Rue Moyer left for China in 2007 with no prior experience in the country, no plans to use the degrees in western philosophy and history he had just obtained at Lycoming College, and only three phrases in his Chinese vocabulary.
Four years later, Moyer has yet to come home.
The Altoona native jumped at the chance to teach English as a Second Language to students in Chinese schools in August 2007, after briefly teaching ESL to visiting Chinese students at a Lock Haven University-hosted summer camp.
Rue Moyer, a 2007 Lycoming College graduate, is shown with some of his students in his English as a Second Language class in Shenzhen City, China.
"I didn't have a career path before coming to China to teach," Moyer said in an e-mail interview from Shenzhen City, where he lives with his wife, Gabree Kwan. "I was just living, creating my own path and always trying new things. It's this love of learning, experiencing, creating and sharing my life with people, which personally draws me to education."
Teaching in China is very different from teaching in America, Moyer said. The freedom he is offered allows him to be creative in class.
"For the teacher there's no guideline or rubric to follow and no state standards to meet. There are few boundaries," he said.
While he had no teaching aspirations during his time in college, teaching has since become his passion.
"We (students and teachers) both have the opportunity to approach the situation with an open mind and see what happens. This unquestionably is my favorite part of teaching," he said. "All of my creative energy is put into the delivery and the content of the class and so it's completely learning-centered."
But the freedom can also be a challenge, he said, and he relies on his students to put in an effort to learn.
"What makes the class fresh and unique is exactly what makes it frustrating and difficult," Moyer said. "The only way to survive is with an open mind, on both ends."
The fast-paced culture of urban China was a big adjustment for Moyer.
"Shenzhen is the fastest-developing city in China and one of the fastest in the world," Moyer said. "In one part of the city there are between 400,000 and 600,000 people (more than 12 times the population of Williamsport) living in a three-square-mile radius! For a boy from small-town Pennsylvania, it's a lot to take in. This was - and still is - the hardest part for me to adjust to."
Moyer said he made an effort to learn the language by developing an awareness to other physical cues.
"I started becoming more perceptive of body language and other subtleties you don't usually think about. Much like a blind person is more sensitive to noises and smells, learning a second language while in that country requires that you use context clues and other parts of the brain to make 'sense' of everything," he said.
However, he added, "It's also much easier to learn a language when you're surrounded by the language every day. You have two choices: either to remain illiterate and frustrated or find a way to learn. Learning to read and write the characters isn't so bad for me but remembering which tones go with which words is very difficult."
At times, Moyer misses his hometown and family back in the States. But since 2007, he has started a family of his own.
"My wife and I are musicians and songwriters. We met through a mutual friend who asked us to be part of an international band," he said. "We married this past September here in China and had a traditional Chinese-style wedding. We're expecting our first child, a girl, this March."
Moyer plans to bring his wife and daughter to Altoona for a visit this summer for a belated wedding celebration with his side of the family.
Moyer said he and his wife have ambitious plans for the future in Shenzhen.
"My wife and I are currently building an English education program for young learners, centered on providing interesting and relevant information about the world through activity and task-based lessons, including arts and crafts, performance arts, field trips and a pen pal program I've established with my brother's elementary school," Moyer said. "I'd also like to come back to the States and establish a Chinese language and cultural studies center eventually."
Moyer welcomes further questions from readers about his experiences, career and life in China via e-mail.
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.