By Valerie Sartor
"My road to China started out in a very indirect way. For a year I was an exchange student in a remote area of India during high school," said Keithas Stockland, an attractive, tall, blonde Canadian woman in her thirties with legs so long she could have been a fur model.
"I stopped off in Hong Kong on my return flight. In some ways the place felt like home: it's much more modern than India and I'm used to seeing a lot of Chinese because there are large communities in Vancouver and Victoria, where I come from." Ms. Stockland liked Hong Kong and Chinese culture so much that she spent the next three years at university years studying Chinese in the Pacific and East Asian Program. "But I lost motivation and dropped out before graduating," she said, shrugging. "Instead I decided to go to Taibei and teach English. It was not the right thing for me to do: the traffic, pollution, fast pace of life and urban sprawl all put me off, so I left."
In Canada she retained interest in all things Chinese and started studying Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM). "This was a good field for me, it integrated my values with my previous studies and I had a teacher who had studied at a TCM hospital here in Beijing." She studied traditional medicine for a while but ultimately got her undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria in Pacific and Asian Studies. "You know, it took me ten years to get my degree but during that time I won a scholarship to come to Beijing Language and Culture University for a year. That's where I really picked up my Chinese."
It wasn't a luxurious way of life. Ms. Stockland lived in a dorm and shared a bath with about thirty other students. Her coursework was intense and her stipend was small but she has resided in China now for almost ten years. "You meet people from all over the world, and then there's the excitement of a new country. When I finally reached that threshold of being really able to communicate in Chinese – how could I leave? Besides, I really enjoy Chinese culture: the arts, the theater, and the music."
To support herself she began, as many foreigners do, by teaching English. "First I worked in a kindergarten with thirty kids in five sessions but I soon moved on to corporate and business English and even taught at the New Oriental School. After some time I realized that I needed some more training so I got my CELTA (teaching certification) here in Beijing at the Language Link." Ms. Stockland then went on to teach and gain experience all over the city. She developed curriculums from kindergarten to college and taught thousands of hours.
Respected by peers and students, Keithas Stockland is dedicated to her profession. "You know, as a teacher we need to allow our students to show what they know and to help them facilitate their communications. They already know quite a bit but it takes some skill and practice to understand the best ways to facilitate. Of course, in the teaching profession there are many ways to teach because there are so many diverse personalities, especially here in China," she said, adding: "In some ways our work as teachers is a lot like therapy because everybody's most interesting topic seems to be themselves. I have trouble teaching third person because my students want to talk in first person. Plus, as a good teacher I'm also a good listener."
Ms. Sockland feels nostalgic about China. "I've watched Beijing change so much," she said. "All the streets used to be narrow and more tree lined, with many more bikes than cars. Development has good and bad sides. Take transportation, for example. In China I like to travel by train. Years ago there were fewer people traveling so it wasn't so crowded because the prices were out of reach for most people. Now more people are able to travel but the trains are extremely crowded."
Ms. Stockland also worries about the environment, and not just China's problems. "Every country balks and takes so long to address this issue. We have pollution problems in Canada that are still not resolved. It seems that Beijing has more rubbish than when I first arrived but I guess it's because the city has grown so much."
She has lived in Beijing in the same place for many years; relationships are dear to her; "It's hard to think of leaving. I like my neighbors; I have several retired pensioners living nearby. They feel like they've been forgotten: they're a lost generation. Many older people seem confused by all this high speed, high tech progress. I can relate to them – to their pace, their gentle way of life, their pets and their plants."
Ms. Stockland also relates to her job. In addition to her teaching around Beijing she is also a member of the elite corps of IELTS examiners. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) has about 140 examiners in Beijing. To qualify an English as A Second Language (ESL) teacher must have several years of teaching experience, at least an undergraduate degree and an ESL certificate: CELTA or TEFL or TESOL.
"I really enjoy this work," Ms. Stockland said, grinning hugely. "The script we have to follow is set to ensure consistency in testing but I do enjoy the travel. At least one candidate in the course of a weekend examination period will surprise me with sincerity, insight or humor. And everybody comes to these exams. I get millionaires, CEO's, political leaders and punk rockers and wanna-be movie stars. The job gives me mobility and stability, mobility because I travel a few times a month going to different testing centers and stability because they pay us well."
Although Ms. Stockland said she is planning to take another of her regular trips to Thailand in the near future, she feels that she'll be back to Beijing in the near future. "I'm used to this place. I love Thailand because I go scuba diving there often and I'm even getting PADI certified to be an instructor. But Beijing always calls me back. I've got cats and I've got friends, it will be impossible to stay away for too long."
(China.org.cn July 23, 2008)