Later this month, four Bemidji State University students will be traveling to China to teach in accelerated English language development programs.
The students have been hired by CIBT, a Vancouver-based company that entered into a partnership with Bemidji State in the fall of 2012 to help the University bolster its international recruiting efforts and its opportunities to allow students and faculty to study and teach abroad. The group will work at Beihai International College, which is a joint venture between CIBT and Weifang University — where BSU signed an articulation and exchange agreement during a fall visit to China.
Michaela Willer, a senior in business administration from Bemidji; Tia Ellies, a junior in music education from Bemidji; and Alexander Gray, a senior in nursing from Hermantown, Minn., will be working for CIBT from Feb. 20 through Aug. 31 of this year, for one Chinese semester. Kevin Kimlinger, a senior in creative and professional writing from Rochester, Minn., will spend a full year with CIBT; he will start on Feb. 20 and work until Jan. 20, 2014.
The students learned of the opportunity from a campus-wide email. After applying, the four were selected following in-person interviews via Skype.
“It was kind of exciting,” Gray said of the interview process. “I’ve had interviews in the past, but this was my first one over Skype. It was interesting to actually be able to talk to someone halfway around the world and go through their process.”
CIBT has been hiring students from North American universities for more than a decade.
“They normally teach 10 hours a week in conversational English for college students and kids,” said David An, vice president of China operations for CIBT. “The rest of their time will be spent doing administrative and marketing work at the CIBT offices.”
An said the BSU contingent also would be used by CIBT to promote Bemidji State University in China. For example, the students may attend a large-scale overseas study expo, held in March in Beijing, representing both BSU and CIBT at a booth provided by CIBT.
During their stay in China, the group of BSU students will live in faculty apartments at Weifang University, provided at no cost as part of the employment agreement. In addition to their work, the students also will have access to free Chinese language and culture classes, offered by either CIBT or Weifang.
All four will have opportunities to earn academic credit at BSU for their experiences, by participating in a preparatory course to introduce food, customs, traditions, history and geography of that part of China and to learn some basic language skills. The students also will blog about their experiences and give a campus-wide presentation after returning to BSU.
Still, An said, adjusting to life in Asia could prove to be challenging.
“Besides all of these exciting things, we believe they might experience some culture shock or challenges when they are in China since the cultures are so different,” he said. “For most of them, this will be their first overseas experience. Fortunately, we have some students who have already been in China for awhile who can help them.”
Ellies also has been making last-minute preparations before the trip, trying to gather information about China and polish the skills she will need to teach English.
“To better prepare for the trip, I have been contacting friends who have recently returned from China to ask about their experiences,” she said. “I’m also trying to become certified through an online course to teach English as a foreign language.”
For Gray, the opportunity to immerse himself in a foreign culture was one of the primary selling points of the opportunity to work for CIBT.
“People get into their own style of work and life and kind of forget that there are people in the world who live their life with completely different values and completely different ways of dealing with certain situations,” he said. “Just the opportunity to go over there and immerse myself with a different way of life is exciting. Even just to experience how they treat normal little things like going to the grocery store during the day.”
Ellies shared the desire to immerse herself in a foreign culture, but for her the chance to visit China hits closer to her heart.
“My birth father is from China, and I have grandparents over there,” she said. “I am not sure if I will be able to find them; but just the opportunity to go over there is very special to me.”
This group of CIBT employees are among the first Bemidji State students to benefit from the University’s efforts to expand opportunities for faculty and students to teach and learn in China. An noted that the students would have opportunities to occasionally see other BSU students who are participating in activities in China, including the Department of Music’s Voltage electronic music ensemble, which will be spending a month at Weifang University beginning in May.
“Obviously, going to the other side of the planet for a year is a huge commitment,” Kimlinger said. “I’m not a teaching major, so there’s always a possibility I won’t enjoy teaching as much as I think I will. But I put a lot of thinking into this, and it seemed like something I couldn’t pass up.
“I feel incredibly honored that BSU is putting this kind of trust in me, and that the school feels I will be a suitable representative for it in China.”
Ellies is relishing her role as an ambassador, and hopes that her work, and the work of her travel partners, will help set the stage for other BSU students to have similar experiences in China in the future.
“I’m really excited to be among the first people from BSU to go,” she said. “I hope our team will do a good job paving the way for future relationships between BSU and China.”