out, was a completely new shade, unbeknownst to me.

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Landing after a trans-Pacific flight in October 2016, underneath the gaze of a full Moon, I began to settle in, both as an educator and as an individual. On campus, I was teaching Staff English classes, while off, I was exploring the megatropolis of Shenzhen.  Immediately, I was inundated with a cacophony of unique senses, everything quite different from anywhere I had lived before, including the complex intersection of education and life.  Challenges are a necessary aspect of a dynamic existence, and I viewed any new professional and personal obstacles I encountered as learning experiences which would have been placated had I chosen a less interesting path.  I was reminded that this global professional journey I am on, which takes me to different continents across the globe, allows me a unique perspective of not only how others live their lives, but equally so, what my own strengths and weaknesses are in the face of adversity.

Having done extensive teacher training during my two years as a Language Fellow in Ethiopia, I welcomed the opportunity to teach English to the Staff of SUSTech.  Most of my students comprise of Research Assistants, Secretaries, Librarians, and others who work in different capacities in different departments across campus.  There are three scaffolded levels, including Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced, each focusing on differing fundamentals as they apply to English acquisition.  Learning outcomes range from simplified vocabulary to presentation skills, all through a classroom setting where there is a low affective filter, making the students comfortable with the process of learning a new language, giving them confidence in the abilities they have.  Motivation speaks loudly in a course like this, with those who value results able to dictate the terms of their engagement, be it two hours a week or 10.  Language is a living thing, like consciousness, and if classroom instruction acts as an incubator, then authentic practice outside is where lessons are learned through mistakes and growth is achieved through patience.

Seeing a need for sustained practice outside the classroom, I involved myself in a number of different learning platforms, including the Student English Speaking Club, “The Voice of SUSTech”.  This group of highly-motivated students would meet once a week, on Sunday nights(!), to practice speaking, including impromptu applications, prepared remarks, and lively debates.  Different students would rotate as the group’s presenter, hosting the meeting with lessons they had created for the specific topic.  More of a mentor than a teacher, my role was to facilitate the constructive dialogue of each meeting, highlighting different positive approaches to good public speaking, but never leading the way directly, shedding light, but never mastering.  Over the course of three semesters, we worked together weekly, punctuated by a field trip to Shekou to conduct English interviews of foreigners.  This practical application of the lessons learned underscored not only the students’ comfortability in using English in an everyday setting, but moreover, highlighted the positive group dynamic which had been established through this authentic learning experience.

Seeking to provide the Staff English students with extended practice outside the classroom as well, I began a Book Club, hosting a group of about 15 high-level readers, as we read and analyzed an English novel, once a semester.  Over the course of the past two years, we have read Thomas Hessler’s River Town, Anche Min’s The Cooked Seed, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, each one providing not only language development, but perhaps more importantly, cultural insight through the respective stories.  Meeting biweekly, we read about 100 pages, coming prepared for discussion which focuses on the collective rather than the specific.  Issues of cultural diversity, remembrances of the past, gender identity, and even philosophy have been discussed, each one providing a topic which can be difficult to explain in a more structured learning arena such as the classroom.  The SUSTech Staff English Book Club is perhaps my favorite activity of the many I am involved with, because it has the fewest parameters, not fenced in the landscape a prescribed curriculum might have drawn.  There is extended academic freedom to discuss whatever may be on our minds, regardless if there is a direct correlation to the novel itself.  Fostered by this platform, linguistic and cultural barriers are overcome through the timelessness of reading, reminding me that wherever I may be teaching, sometimes it is simplicity which yields the highest results.

Throughout my experiences teaching in different countries, I have been able to find solace in writing, sharing my stories within various newspapers and magazines, usually tying in cross-cultural educational aspects to whatever it is I may be doing or wherever it is I may be living, include articles in The Korea Times, The Ethiopian Herald, and The Shenzhen Daily.  At SUSTech though, I have extended this reach, and now help students, too, get their articles published in the local newspaper, using it as both a writing exercise, while also encouraging them to address topics of their own choosing.  Thus far, three students have had their writings published, ranging on topics from international friends at school to studying abroad opportunities in England to research they are doing in the laboratory.  Empowerment through lessons is something which is easy to let slip in the development of a traditional syllabi, yet through constructive applications such as this, students are able to gain ownership over their writings, and in turn, be proud of what they have produced.

Three years ago, or thirty years ago, if I had been told that I would be teaching at a STEM-based university in Southern China, I would have had a hard time believing it.  Yet, over the past two years here at SUSTech, I now understand that somehow, someway, this happenstance fits perfectly into the design which continues to play out since I began teaching.  So often I am reminded – as I stand in front of the classroom as a teacher – that it is I who perhaps has the most to learn, grateful for all the opportunities which are presented to me as an educator.  Both SUSTech as well as the extended city of Shenzhen have taught me so much about who I am as a teacher and a person, constantly surprising me with roadblocks which at first may seem frustrating, but upon further reflection, are a learning opportunity.  The cultural acclimation I must constantly adapt to has become a reflection of myself, providing me with examples of my own mechanisms on how I deal with change, and the tools I utilize in adjusting accordingly.  Similarly, within the classroom, I try to remain cognizant of how I incorporate creative approaches to teaching, shying away from rote techniques which, in my opinion, don’t create sustainable learning outcomes.  So, it is through practices mentioned above where I find the inspired conflux of teaching and learning, hoping to broaden my student’s perception of education while at the same time, expanding their worldview.

Staff English Book Club Newspaper Article: Kristin Hannah’s “The Great Alone”

Each semester I host an English Book Club for the Staff Students at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech).  This is the fourth consecutive semester we have done so, broadening our collective worldview through the cultural and linguistic challenges which these English novels pose.  Meeting biweekly to discuss the themes which are raised within the pages, there is a minimization of structure, whereby discussions revolve around impulse coupled with interest.  No parameters have been set to either limit or push conversation, not fencing in, or out, any ideas which wish to be shared.  I can say that without a doubt, it is my favorite activity I do within the scope of my job, as I embrace this practice of collaborative idea sharing though authentic language learning.

This semester’s book is Kristin Hannah’s, The Great Alone, a story which “weaves together the deeply personal with the universal.”  Set in Alaska during the 1970’s, it approaches issues such as isolationism of self, defining feminist identity, intricate family dynamics, and complex interpersonal friendships, all creating a story which mirrors the multifaceted nature of our own reality.   None of this is simple, and we would be lying to ourselves if we said it was.  And through Hannah’s characters, including insights into their own thoughts as well as witnessing interactions with each other, we are reminded that life poses a series of questions, oftentimes asked by ourselves, while at other times, tested by those with whom we cross paths.

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Book Club!

There are 12 members in our Book Club, including myself, but just as everyone else, I do not play the role of “teacher”, rather, am an equally active participant reading along and sharing ideas.  Through our biweekly interactions, a leader is not necessary, as everyone involved has a high degree of English ability, and more importantly, an understanding of the intrinsic nature of human complexity.  Life in Alaska during the Winter is not easy, and the characters are tested both physically and emotionally, forming new relationships while questioning others, all in an attempt to simply make it through.  This is the paradigm of life, and Kristin Hannah beautifully illustrates it through her words, painting a picture which extends outside Alaska, and into each of our own personal orbits.

The Book Club provides an opportunity for students to utilize their English acquisition through a platform which doesn’t place an emphasis on standardization.  We are all individuals with unique sets of circumstances which have brought us to where we are and who we are today.  To try and measure that through inauthentic means would be unfair to both ourselves as well as the book.  It is not the words, but rather the underlying meanings which help us identify with the characters in the novel, each with stories of their own which have gone to shape their identity.  The same is true of each of the Book Club members, and I am grateful for their participation, reaching beyond traditional learning approaches and embracing truth as it pertains to education.

Ethiopia and China: Educational Landscapes

Upon initial reflection, the similarities between Ethiopia and China may be few, distanced between contrasting continents, and spread across differing ideologies.  Yet as a teacher, something I have learned that brings the world closer together is education, and the understanding that achievement in the classroom often brings about success on a larger stage, regardless of location.

This past week I had the opportunity to revisit Ethiopia, a country where I taught for two years prior to coming to China.  Engulfed in social, economic and educational change, Ethiopia, perhaps more than anywhere else I have lived, taught me more about myself both as a person and a professional, instilling in me ideals and beliefs which I have carried over to my instruction here in China.  During this recent trip, my eyes were once again opened to the importance of education in a cross-cultural context, and the role it plays in being an agent of change.

Classrooms in China come equipped with the latest technology, from Smart Boards to integrated online platforms.  In contrast, classrooms in Ethiopia sometimes lack basic necessities such as chalk or electricity.  Yet it is the ambition and determination of the students from each respective country which rise across physical and cultural divides; understanding that motivation comes from within, fueled by the dream of a better tomorrow where collaboration, not competition, drives global sustainability.

During my week in the capital city of Addis Ababa, I led two English workshops, met with educational leaders, and even collaborated with scholarship recipients who have turned their dreams into reality.  One commonality they all shared was an interest in hearing about my experiences from China, a country which they see as an integral part of global growth.  For it is China where more and more students are turning to for educational and business opportunities, and they wanted to know more about things ranging from the university system to the high-speed trains.  I view myself not as an American teaching in China, but rather as a global educator, and I was happy to share stories with the Ethiopian students about the opportunities which exist not only in places like Shenzhen, but in fact anywhere they chose to set their ambitions towards.  Ethiopia, more than anywhere, is full of hope, and this communal strength is what continues to sustain their dreams.

To be able to work in these juxtaposed educational environments has underscored the notion that the world is our classroom, and that learning is indeed lifelong and worldwide.  I am grateful for these opportunities and hope that I can in turn share an extended worldview with my students on whichever continent I may be teaching.

Matthew Jellick is a Senior Lecturer in the Center for Language Education at Southern University of Science and Technology.

Ethiopian Herald Article: “Upon Return To Ethiopia”

Splintered memories spiraling back into my consciousness as I take a taxi from Bole to Shiromeda; uneven roads lined by development and paved by history.  Having spent 2014 – 2016 in Ethiopia on a Teaching Fellowship, my return to “The Land of Origins”, two years later, brought with it anxious anticipation juxtaposed with hopeful ambition.  The harrowing intersection at Meskel Square acting as symbolism for the crossroads where education and culture meet here Addis Ababa.

Beyond any other place which I have been, Ethiopia has taught me more about myself both as an individual and a teacher.  The lessons I gave at different universities across the country paled in comparison to the education I received from the kind people here, all of whom were careful to shed light, but not to master.  “You” they said, “have the clock, but we have the time.”  My past two years living and teaching in China have underscored the meaning of this statement, a testament to the patience and fortitude of the Ethiopian people, a country with a 13-month calendar, and millions of years of history.

The landscape of Ethiopian education continues to grow at the same pace of business development.  Students understanding the value of not only a degree, but the underlying importance of constructive dialogue and critical thinking.  With a personal pedagogical approach rooted in the belief that the teacher should be a facilitator of discussion rather than a lecturer, I have seen firsthand the benefits of cross-cultural exchange within the classroom, and the respect it brings to both sides of the conversation.  Students I taught at Ambo University in 2014 still update me on their personal and professional lives, proud of who they have become both inside as well as outside the classroom.  For me, this speaks to the power of global education more so than a high GPA or standardized test scores.

The rich culture which infuses every aspect of Ethiopian life resonates far beyond campus, instilling a sense of pride which defines these people and this country.  Some of my best memories include the food and music that dominate the social scene here, and which as a cultural ambassador, I have made efforts to share with others, whether back home in California, or in China, where I currently live.  It is these pooled influences which make the world more understanding, shedding isolation and embracing common interests.

The experiences during my return trip have helped to dismiss any negative connotations associated with developing infrastructure and instead, replaced them with a belief in the power of persistence.  I am thankful for the opportunities Ethiopia presented me during my two years living and teaching here, and going forward, this week, with a renewed hope for a country and people whom have shared so much with me, and for whom I am eternally grateful.

Matthew Jellick was an English Language Fellow, teaching on behalf of the US Embassy, at both Ambo University and Dire Dawa University.

Poem: “Pacific Journey”

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Constrained between two Full Moons,

California glows with its horizon on fire.

From Sunrise to Sunset,

A brief four weeks to quench my heart’s desire.

Transpacific flights to and from paradise

Bring with them hopes and dreams,

While taking back reflections:

A collection of memories.

The blue hues of the ocean

Contrasting with the whites of crashing waves,

The sky above, mirroring my thoughts

On these carefree Summer days.

The Golden State has, is, and will

Forever be my home.

Yet this global educational trek I’m on

Encourages my mind to roam.

Family and Friends coupled with

Tacos and Beer

The Moon meanwhile, playing games,

And by mid-August, has disappeared.

Mexican Cacti and the Californian Poppy

Line the edges of the sand;

Tepid green and bright orange

In this beautiful desert land.

Innate love and lifelong friendships

Dot my days and nights,

My mind body and soul

Not wanting to get on that returning flight.

Yet the Moon, she reappears

Bright as the night I came,

Telling me it’s time to go back now,

California, another time, I can visit again.


Education is Lifelong and Worldwide

…an article I wrote for my university’s magazine, “Scientia” :

My educational journey to SUSTech has taken me across the world, from the peaks of JiriSan in South Korea to the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia.  Along the way I have worked and taught with countless interesting people, including Nuns in Nonsan and Diplomats in Addis Ababa, each reflecting upon me the beauty of cultural diversity shared through the common language of learning.

During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to travel, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, to Mexico to do cross-cultural educational research, once in Nogales and once in Oaxaca.  In this land of a thousand stars, I studied migrant education, trying to understand the complexities surrounding the motives why people would leave their homelands in search of a better tomorrow, whether they be for economic, political, or scholastic reasons.  I didn’t know then that I too, through this platform of global education, would follow along a similar path, leaving behind the comforts of California for the experiences which lied beyond that great blue Pacific Ocean.

In 2009 I moved overseas, leaving behind North America for my first stint in Asia, teaching English in South Korea.  The Land of the Morning Calm welcomed me with a kindness I had never experienced before, called a foreigner in name only, while in reality I was treated as one of their own.  The personal and professional relationships I established then I still rely upon now; a testament to the people of Korea and the warmth with which they nurtured me.  It was while in Korea where I learned to understand the intersection of culture and acclimation, going on weekly adventures into the peninsula, trekking up national mountains or enjoying the warm hot springs.  I simultaneously fell in love with the metropolis of Seoul while at the same time found solace in the villages of Chungcheongnam-Do, each offering me a new element of life breathed in with that fiery Soju.  I remained in front of classes delivering lectures, but the truth is that I became a student of Korea, embracing its rich history while simultaneously standing in amazement at its boundless future.  The sleepy suburbs of Orange County or the placated cities like Portland couldn’t compare to the speed which I saw in Korea, a new vision I was witnessing through lenses I had never tried on before, but which I found, fit me perfectly.

One of the interesting things about living overseas is that it goes to redefine your perception of home, able to view it from a different perspective.  It was by providence through which I ended up in Korea; an uneasy sense of restlessness growing inside me while I lived in the United States, which somehow manifested itself through applying to jobs in a country I knew little about.  Yet looking back on that decision, it was perhaps the single most important one of my life, encouraged from a young age by my parents to travel, and still supported by them to continue chasing my dreams, wherever they may lead.  My move to Korea increased my professional development, but perhaps more importantly, it expanded my worldview.

It was during my five years in Korea where I began to earnestly write, sharing my experiences through travel articles and getting more serious academic-based pieces published in local magazines and newspapers, something I continue to do now, nearly a decade later in China.  The words I transcribed seemed to flow effortlessly as they were mere reflections of my thoughts, then as now, positive experiences from these magical places.  On long weekends I would fly to cities such as Cebu, Bali or even Vladivostok, incessant in my desire to see as many countries as possible, finding beauty in the absurd, and satisfaction in the delicious.  The contrasting cultures of Asia mesmerized me, from the clothes to the faiths and from the music to the foods, each one unique in its own individuality, writing their own stories of which I simply played a part.  Yet upon each return flight to Incheon Airport, I never felt any remorse, as I was coming home to a Korea which continued to be new to me, whimsical in its eccentricities and sometimes absurd in its distinctiveness.  It’s what kept me there for five years and why when it came time, it was so difficult to leave.

After enough memories to last a lifetime from my experiences in Asia, I wanted to challenge myself both personally and professionally, looking for a new opportunity which was as unique as I was.  Complacency can subtly disrupt ambition and I wanted to be careful to follow up my growth in Korea with something that tested my resolve as an individual and as a teacher.  Applying to a competitive program, I was accepted as an English Language Fellow, working on behalf of the US Embassy in Ethiopia for a two-year program which placed me at universities across the country, teaching English to students and Methodology and Pedagogy to teachers.  The single greatest “experience” of my life, while at the same time being the most difficult thing I have ever done, those two years in Ethiopia taught me more about myself than I could have ever anticipated.  Yet like the people I met in Korea, the kindness of the Ethiopians knew no bounds, welcoming me into their communities with open arms and warm hearts.

Within an Ethiopian educational context, I quickly discovered that learning outside of the classroom seemed to have a longer lasting impact on the students.  While we met weekly for our prescribed classes, it was our trips to Gender Empowerment Art Exhibitions, Sports through Diplomacy Programs, and Poetry Workshops which meant more to these students, most of whom were the first in their families to receive a tertiary education.  I was the first foreigner they had ever had as a teacher, and I felt that it was my responsibly to not only teach them English but to expand their cultural awareness as well, giving them ownership over their future and options from which to choose their direction.  By all accounts, Ethiopia is a developing nation, and my role there as a Fellow was to instill notions of pride, empowerment and ambition into the minds of the students and teachers I worked with.  These practices in turn taught me not only about the context I was working in, but also the context from which I came.

An advantage to working overseas is that I get to experience opportunities which would be hard to come by if I was teaching in a California school district.  In Ethiopia, these were manifested through outreach I did with local communities, including volunteer teaching at a Mosque school, organizing a $500,000 book donation to my university, and bringing my students to see President Obama speak at the African Union.  While my teaching contract stipulated that I teach 20 hours a week in the classroom, I was able to excel because I quickly learned that true education takes place outside the confines of campus, where reality shows both sides of its nature.   For my students, these opportunities gave them sustainable learning experiences which will last long after I have moved on and provided them with the tools to build a future in which they can continue to help lead their country.

During my two years in Africa, the Asian countries I used to travel to were replaced by trips to Djibouti, Kenya and Burkina Faso, each of which I was able to present at international conferences, highlighting my work in Ethiopia from a socio-linguistic perspective.  Yet it was at the 2016 TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Conference in the United States, presenting on Gender Identity in an Ethiopian Context where my road to SUSTech was paved.  This preeminent conference in our field had attracted the Center for Language Education (CLE), and I decided to sit down for an interview, explaining myself and my viewpoints on teaching.  With a return flight to Africa to finish my Fellowship, a future in Asia was once again dancing around in my head, interested to find out more about not only SUSTech, but Shenzhen.

As part of an Embassy program, two years was the maximum time I could spend in Ethiopia, so I agreed to come to China, excited about a new opportunity in a country I had only visited once on vacation (Beijing, 2010).  I arrived at SUSTech in the Fall of 2016, and in the time since, have once again been welcomed by a student body and administration which wants to learn, while at the same time, is happy to share knowledge.   Teaching both students and staff, I have tried to instill many of the lessons I learned while living in Korea and Ethiopia, from authentic learning in the classroom to extended opportunities outside of campus.  Over the course of nearly two years, I have worked with students in the English-Speaking Club and also started a Staff English Book Club, both examples of education which doesn’t have to be from a prescribed format.  Similarly, I have been honored to work on International Student recruitment, a firm believer that multiculturalism in the classroom is a benefit to all; broadening the scope of dialogue which can take place and strengthening the bonds between differing ideas.

I continue to write about my experiences, having numerous articles printed in the local English newspaper, The Shenzhen Daily, highlighting the work I am doing at SUSTech, and even helped one of my Sophomore students get an article published as well.  Traveling remains an important aspect of my time abroad, visiting Malaysia, Cambodia and Singapore since arriving in Shenzhen, cognizant that Asia is multifaceted, with each country a piece of a complex puzzle.  The conversations I have and the lessons I give are a reflection not of me as an American, rather as a global educator, combining my experiences from across the globe and transmitting them through a platform of inclusion, including aspects from China, too.

The direction which SUSTech is on is one of rapid transformation into one of the leading research universities in the world, and I am privileged to be a part of the process.  It is my hope that through my teaching I am able to instill in this community of learners the knowledge necessary for a successful future in which they get to make decisions which will, quite literally, affect the world.  I am grateful to be able to share my story here, for as long as it may seem, is only one small chapter of my life, complex as it is interesting.  The conflux of teaching and travel has given me these opportunities and continued to remind me that Education is Lifelong and Worldwide!