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Teach Abroad in China Alumni, Jennifer Rives

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Jennifer Rives

From: Tampa, Florida
Major in college: Psychology, minor in Chinese Language
Name of School: Chongqing Vocational College of Transportation

What made you decide to teach abroad?

I knew that I wanted to teach abroad when I was 15. I discovered TESOL in high school, and I swore to myself that one day I would try it out and move to another country. However, going through college and trying to fully participate in the college experience, I ended up forgetting about that goal completely. Everyone around me was following the same pattern of graduating and then immediately going to graduate school, so I thought that I should do the same thing. As it turns out, just a few days after graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, I was formally rejected from the one graduate school to which I applied.

After reading my rejection letter, I started to feel like I had failed myself, but then I reminded myself that success is not a straight line. I thought back to all of the conversations I had with other college graduates who eventually went to graduate school. I realized that all of them had told me the same thing: if you can take a year off, do it.

With nothing stopping me, I decided to do it. And once I was resolute about taking a year off to do something I wanted, 15 year old Jennifer's dream of teaching abroad jumped into the forefront with open arms and a map in hand.

I realized that I had the chance to make my biggest dream in the world come true, and that everything in life really does happen for a reason. To this day, I am still so glad that I was rejected from graduate school, because without that rejection letter, I would have never spent 10 months in China, met the most incredible Chinese friends, traveled to the most beautiful places (including 3 other countries), and have realized that this career is something I want to pursue long-term.

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What was the most rewarding part of teaching abroad?

The most rewarding part of teaching abroad was realizing that I made a real impact in the lives of my students and friends. I also realized how much of an impact they had on me. I became close friends with a big group of students from my school, and we did just about everything together. We were able to have a relationship of true reciprocal teaching and learning; sometimes I really even felt like they were teaching me much more than I was teaching them.

One moment I will never forget is when one of my student friends, Amy, pulled my co-worker and me aside one night to talk to us about her future. Amy always loved learning English and was very interested in American culture, but she had given up on herself and her future after scoring low on the college entrance exam. She said that seeing how we were traveling the world and living passionately made her realize how much she wanted to do the same thing. She told us that she had decided to study abroad in America and had already begun the preparation process. Amy later left the school, started at a study abroad preparatory program, and is moving to the United States in January 2017 to start her undergraduate career.

By seeing the kind of work I was doing, she decided to become a Chinese teacher in America. I didn’t realize how much I could influence and inspire students until Amy pulled me aside and told me that I directly inspired her to follow her dream of studying in America.

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How were you challenged while teaching abroad? What did it teach you?

I was challenged in just about every way you can imagine while teaching abroad. I was teaching in a small town in Chongqing, and I had a much different experience than my CIEE colleagues teaching in Chongqing city. My living situation was okay at best and I had to learn the local Chongqing language because few people would speak Mandarin to me. My other colleagues and I were the only foreigners living in the town, and on top of that, it was my first time teaching so I fumbled around the classroom for a while until I figured out my footing.

Even though the challenges seemed far too many and far too great at the time, I overcame each and every one of them. The only way to overcome challenges while teaching abroad is to adapt to the way things are done in the local culture in which you are teaching. Once you get in the groove of doing things the way local people do them, you'll find that daily life becomes a lot easier.

I found it very helpful to look for the positives in every situation and to always do my best to laugh at the crazy and hard times. I tried to see each new obstacle as a chance to learn something new. You'd be surprised just how well positivity and adaptability go together!

What was one of your favorite memories of teaching in China?

I have so many wonderful memories from my time teaching in China! I loved meeting my amazing group of student friends who kept me sane, helped me out so selflessly, made me laugh and smile all the time, and taught me more about Chinese language and culture than I could have ever learned from a college course (or five!). I also traveled Guilin, Harbin’s Snow & Ice World for the Ice Festival, or even just the nights I spent out in Chongqing city. I never got tired of how beautiful it was or how good it felt to be in a big city with my friends by my side.

How did teaching abroad influence where you are today? 

Teaching abroad made me realize that I want to pursue a career in TESOL. I am currently preparing to teach abroad a second time with CIEE in Thailand. After I finish my year of teaching in Thailand, I plan to go to graduate school to get my Master's degree in TESOL and I hope to teach at an international school in either South Korea, Singapore, or Taiwan. I would eventually like to move up and take on other educational roles so that I can continue to make an impact in the lives of students and help them achieve their long-term personal and professional goals. 

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How did CIEE make your experience teaching abroad better?

I would definitely recommend CIEE Teach Abroad! When you're first starting out in the teach abroad world, it can be very intimidating finding a good school, getting a visa, finding housing, and knowing what to pack for success. When people want to teach abroad, they don't often realize how much work goes into getting them from their point of origin to the institution abroad.

The CIEE Teach in China team made that process so easy for me. I would call Ally Sobol at least once or twice a week with a long list of questions, and she would always be ready to answer them. I really appreciated CIEE's help with the visa application process, and they laid everything out so well and helped simplify the process. I also felt a sense of security knowing that CIEE knows each school that they place teachers in and keeps up communication with those schools.

CIEE enabled me to feel confident and ready boarding my plane to China and made me feel like I was part of a community of global educators and citizens. All of these are reasons why I am using CIEE a second time to teach in Thailand in October 2016!

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Interested in teaching abroad in China? Vist CIEE Teach Abroad!

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