GoAbroad Interview

Kelly Flaherty - Regional Program Coordinator

Kelly Flaherty - Regional Program Coordinator

Kelly joined the Ameson Foundation in October 2015. She works primarily on the Ameson Year in China (AYC) program, focusing on recruitment, development, and outreach. Kelly graduated from Harvard University in May 2015, with a bachelor of arts degree in East Asian studies. Kelly spent one summer in China, touring around Shanghai with her parents, before volunteering with Harvard China Care at the Fujian Ningde Tashan Orphanage.

You began working for Ameson a few months after graduation. What inspired you to get involved with the organization?

At Harvard, I concentrated in East Asian studies and knew that I wanted to apply my knowledge of China in the work setting. Washington, D.C. is such an international city, so I began to focus my job search there. While applying for jobs, I found myself most excited about nonprofit positions. There was something very motivating about the opportunity to see positive change as a direct result of your actions, and I knew I would find that kind of work the most fulfilling. The Ameson Foundation incorporated all three of these interests, so I knew it was going to be a great fit for me.

Ameson Education and Cultural Exchange Foundation table at the Havard Nonprofit & Education Career Fair

Recruiting for AYC at the Harvard Nonprofit & Education Career Fair

Photo Credit: Ameson Media Department

Before you finished your undergraduate studies, you spent time volunteering in China. From your own experience, what makes China a great place for cultural exchange?

China is a great place for cultural exchange because people are genuinely interested in learning more about you. I had people approach me whenever I went out to ask about where I was from or to practice their English. I was equally interested in them (and practicing my Chinese!) and that created a great space for building cultural understanding of one another. “Cultural exchange” may sound like a vague concept or enormous task, but it can be done through something as simple as a conversation.

How influential would you say your time in China has been on your personal and professional life?

My time in China was absolutely life-changing. I volunteered at a home for abandoned children with severe mental and physical disabilities. Beyond the typical challenges of living abroad, it was also very mentally and emotionally demanding work. However, I returned with a new perspective and greater appreciation for the privileges I have been afforded in life. It absolutely solidified my interest in continuing to study China and improve my Mandarin as well. I’m so glad that I was able to do such meaningful work and learn more about China at the same time.

Why do you think cultural exchange is valuable for young people?

Cultural exchange is valuable for young people because international understanding and global connectedness is becoming a necessity for success in this day and age. It is so important understand the value in learning about other cultures as a way to positively contribute to international relations. Taking the time to understand each other can combat discrimination and stereotyping that is born out of ignorance.

Panel for the Sino-American Youth Ambassadors (SAYA) program

Participating in a college experience panel for Sino-American Youth Ambassadors (SAYA) program students from China

Photo Credit: Ameson Media Department

In your opinion, what makes Ameson’s programs in China different from programs provided by other organizations?

Good question! Ameson Year in China differs from other teach abroad programs in two key ways. First, our educational ambassadors (EAs) spend a maximum of 20 hours teaching English in the classroom. An additional 10 hours are spent engaging with their school community, such as coaching a sports team or assisting with administrative work. The rest of the time, EAs are encouraged to truly immerse themselves in Chinese culture and explore their surroundings. Some other programs require teachers to work long hours in a private teaching center, but not us! We truly encourage EAs to participate in cultural exchange outside of the classroom, and give them the time to do just that.

Second, we do not charge any program fees. The Ameson Foundation is a non-profit organization, and AYC operates within this framework. Our goal is not to make money, it is to facilitate cultural and educational exchange. Removing program fees takes away the financial barrier that many other teach abroad programs have and allows for anyone to participate.

Ameson Education and Cultural Exchange Foundation staff member talking to a student at the Georgetown China Business Expo

Discussing opportunities at Ameson with a student at the Georgetown China Business Expo

Photo Credit: Ameson Media Department

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

The best part of my job is that no one day looks the same. Some days I spend time talking with career service centers at various universities to discuss our program and how to best connect with their students, or interviewing potential AYC participants. Other days, I help draft outreach materials or create content for our publicity materials and website. As we prepare to send our next cycle of educational ambassadors to China, I am in charge of a group of EAs to make sure that all of their visa documents are collected and their questions are answered. Some days I am not in the office at all; you can find me jetting off to an out-of-state career fair to represent the Ameson Foundation and recruit future EAs.

How do you help participants prepare for their time abroad?

We start preparing participants for their time abroad from the minute they are accepted into the program. This starts by helping them through the visa process and getting them started on their TEFL training. Our AYC Team also provides each participant with resources on teaching English abroad and living in China. AYC officially begins with a one-week orientation in Shanghai. During this orientation, participants attend various sessions including survival Mandarin lessons, panels on best practices for teaching Chinese students, and presentations about cultural awareness.

All participants have access to a support network, including their assigned host school coordinator, an in-country Regional Placement Liaison from Ameson’s Shanghai office, and a Regional Program Coordinator from our headquarters here in D.C. All are available to help prepare participants before arriving in China and continue to support them during their year abroad.

What characteristics describe an ideal participant for the Ameson Year in China program?

The ideal educational ambassador is, first and foremost, culturally adaptable. We want EAs who are aware of the challenges that come with living abroad and ready to face them with an open mind. Participants who are outgoing, explorative, and passionate about cultural exchange get the most out of our program. While having some teaching experience or time abroad is helpful, having the right attitude is absolutely paramount.

Ameson Education and Cultural Exchange Foundation 2013-2014 AYC Educational Ambassadors in Shanghai, China

Our 2013-2014 AYC Educational Ambassadors at orientation in Shanghai

Photo Credit: Ameson Media Department

What is your best piece of advice for future participants?

The best piece of advice I have for future participants is to be open-minded. Living in a different country can be the most exciting time of your life, if you are willing to take risks, put yourself out there, and learn from every moment of your experience. While it would be relatively easy for most participants to never speak a word of Chinese, only befriend other foreigners, and eat at McDonald’s every day, that is NOT the goal. We want participants to truly immerse themselves in their new homes. Doing so makes for an experience that is so much more rewarding!

You’ve been working for Ameson for a few months now, what do you enjoy most about your job thus far?

The part of my job that I enjoy the most is hearing and seeing what current (and former) EAs are up to! We have an awesome YouTube channel with a series called “My Life in China,” which follows a handful of EAs through their entire time in China. Seeing the videos and photos that the EAs take and hearing about their unique experiences is fascinating, and it is so gratifying to see how much of an impact they are having on their students. I can’t wait to meet the next group of EAs!