Friday, November 25, 2011

Matt Beck '09 Teaches in Germany and in China

Hallo Freunde!

Since graduating from CSB/SJU with a degree in German, my life as taken a few interesting turns. Last year, I worked for the Fulbright program in Germany as an English teaching assistant. While there, I decided to spend one more year abroad before beginning to teach in the United States. One of my friends from college was teaching in China and suggested that I apply to his program.

I did so, and I received a teaching position at Zhanjiang Normal University in Zhanjiang, China. Unfortunately, there was a problem processing my visa which led to me being unable to teach at the university level. Without another employment option but still wanting to spend some more time abroad, I decided to begin studying Chinese at the same university where I would have taught.

Studying Chinese here has been quite an experience. For starters, there are only two students in my classes: myself and another one of my college friends who is in the same situation as I am. Also, I'm almost a complete beginner in Chinese, only having met with a tutor a few times in Germany. I have fourteen classes a week here covering all aspects of the Chinese language: speaking, listening, reading, writing, and grammar. So far, the most challenging part has been reading and writing characters. Since each character represents a syllable, a person needs to know a few thousand to be able to read well. To date, I've been able to learn a few hundred. I'm starting to see some patterns, though, and the process of memorizing characters and how to write them correctly is constantly getting easier.

Aside from learning Chinese, I've also found part time jobs at a couple of English tutoring schools. These schools, independent companies that offer weekend classes for interested students, are quite common here. My students range in age from elementary school to high school. Teaching so many different levels is difficult, but rewarding and engaging. It makes me miss full-time teaching, and I hope to get a university position (as well as a matching visa) next semester.

German continues to play a large role in my life. In my free time, I've been keeping my language skills fresh by reading German literature and keeping in touch with my German speaking friends. Also, I've recently been rereading some of the works that we covered in my German romanticism course. Those who know me well know that my study of German led to a passion for the complexities of Turkish immigration to Germany as well as Turkish culture. I had the opportunity to travel to Istanbul when I was working in Germany, and I've been spending quite a bit of time lately reading Turkish novels by Elif Shafak and Orhan Pamuk.

Choosing to study German doesn't necessarily mean that you'll need to find a job in Germany or one that requires language skills. It does, however, open doors to a wide variety of careers and interests. As a freshman at CSB/SJU, I never imagined that I would graduate from college interested in Turkish culture or that I would one day be studying Chinese in China, but my choice to study Germany led to these interests and adventures. Personally, I'm planning on keeping German in my future, and I would like to come back to the United States next year and teach it.

Liebe Grüße aus China!
Matt Beck