Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Alumni Spotlight: Dan Ditlevson

By Dan Ditlevson, class of 2013, English major
Dan in front of the colossal statue of Yongchuan’s patron goddess
Working as an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor for the Chongqing University of Arts & Sciences has been a fulfilling opportunity in helping college-age students improve their foreign language skills in a personalized and relevant application. Additionally, living as an expatriate in Yongchuan, Chongqing, China, I have been receiving invaluable working and cultural experiences, which have been strengthening my adaptability and engagement within the professional and social sphere.
The countryside of Yunnan is lovely break from the continuous, busy city life.
Dating an East Asian Studies & Chinese Language major helped spark and cultivate my interest in China as a culture and country; eventually my partner and I both shared the desire to travel and work together outside the United States, which made China the perfect destination. However, making the decision to live and teach in China initially presented me with a bit of a shock upon arrival—especially without any formal training of the national language or an acute understanding of China’s social norms. Despite the inundation of unfamiliarity outside the classroom, Yongchuan’s citizens have been continually open to including me in their daily life even with the presence of a language barrier. Most notably, families encourage their children to call me “uncle” and offer hugs as a gesture of welcome and endearment. 
At night the ancient towns that surround the modern commercial center of the city look like glowing embers.

 Outside the work environment I take the opportunity in exploring all the facets of culture that my current community offers. With the least amount of effort I am able to come across thousands of years of history that manifests in the traditional food, customs, and ancient ruins in my surrounding community—a bus ride away can take a person to 1,000-year-old fishing towns, or to view massive ancient Buddhist rock carvings.
These pictures are of my favorite places around my university's campus.
Because this fall semester marked my professional teaching debut, facilitating and guiding the progress of the oral language skills of over 200 students for one contracted school year appeared to be a daunting challenge. Combating the impersonal classroom atmosphere, I try to help create a more personalized relationship with the English language and the speaker by placing less stress on grammar in the classroom. The students have been able to forget the anxiety of proper speech, which frees them to explore more creative options in expressing their opinions and emotions more accurately, whether through poetic imagery, iconic quotations, folk idioms, or personal anecdotes. Witnessing these students bringing the English language alive (even to the point of tears and laughter) profoundly affirms the importance of being able to express and perform a language that conveys the true reality of the individual.
These massive 1,000 year old Buddhist rock carvings can be found in the forests right outside Yongchuan’s city limits.
Above all, teaching in China has highlighted and further solidified the importance of communication in expressing and discovering myself—whether through language, cultural exchange, or through displaying emotional and physical expression. Without the engagement and immersive experience within Chinese society I could not fully appreciate and understand their spectacular culture. In regard to my time as a teacher in China, studying as an English major at Ashland University instilled the importance of understanding the English language as a living and multi-layered mode of communication and self expression. Despite not being an Integrated Language Arts major, or having a background in ESL instruction, Ashland University's English department has given me the intellectual resources necessary to facilitate a successful classroom environment, in which college students are able to use the English language as a personal resource for future opportunities of self-expression, communication, and employment. Although I do not see ESL instruction as being a long-term career for myself, yet my work experience of teaching in China has strongly built upon my educational foundation for further career opportunities.