Carlos Cruz once thought he’d become a teacher in New Haven. An unpleasant experience volunteering at his alma mater, Wilbur Cross High School, changed that plan. He has retained his dream, though—and will now travel nearly 7,500 miles to pursue it in Shanghai, China.
Cruz (pictured), who graduated with a degree in history from Southern Connecticut State University this May, will teach English through the Ameson Year in China program (AYC). This is the program’s first year, though its parent foundation – the Ameson Education & Cultural Exchange Foundation – was founded in 1994. For the 2013-2014 academic year, the AYC program will send an estimated 400 college graduates to teach in public and private schools across China, said International Media Coordinator Fred Bane.
Cruz envisioned three typical paths after graduation: entering the workforce, going to graduate school, and taking a break. He said he feels like he’s doing something different.
“My family and friends think I’m crazy, to be honest,” he said with a laugh. “I have a good job here [as a finance intern at New Haven City Hall]. But I need to experience something new. I don’t want to be in the U.S. my whole life.”
Cruz, who is 21, grew up in Fair Haven in a family of seven. He started working in city government as an intern at the mayor’s office in 2008, then served as the inaugural president of the mayor’s Youth Advisory Council in 2010. But he hoped to become a teacher, not a government official. After graduating from Wilbur Cross in 2009, he returned to the school as part of an education class in college.
“When I volunteered [at Wilbur Cross], I was overwhelmed,” he said. The high school students behaved “like kindergarteners.” “I don’t know what happened between my generation [at Wilbur Cross] and the next one,” he said. Each of the three classrooms he visited was out of hand. In one room, a fight erupted before him. “I had to get security because I couldn’t legally break it up,” he said.
By contrast, Cruz said, he’s heard that Chinese students value their studies and are attentive in class. “I’m excited to teach kids who really do want to learn,” he said. “In China, that’s 95 percent of the classroom. Here, the only ones who want to learn are in the honors and AP classes.”
Cruz said he plans to return home eventually. His long-term goal is to become a university-level history professor who focuses on Asia. “I knew I wanted a break from school though,” he said. “Getting a master’s or a doctorate is a really intense process.”
Though he’ll miss American foods, Cruz said, he’s looking forward to learning Mandarin – he already speaks both English and Spanish fluently – and to taking in China’s culture and history. He said he’s looking forward even to experiencing culture shock. “I’ve never been out of the country before,” he explained. The shock would be a new experience.
To prepare for the move, Cruz said, he’s trying to meet with another New Havener who’s part of the AYC program. That way he’ll know someone ahead of time and won’t have to take the 19-hour flight from New York City to Shanghai alone. He’s also trying to teach himself how to “edge up” his hair since he expects that Chinese barbershops won’t know how.
The desire to move to China and learn more about Asia comes from his studies at SCSU, Cruz said. History classes on East Asia and Southeast Asia inspired an interest in the region and motivated him to apply to the AYC program. In fact, one of his history professors, Michele Thompson, first told him about the teaching opportunity.
Vietnam particularly fascinates him. He said he hopes to explore the region’s history further during his year abroad. Maybe he’ll be able to use a break from school to visit Hanoi, he said. “I want to do research on the Vietnam War. Maybe interview people who fought in it or were alive during it,” he said.
Sightseeing within China is also on the agenda.The program arranges trips to numerous landmarks, from ancient structures like the Great Wall to newer marvels like the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. After these experiences, “maybe I’ll lean more towards China [in my studies],” he said.
When the AYC program ends next June, Cruz said, he isn’t sure what he’ll do. He doesn’t have a plane ticket home yet. He may extend his contract and teach another year. Or he might enroll at a Chinese university and pursue his ultimate goal of becoming a professor.
Regardless, Cruz said he feels excited about the opportunities created by teaching in China. “I’ll get to places [in life] that I wouldn’t get to [if I stayed in Connecticut,]” he said.