“Being a Fellow changed my life because I came back from the experience with a renewed commitment to my profession and to seeking adventure in my own community.” – Amy Christensen, June’s Featured Alumni Ambassador
Christensen’s fellowship took her from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Chengdu, China, where she worked at Sichuan University during the 2011-2012 academic year. She taught twelve sections of Reading/Writing and Listening/Speaking to approximately 110 freshman honor students and graduate-level classes in EFL Methodology and Public Speaking. Christensen also found unique opportunities to work with teachers at the university. She provided professional development and mentoring sessions for her Chinese colleagues at Sichuan University in which she “was careful to honor the skills and wisdom these experienced teachers brought with them.” In addition, she provided workshops for untrained foreign teachers, multiplying her impact significantly.
Christensen enjoyed cultural exchange opportunities with other local English teachers and was often invited to their homes or out to eat with the staff at lunchtime. She also explored other ways to connect with the greater teaching community by riding the faculty bus three days a week to a satellite campus, where she was able to meet faculty from many different disciplines on her 45-minute commute. She believes part of her biggest impact in the community was leaving a lasting impression of an American who asked lots of questions, listened respectfully, worked hard, and appeared approachable and friendly.
Christensen worked with over 1,000 teachers in the greater Chengdu area at her university and while traveling to facilitate workshops. She reflects fondly on her visit to the tiny village of Liajiamiao, a 3-hour bus ride from Chengdu. There, she held a workshop for 30 enthusiastic teachers on theory and practical activities and was then invited by the school to work with the 50 middle school students in the village who were “left behind” when their parents moved to the cities to find work. Christensen was touched by their energy and interest in the lessons she provided. She reflected on the experience saying, “At the time, I had two middle school children myself so experiencing the openness and innocence of these kids was eye-opening.”
Christensen shared her fellowship experience with her family, inviting her 12-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter to join her as co-hosts at several game nights at Sichuan University and other workshops around Chengdu. They even presented on American culture from a teenage perspective. Upon returning to the United States, both of her children took Chinese as their second language and fondly reminisce about their Chinese adventures. Christensen says that the impact of the Fellow program greatly strengthened her ability to share the world with her children and has resulted in them both wanting to live abroad in the future.
Christensen also attributes professional development opportunities stemming from the Fellow program to her successes upon returning to New Mexico. She says she came back to her full-time ESL job at Central New Mexico Community College with a renewed vigor for teaching, fully appreciating the freedom to collaborate with her colleagues to establish learning outcomes, choose appropriate materials, and design assessments. She was also inspired to run for chair of her department and served as chair for one and a half years before being hired as an associate dean. As much as she loved mentoring teachers, she realized her true passion is teaching in the classroom. After three years, she returned to her faculty position.
Since completing her fellowship, Christensen has also completed two English Language Specialist projects in India and Vietnam. She will be participating in two more Specialist projects this summer in the Philippines and Turkmenistan. She attributes these opportunities to the skills and confidence she gained as an English Language Fellow and says, “my time in Chengdu helped me remember why I love my profession so much.”
In addition to reflecting on the professional opportunities tied to her fellowship, Christensen also reflected on the personal impact of her time in Chengdu. She stated that every day was an adventure. She ate new foods, explored a new language, and laughed with neighbors. She made a vow to hold on to that spirit of adventure back in New Mexico and spend more time exploring cultural activities in her richly diverse community in the U.S.
Christensen is a full-time ESL instructor at Central New Mexico Community College. She teaches classes from beginning to advanced levels in the Adult Basic Education program and in the academic track for ESOL students. She designed and is delivering the college’s new ESOL certificate in Culture and Communication for Customer Service.