November 13, 2017 | Teacher & Student Spotlight

How Alumni Educators Stay Connected to the KL Family

How Alumni Educators Stay Connected to the KL Family

Our community of educators is growing, with teachers returning to us year after year saying their campuses and their students feel like home. When our teachers decide it is time to return to the US, we encourage them to stay connected. In the case of Glen & Lisa Ritter, KL educators from our SMS Pinghu campus for three years, they did not go far.

Longtime educators, the Ritters chose to make St. Mary’s (SMS) domestic campus in Medford, Oregon their new home. Glen – teacher of physics, chemistry, and biology, and Lisa – teacher of English literature – both appreciated the opportunity to stay with SMS after having such a wonderful experience teaching abroad. Glen shared his thoughts with us last year in an article called A Teacher’s Journey: Back Again. We recently checked in with them both to learn more about their experiences, and to find out what advice they might have for others considering teaching with KL in China.

What went into your mutual decision to teach in China? Where were you living at the time?

LISA: We were working at a boarding school in Colora, MD, about an hour from Baltimore. We were at a point in our lives where we were ready to try something new and different, something outside our comfort zone. Quite a bit of fear and trepidation went into our decision, but once made, there was no turning back! Our five grown children were very excited and supportive of our decision.

GLEN: Because our children were adults, we felt free to make such a bold decision. I hadn’t seriously considered the opportunity until I interviewed with [KL Senior Director] Jane Cai, who convinced me it would be a great experience.

What were your immediate impressions of SMS – Pinghu, and how did those impressions evolve during your years teaching there?

LISA: We really had no idea what to expect, and quite honestly, we feared the worst. However, we were pleasantly surprised by how welcoming, gracious, and accommodating our Pinghu hosts were. They made every effort to make the transition to our new life easier, including transforming our school dorm room into a warm and comfortable home away from home. The staff, students, and the friends that we made in the community, all invited us into their homes and to their celebratory events. As a result, we had the privilege of experiencing Pinghu through their eyes rather than as mere tourists.

GLEN: We liked Pinghu from the start, and we grew to consider it our home. Because we made so many friends, we experienced Chinese culture in a more relaxed atmosphere. And by staying for three years, we were able to be a part of the growth of the SMS – Pinghu school program.

Former KL teacher Glen Ritter with students and community members

Glen Ritter (R) with Pinghu campus students & community members

Did you feel supported by the KL community while in China? Did you feel you could reach out to KL staff on any of our campuses for resources or advice?

GLEN: We did feel supported; everyone at KL was great. Our onsite Program Manager, Rita Li, made all the difference. She made our lives better with her constant willingness to smooth over the many natural obstacles that arise when living in China.

LISA: Yes, Rita was amazing! And although thousands of miles apart, we felt that the KL staff in the U.S., especially Jane Cai, was always readily accessible.

KL Program Manager Rita Li (front R) with Pinghu campus staff and students

KL Program Manager Rita Li (front R) with Pinghu campus staff and students

What factors contributed to your move to Medford, Oregon?

LISA: After three years in Pinghu, we really missed our family.

GLEN: Yes, the only reason we left Pinghu was that we missed our children and grandchild. We chose to come to Medford, Oregon to continue our relationship with SMS.

Do you feel as though you gained a new perspective on global education and international students during your time abroad?

LISA: Although we were not new to international students, having worked with them at the boarding school in Maryland, the experience of living abroad, working with a Chinese public school, interacting with Chinese teachers, and witnessing the Chinese education system first hand, really opened my eyes. It gave me a much better understanding of the similarities and differences in our philosophies and methods of teaching as well as the way in which students learn.

GLEN: Just living in a foreign city, trying to navigate without understanding the language, acclimating to the food and customs, was a constant struggle. It made me appreciate how difficult it is for our international students who are away from home and trying to succeed in a difficult academic program. I have a renewed respect for students who are willing to take on this challenge.

KL science teacher Glen Ritter with classroom demonstration

KL science teacher Glen Ritter during a classroom demonstration

How did your time teaching at the SMS global campus help your transition to the domestic campus in Oregon?

GLEN: Teaching with KL has taught me how to communicate in non-verbal ways. I was fortunate to be involved in many different types of activities in the Pinghu community, and seldom did anyone speak English. I was forced to find other ways to understand and be understood. What a useful skill for anywhere I work.

LISA: The experience of teaching in China provided me with much better insight into the international student studying in the U.S. I now feel better equipped to understand things from their perspective, and I am more sensitive to the difficulties they can have adjusting to life in a foreign country.

KL English literature teacher Lisa Ritter pairs up with a student for a three-legged race

KL English literature teacher Lisa Ritter pairs up with a student for a three-legged race

What advice would you give to prospective KL educators considering teaching with KL in China?

LISA: Make adjustments and be flexible. Don’t expect to find a convenient office/school supply store around the corner from which to purchase classroom items. Expect many blank faces staring back at you with expressions of total miscomprehension. Have a sense of humor! Don’t be surprised or frustrated when things that seem so simple and logical to you are complicated and illogical in China. Embrace the culture. Get to know the people. Don’t let the language difference keep you from venturing out. Body language is universal, and you will be amazed at how well you can communicate with one another.

GLEN: Be open-minded and curious. Whether you are planning to stay one year or longer, embrace your surroundings wholeheartedly. Get to know the people in your community, not just your school. We were able to experience such incredible things because we became friends with our neighbors and they accepted us not as strangers but as part of the Pinghu community. What I remember best about our time in China is the weddings, the baby showers, and the group dinners that we were invited to attend. Don’t go to China expecting it to be immediately comfortable, but know that if you put in the effort, it will become home.

Former KL educators at a wedding in the Pinghu community

Lisa (L) and Glen (R) Ritter at a wedding in the Pinghu community

Want to join our inspiring community of educators teaching on our global campuses? Check out our KL career opportunities today!