Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Alumna explores China while teaching English
|Katie Van Gorder is teaching English to students in Guiyang, China. |
For Katie Van Gorder, it’s been a long road from Birmingham to China. In between, she made a three-and-a-half year stop at Oakland University to get her degree.
Van Gorder is the only American teaching in a city called Guiyang in a remote but heavily populated province in China known as Guizhou. The countryside city is home to the Fuxing Foreign Language School, where she teaches English to about 100 students between the ages of 12 and 15.
“It’s been very challenging and very rewarding,” Van Gorder said. “One of the challenges has been learning how to strike a balance between being the students’ teacher and also being their friend. It’s easy to get close to some of them.”
Van Gorder’s first taste of China came in 1998, when she visited with her middle and high schools. “It’s really interesting to see how China has changed. I’ve seen significant political, cultural and socio-economic changes during the nine years since I first visited China.”
Van Gorder graduated from Birmingham Seaholm High School in 2002, and earned a degree in East Asian Studies from OU in December 2005, with a minor in General Business. After taking a for-credit study trip to China in spring 2004, her desire to return to China was further enhanced by Professor Ledong Li, who encouraged her to develop her interest in China and helped arrange her teaching position there.
“Dr. Li was very supportive of my interest in China,” she said. “That’s one of the great things about Oakland University. Because class sizes are typically smaller, you get to know your professors well and there is more interaction with them as a result.”
Van Gorder was very active during her time at OU. She was vice president, then president of the China Club. She was a member of the Alpha Sigma Tau sorority, sang in the choir and worked at the Academic Skills Center.
As a way to keep in contact with her family and friends back home, Van Gorder is chronicling her experiences in an online diary that is filled with details of her daily adventures, and includes many photos and videos.
“I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t keep in contact with everyone back home. The journal has gotten more popular than I ever imagined it would,” Van Gorder said. “But it really helps me to keep everyone back home up-to-date with what’s going on day-to-day over here.”
Van Gorder is set to return home June 23. She has mixed emotions about her time in China drawing to a close. On one hand, she’s going to miss the many friends she’s made.
“Everyone I’ve come into contact with over here has been so hospitable and so friendly. The people I’ve gotten to know through this experience have all been amazing, and I’ll never forget them.”
On the other hand, she is uncertain what her next career move should be.
“I know how tough things are in Michigan right now. To teach, I would need to get a teaching certificate. I think I would be more interested in working for a large corporation as an interpreter. That would allow me to use my Chinese language skills, which is something I love to do.”
And the thing she misses most about home, other than her family and friends?
“The food,” Van Gorder said. “Both of my parents are excellent cooks and I was spoiled by them. One of the first things I’m going to do when I return home is sit down to a big plate of my mom’s spaghetti!”
For more information on international opportunities, visit the International Education Web site.