COO Report, By Ryan Damerow: Professional and Personal Reflections on China

Editor’s note: The following piece is not what our readers are accustomed to finding in the “Chair’s Report”; instead, we are offering a “COO Report” this month.  In this piece, TIRF Chief Operating Officer Ryan Damerow reflects on TIRF’s recent collaboration with a university in Shenzhen, China, and shares his thoughts on making connections.

As you can see from the featured piece in this issue of TIRF Today, Foundation representatives recently performed a program review for the Center for Language Education (CLE) at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech). This opportunity was a new venture for the Foundation. Along with two TIRF Trustees, Jun Liu and David Nunan, I traveled to Shenzhen, China, and met with administrators, faculty, staff, and students there to conduct our site visit. The goal of our work was to assist the University in furthering the work of its CLE.

This experience in China was exceptionally rewarding for me on multiple levels. In terms of my service to TIRF over the last eight years, this opportunity presented a new professional activity through which I could expand my skillset. I was able to apply my background in international education while simultaneously learning a great deal from Jun and David about carrying out program reviews. I met new colleagues at SUSTech and learned from their experiences as educators in Shenzhen. Also, it was a delightful surprise to finally get the chance to meet 2009 DDG recipient Dr. Li Zhuo, whom I had worked with for years via email. She is now a faculty member at SUSTech. Rare is the day that I get to make connections with TIRFers like Dr. Li, especially under such unexpected circumstances.

Ryan Damerow Teaching at SISU

On a personal level, I was thrilled to be back in China. I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Chongqing from 2007 to 2009. I had long been hoping to return to my former site, so that I could reconnect with colleagues, students, and friends. Thus, after my work was completed in Shenzhen, I traveled north to make this hope become a reality.

I regard the two years I lived and worked in China as one of the most influential experiences in my life. Through serving as a PCV, I was able to spend my energy in ways that are true to my personal belief systems. The spirit of volunteerism has long been part of my identity, as has been the desire to help others. Although I dedicated an entire two years of my life as a PCV, I believe I gained more than I gave.

As a PCV, I was afforded the opportunity to teach oral English and intercultural communication at Sichuan International Studies University (SISU), providing a first experience to me in teaching. I studied a second language, Mandarin, and I am pleased to note that my language skills remain mostly communicative to this day. In addition, I forged relationships and memories that I now know will surely last a lifetime.

But when I left China in 2009, I thought that perhaps one chapter in my own book of life was finished. I did not know if, or when, I would return. I had always hoped to visit Chongqing again, but as so many before me have realized, life takes its twists and turns, and little in our futures are certain.

Needless to say, when this opportunity for TIRF arose at SUSTech, I was beyond excited to be able to facilitate the collaboration between the two organizations. This riveting plot twist in my life’s story took an unexpected turn, allowing me to combine professional activities with personal aspirations. I was not only able to reconnect with individuals from my past life in Chongqing; I also made new friends and colleagues, whom I now look forward to seeing again in the future. In fact, one friend in particular has recently helped me to see more clearly how ongoing communication leads to new opportunities and to the ability to weave together multiple parts of our lives. Xiexie, Xiaoxin! (Or to our non-pinyin readers, “thank you, Xiaoxin!”)

Further reflection on the issues above has also helped me to realize that my joining TIRF was all but destiny. As was the case during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am loyally working for an organization that seeks to make a positive impact in our world through international education. I believe whole heartedly that like Peace Corps, TIRF delivers a long-lasting, meaningful impact on those we serve. I remain humbled to have this opportunity to serve the Foundation and its stakeholders, and to be part of an organization that seeks to effect positive change in people’s lives.

As one of my Chinese colleagues reminded me – Dream Big, Think Global! Xiexie, Shibo!

Ryan Damerow in Shenzhen