December 13, 2016 | KL Community

A Teacher’s Journey: And Back Again

A Teacher’s Journey: And Back Again

Glen and Lisa Ritter served for 3 years at the St. Mary’s (SMS) Pinghu campus. In fall of 2016, they transitioned back to the US, where they now are a part of the SMS home campus community.
One of the most important things we do as teachers is to provide opportunities to students who are eager to change the course of their lives…

When I was first asked to join KnowledgeLink (KL) and teach in China, I was flooded with dozens of reasons why it was a bad idea, and it seemed unlikely I would act upon this unique opportunity that had been presented to me. The more I considered the offer, the easier it became to dismiss my fears and look instead to the potential for me to grow as an educator and as a person. I ultimately took the job with the expectation that I would stay one year, but ended up leaving China, with great sadness, after three years to return to America and teach at the SMS home campus in Medford, Oregon.

One of the most important things we do as teachers is to provide opportunities to students who are eager to change the course of their lives. I had taught many students from China who had come to America to further their education and find a way to achieve their academic dream of attending college in America, but I was always aware that these were the most fortunate students; the ones who could afford four years of private education in America before taking on the cost of college. Working with KL and teaching at SMS (a KL partner school) brought me in contact with students who needed to find a different path to American colleges and universities. In twenty years of teaching, I have not felt the level of appreciation that I did while working in China. From students, parents, my Chinese colleagues, and even from people in the larger community outside of the school, there was always a sense that what I did mattered, and a feeling that I played an important part in the future of my students.

Teacher Glen Ritter at the Pinghu English Festival

The feeling of accomplishment I had was enough to make my time in China worthwhile, but it was only the beginning of the overall experience I was fortunate enough to have. Pinghu, where I lived and worked, is not a multi-cultural city accustomed to foreigners, like Shanghai or Beijing. Lisa and I were able to live and appreciate a life where we were the ones forced to understand and embrace a foreign culture. The friendliness and curiosity of our hosts made this task an easy one, and when the time came for us to leave, we felt as if we were leaving our home. As a teacher who is once again working in America with students from foreign countries, I am acutely aware of the challenges they face as they adjust to their new lives. I believe my time in China gave me a level of empathy that I would never have had if I myself had not been immersed in a setting where the language, food, and customs were so different than my own.

Outside of the classroom, outside of the sense of community, there is the travel. By plane, train, or bus it is easy and relatively inexpensive to travel throughout China. We were able to visit The Great Wall, the Forbidden City (and other Beijing sites), Xian and the Terra Cotta Soldiers, Hangzhou and the beautiful West Lake, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and many more cities, cultural sites, and areas of remarkable natural beauty. Lisa and I chose to explore within China, but other teachers take advantage of generous vacations to travel throughout Southeast Asia; a three day weekend is long enough to fly to South Korea or Japan or Vietnam. Make no mistake, the teaching is difficult and time consuming, but there is ample to time to visit places that you might never have known about or could not have previously afforded.

Glen at the Great Wall and Lisa outside of Guilin.

Perhaps the most important aspect of teaching within the KL umbrella is how hassle free they make the experience. There is an expertise that takes the teacher through every stage of the move, from visa to settling in your new home. At each school there is a Program Coordinator who acts as a liaison between the teacher and community. In three years there was not a single moment when I felt as if I was alone in a vast and heavily populated country; instead I was made to feel comfortable in my new environment. Indeed, one of the most difficult adjustments I had to make upon my return to America was scheduling my own life.

The experience I had working in China made me a better teacher and widened my perspectives and global views, and I consider myself fortunate to still be with SMS even if I am no longer with KL and am far from the friends I made in Pinghu. If I were to get that same call today, asking me if I was interested in teaching in China, I would have no fear, only a tinge of regret that I had my chance and now someone else would be having an experience of a lifetime.