The trials and triumphs of experiencing a culture

Adjunct instructor reflects on his time teaching abroad


Photo courtesy of Vince Tweddell

Vince Tweddell, an adjunct journalism and English instructor, carries his daughter at the Great Wall of China.

Vince Tweddell was working part time as an adjunct professor when he decided he needed a change.

The adjunct journalism and English instructor had accumulated some debt and needed a full time job to pay the bills. Tweddell didn’t expect that he would end up working overseas in China for six years.

Tweddell returned to America this year to work at USI. He lived in China from October 2013 to July 2019. He met his wife while working in China and now has two daughters. Tweddell was hired by USI two weeks before the Fall 2019 semester and he teaches journalism and English classes.

He has been teaching for twelve years and taught at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass, Oregon for five years before he left to work in China. Tweddell has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and said his love of writing made him want to teach writing to others.

“I like to be around writing,” He said. “I like to teach writing. I love to write. I learn a lot from teaching my students.”

Tweddell lived in Germany when he was younger and loved traveling, and he still had the desire to travel.

“I wanted to go and see a different part of the world and teaching was a way to do that,” he said.

Tweddell found a message board online where he could post his resume and see if there were any job offers to teach English in a different country. He went camping that weekend, and when he came back he had received multiple emails from job offers in China. That was where he decided to go.

Tweddell first worked in Shanghai and was in awe when he arrived. There were buildings bigger than he had ever seen and restaurants all over the place. The city, with a population of 26.32 million people, was loud with constant traffic and people walking in the streets.

“You just see all kinds of things,” he said. “You see a guy with a monkey on his shoulder, you can see a guy with a turtle on a leash. It was different, strange, exotic and a little bit scary.”

Tweddell spoke a little bit of Mandarin, but struggled over the years with the different dialects in the different regions of the country.

“Most people will try to speak through it with you,” Tweddell said. “There are many moments I got frustrated. Six years there I thought my Mandarin was getting pretty good and then you would go and start speaking to someone and they would have no idea what you’re saying.”

He taught classes in English at his workplace. He worked for the first two years at a training school in Shanghai where he taught adult students English so they could get a pay bump with their jobs where they had to interact with English speakers.

“They were really motivated students and I had a good time with that,” Tweddell said.

Tweddell was eventually transferred to a different training school in Chengdu where he got a different job teaching English at Meishi International School, an international high school where Chinese students are taught western curriculums in the hopes that they’ll go to college at English speaking universities.

“There’s a big drive for parents to get their kids out of China through a university,” he said. “(The students) were pretty driven. They wanted to get the grades they needed so they could go to the schools they wanted to go to, their ‘dream schools,’ they called it.”

Tweddell still keeps in contact with some of the students. He said they will be a part of him for the rest of his life. He also struggled as it was hard for him to joke with the students because of the language barrier.

“It was hard to, in some cases, be funny all the time because they didn’t get that sarcasm or that nuanced humor,” Tweddell said. “You had to be a little bit of a different teacher, more physical comedy than just speaking, so that was a challenge.”

Tweddell said the experience of living in China wore him down after a while. He said the small differences in culture could eat at him after six years. He also struggled with the crowds in large cities as someone who was used to living in Henderson, Kentucky.

“I’m not saying American culture or Chinese culture is perfect, there are things in both that can bother you,” Tweddell said. “There are great things in both too, but some of the things that bothered me really got to me so I’m glad to be back. It’s a little bit less stressful for me.”

Tweddell decided to finally go back to the US after he was unsatisfied with the healthcare in China when his daughter got sick. He isn’t against the idea of going back in a few years, but he said he didn’t have the attitude to be someone who worked in China for twenty years.

“I will always look back on China as it gave me the rest of my life,” Tweddell said. “It gave me my wife, it gave me my two daughters. I will always be thankful and grateful that I made that decision to go over there.”

Tweddell went to China as a single man expecting to stay for a year, get out of debt, and move back to Oregon. He ended up staying for six years for the sake of his wife and daughters.

“In some regards, it gave me everything I always wanted from life as far as home life, family life,” Tweddell said. “On the other hand, it’s really hard for me to live there. I have mixed conflicting emotions. The differences that are not so big of a deal after your first year, they kept wearing at me and after almost six years I was ready to come home.”

Tweddell said he has become a more organized teacher after working in China.

“I explain things better because in China you had to be very clear with your instruction,” Tweddell said. “You had to be very clear and simple with what you needed to get accomplished.”

Marissa Jaquay, who enrolled in Tweddell’s Basic Reporting class this semester, said it’s been a good experience so far.

“He lets us act like we are real reporters when we are gathering information for articles we are going to write,” the junior radio and television major said. “He critiques us on how we write and shows us how we can write better and improve ourselves to do better in class.”

Jaquay said she would recommend his class.

“I like how he teaches,” Jaquay said. “He’s very hands-on and he lets you experience stuff you would experience as a real journalist out in the real world.”

Tweddell recommends for students who are interested in teaching in other countries to learn everything they can about that country before going there. He regrets not learning more about China before he moved there and doesn’t want people to make the same mistakes he did.

“No matter where you go, China, Vietnam, somewhere in Europe, there are opportunities, lots of them, but be prepared for what the problems are going to be,” Tweddell said. “You don’t want to go to a country and say, ‘it’s not like this where I’m from.’ Learn about that culture and those people and respect it.”