WCU grad takes lessons from Cullowhee to China

During his undergraduate studies, Western Carolina University alumni Andrew Dodson prepared himself to move halfway across the world to put his education to the test.

Dodson graduated from WCU in December 2009 and was accepted to go to China in May of 2010 to teach Communicative and Business English classes to thirty to eighty undergraduates at Changchun University of Technology in China. This semester, Dodson received a promotion and is now preparing graduate students for the IELTS test, a major exam that allows them to study abroad. He also prepares his students to live in England should they pass the exam.

“I am an American teaching Chinese students how to speak with a British accent,” said Dodson.

Dodson remembers and uses teaching habits from his favorite teachers at WCU.

“I remember the lectures, discussions and activities that got me the most involved in class and I try to recreate them using my lesson plans,” Dodson said.

As former President of the Fencing Club at WCU, leadership experience gave Dodson confidence in his decision-making abilities and helped him develop his public speaking skills.

“I worked with so many people of different skill levels and learning styles and gained the ability to modify my teaching method to accommodate them.”

Dodson also studied Chinese Language for a year at WCU, but admits teaching in China is very challenging.

“The levels of English fluency vary so much in every single classroom and I sometimes have to modify lessons on a fly based on an aspect of the language that they have issues with,” said Dodson.

Coming from an American university, Dodson says the differences in the classrooms are obvious. Teaching a foreign language to Chinese students can sometimes put restrictions on the amount of discussion in the class.

“Their entire lives they’ve studied in the Chinese education system where they are taught to be silent and listen to a lecture,” said Dodson. “I push very hard to get my students to discuss things with me in class. There are days when it works, and days when all I hear is crickets.”

While Dodson believes China is an amazing place to gain new and unique experiences, not every day goes as planned.

“There are times where I really dislike being in China. Just days of my planned lessons utterly failing, my Chinese not being good enough to complete a simple task, things breaking or random events not making any sense, and generally being completely out of control of everything that is going on,” said Dodson. “China is really fun, but there are days when it can get incredibly frustrating.”

Though Dodson’s new promotion and daily challenges take up most of his weekly time, he still finds ways to discover China as a foreigner.

“China is a pretty exciting place to be as a foreigner. My knowledge of English opens up a lot of opportunities for various jobs at different schools and organizations, and those jobs enable me to live very well,” he said.    

Dodson has also made friends at nearby universities and takes advantage of the large range of culturally different people he meets.

“My first Chinese Thanksgiving was pretty amazing – close to 25 people attended and we represented about 15 different cultures,” he said.

Packing up and moving to China could also pose another challenge of being so far from friends and family. However, through new technology Dodson has found it is not hard to be so far away.

“The Internet definitely shortens the distance between friends and family. Facebook, instant messengers, and Skype are awesome tools for keeping touch with people,” said Dodson.

Dodson plans to come back to the United States in August and is looking to enter graduate school. He also plans to take the Foreign Service Officer’s exam to see if he has what it takes to get a job in International Affairs.