Fair Haven Grad Teaching in China

Carlos Cruz plans to spend much of his future on a college campus. Not only does the recent Southern grad intend to someday pursue a master's degree and a doctorate, but his long-term goal is to become a college professor.

But before he headed down that path, Cruz knew he wanted to take a break from his studies to travel and get some real-world experience.

So instead of spending this academic year as a student, Cruz will spend it as a teacher-- helping primary or secondary school children in China learn English.

"I think everybody should take a break from school once they graduate," says the 21-year-old New Haven native, who leaves for Shanghai on Oct. 9. "Going straight to graduate school is beneficial in some aspects, but really getting experience out in the world is much more valuable."

Cruz is one of about 300 young people from all over the world heading to China as part of the Ameson Year in China program (AYC), which looks for "college-educated, open-minded people seeking to expand their horizons and enhance their careers," according to the AYC website. Participants spend an academic year teaching students between the ages of 6 and 15 in public schools located in several Chinese cities and provinces, including Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing. Any native English-speaking degree holder is eligible to apply.

Cruz, who graduated with a degree in history, says he plans to eventually pursue his graduate studies in East Asian and Southeast Asian history and "thought this would be a perfect start."

"My family thinks I'm nuts," he jokes. "But my former professors, my colleagues at work and all my friends – they're really excited for me."

Cruz says he learned about the program after getting an email from Michele Thompson, a Southern professor of history, who he also credits with inspiring his interest in Asia.

Thompson says she immediately thought of Cruz when she heard that the program was looking for applicants. She knew of his interest in traveling to Asia – he initially asked her about opportunities to go to Vietnam -- and says his strong organizational skills and cheerful and outgoing personality make him a good fit for the assignment. She says Cruz was enrolled in four of her classes last year and excelled in each, while also balancing a job and volunteer work.

"He is also very, very polite which will serve him well anywhere in Asia," she says.

Cruz grew up in the Fair Haven section of New Haven and is a 2009 graduate of New Haven's Wilbur Cross High School. He's also a familiar face around New Haven's City Hall, having worked on and off since 2008 as an intern for Mayor John DeStefano Jr.'s office, as well as the city's Commission on Equal Opportunities and the Finance Department. He was also the inaugural president of the New Haven Youth Council, a group that researched the likes and interests of city youth for the New Haven Board of Aldermen.

Cruz prepared for his journey by taking online classes in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFOL) and will complete his certification following a week of on-site training. He will spend his first two weeks in orientation – which includes a crash course in "survival Chinese," as well as lessons in Chinese laws and culture -- before being assigned to a host school. Cruz says he plans to take advantage of classes in Mandarin Chinese throughout the year as well as sightseeing trips to major cities and landmarks such as the Great Wall.

"I've never been out of the country before, not even once," Cruz says. "I'm looking forward to the culture shock."