Interview: CAPA Beijing Study Abroad Alum Jason Baxter

Aug 18, 2014 10:33:51 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

Jason studied abroad on the CAPA Beijing program during the summer of 2012, an experience that influenced the course of his life over the next few years as he prepared to become CELTA certified as an ESL teacher. He's now living in Taiwan, teaching English. Below he talks about processing his abroad experience, what it has taught him about life and the world around him and how he communicates these stories to others.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
JASON BAXTER: Hello! My name is Jason Baxter and I like yoga, exploring and Chinese culture. In 2012, I spent the summer in Beijing, China. A deciding factor in selecting my study abroad program through CAPA was that it included an internship, which provided me invaluable experiences as an English teacher intern. At the time, I was attending Arizona State University. My major was Psychology (BA) and my minor was philosophy. Prior to going to Beijing, my only experience outside of the United States had been a two week visit to Taiwan.

CW: What have you been up to since you graduated? How has your career developed since your study abroad program finished?
JB: Having successfully completed my summer in Beijing, I came home with a new found sense of adventure. My ambitions were to return to Asia as an English teacher, to continue to build on what I had started. Before heading out on my next adventure, I decided to return home to reinforce my relationships with my family. I graduated in 2012, and spent 2013 living in Massachusetts among my family. During our time together, we shared new experiences and broke new ground together.

In addition to cultivating my relationships, I was also preparing for life abroad, which varied from doing research in the public libraries to volunteering as an English tutor. In August of 2013, I became CELTA certified, which is one of the more recognized certifications in the ESL field. After making my rounds and saying “see you agains,” I arrived in Taiwan, just in time for the Chinese New Year celebration. As of now, I have completed my first semester as an English teacher in Taiwan.

CW: Do you feel your study abroad experience gave you an edge over your peers?
JB: The victories and lessons of navigating a new culture provided a deeper sense of confidence in myself, and my abroad experiences enabled me to speak from real world examples. This boded well in my interviews, as I wasn’t a starry-eyed dreamer, but someone who had tasted the smog of Beijing, swapped languages with the locals, and taught a variety of students - from singing “Merry had a Little Lamb” to leading a business English class for adults. These are experiences that have catalyzed both professional and personal growth.

CW: Currently in Taiwan teaching English, was this something you wanted to do before you studied abroad or was it something you considered later on?
JB: My interest to teach English developed after my study abroad experience, although I must clarify that my passion lies closer to the sense of exploration and adventure rather than in teaching English. My time as an English teacher intern made the idea of teaching English abroad possible and practical. In my eyes, teaching English was a way to subsidize traveling around the world. CAPA provided the first step towards accomplishing that goal.

CW: What are your thoughts on the importance of international education for American students?
JB: I believe international education is absolutely essential for American students. Following the news and keeping up on topics is one thing, but to have your values questioned, or outright violated, by stepping into another culture can only be experienced firsthand. I don’t mean to paint this negatively; in fact, it can be an excellent stepping off point towards questioning one’s own thinking and culture. It invites inquiry towards what “normal” means. You will be surprised at what you discover.

CW: How do you talk about your experience abroad in career terms? What transferrable skills did you learn while you were on the CAPA program?
JB: One of the greatest things I gained from my study abroad experience was a sense of embodied confidence from navigating an environment that was radically different from what I knew. This put things into a different perspective when I returned, and gave me strength to attempt challenges that previously seemed impossible. Not exactly a transferable skill, but rather the capacity to seek out and direct my efforts towards what was truly fulfilling for me.

CW: In your own words, define MyEducation. What was your favorite MyEducation event while you were studying abroad and how did it help you connect what you were learning in the classroom to the global city?
JB: I view CAPA’s MyEducation as a variety of pre-planned adventures that help put students into the environment of their country of choice. One of my favorite MyEducation events was a weekend trip to Shanghai. Shanghai provided contrast with Beijing and provided an additional perspective through which to view Beijing. You don’t have to go on MyEducation events, but they are built into the program and can be great for getting to know your host country and fellow study abroad classmates.

CW: What did your study abroad experience teach you about yourself and the world around you?
JB: Haha where to start? The most earth shattering insight I experienced was confronting a right/wrong paradox between cultures. My train of thought went something like this: What is “right” in America may be “wrong” in China…and what is “right” in China may be “wrong” in America. This seems easy to grasp in theory, but to experience this on a deeper level was monumental in how I think today. How I based my entire understanding of the world, my actions, my choices, my future, was suddenly put into question. This lead to a wonderful, although painful at times, re-evaluating of my own view of the world, as I was no longer limited to what I knew as right/wrong by American standards or by a right/wrong spectrum at all. This is an ongoing process of discovery, learning, and application.

CW: What challenges did you face when you returned home, if any? How did your friends and family react to stories of your experience abroad?
JB: Explaining my experiences was more difficult than I expected. I soon came to dread the question, “How was China?” I was often left speechless for there is a mountain of information to convey, some of which simply cannot fully be conveyed, some which is still being processed and incorporated into one’s understanding of the world, and unless I was talking with a fellow traveler, could lose the listener’s attention quickly as they were unable to relate. This was upsetting for me at first, but with a will there’s a way. In time, I learned to account for my listener’s lack of comprehension, so that I could share my experiences on a mutually enjoyable level. I encourage you to remain steadfast in your efforts.

CW: What advice would you offer students currently studying abroad or considering a program?
JB: Follow your heart. Going abroad is a leap that I encourage you to take. Your courage to embrace this challenge will be rewarded exponentially.

Thanks Jason!

To read Jason's story about reading black duck eggs, click here.
For more study abroad interviews, click here.

Topics: CAPA Alumni, Interviews, Beijing, China