WKU graduates teach in China

Reece Schenkenfelder poses with students at the National Forest Parker at Zhangjiajie. The Hallelujah mountain located within the park was inspired James Cameron’s mountains in the movie “Avatar.”  

Lindsay Kriz

After finishing their undergraduate degrees, many students face a crucial decision about what to do or where to go next with their new diploma.

For Reece Schenkenfelder, a 2010 WKU graduate, his bachelor’s degree in marketing would be his ticket to a new job, halfway around the world in China.

“I wanted to do grad school, but then I had an opportunity to teach English in the Hunan province,” he said. “One thing led to another. I found myself signing up to do it.”

He and four other graduate students, headed to China last August and signed a contract to teach for a period of 10 months at a time.

Two of the students lived in the city of Changsha, while Schenkenfelder and two others, Bryan Jackson and Stephanie Jecker, resided in the city of Zhangjiajie, all in the Hunan province.

Schenkenfelder taught at the Zhangjiajie Institute of Aeronautical Engineering, where he spent 20 hours a week teaching students English and Comparative Cultures.

When Schenkenfelder arrived in China, he didn’t know any Chinese, and most of his students only knew a little English.

“It forced me to learn Chinese,” he said. “I’m not fluent now by any means, but I definitely learned a lot of Chinese.”

Learning a new language was one of the main reasons he wanted to go to overseas, Schenkenfelder said.

“I learned more about the culture so I could use it in my future career,” he said. “It gives me opportunities to understand another culture in a country that the U.S works closely with.”

Aside from teaching students in the classroom and learning from them, Schenkenfelder had many unique experiences outside the classroom as well, including backpacking in Thailand during the Chinese New Year and performing the traditional Chinese Dragon dance that is performed every year at the Chinese New Year Lantern festival.

“The Chinese are very genuine, and one of the most kind people in the world,” said Schenkenfelder, who is back in China for another school year. “I wanted (to talk about this) to give this opportunity to other grad students that would be interested in doing something like this.”

Fellow WKU graduate Bryan Jackson also went to China and taught Oral English and American Culture.

Entering the country, Jackson said all he knew about China was what he’d seen on television.

“It was definitely an incredible experience–everything I hoped it would be.”

Other recent WKU graduates just arrived in China on last week.

Whitnee Thorp from Lexington, was impressed by how polite the Chinese people are toward her.

“They are very willing to help me at any cost and enjoy spending a lot of time with Americans,” she said in an email.

Thorp said she plans to stay a full year in China and will be teaching her students English and English culture.

“I am excited for all the memories and experience I will have here,” she said.

Danville graduate Amanda Yatso also recently arrived in China, and is currently living in Zhangjiajie, where she will be teaching English and Western Civilization. 

She said her students seem excited as well.
 “They seem really eager to learn and practice their English with us,” Yatso said. “Here, their major is English, which means they’re trying to perfect the English language.”

Jackson, who is now back in his hometown of Nashville, said he encourages students like Thorp and Yatso to continue teaching in China.

“If anyone ever gets the chance to teach in China or any other country, they definitely should,” he said. “Traveling is the best way to experience life. I’d definitely recommend doing it.”