James Barnhart, a Carlisle native and graduate of the University of Chicago, presented a speech at Shippensburg University titled “Working in Asia and Europe: Rewards and Risks,” which focused on the positive and negative aspects of working abroad.
The speech took place on Thursday, April 11, in the Ceddia Union Building’s Orndorff Theater.
His main emphasis in his work abroad is teaching the English language to people who want to learn it. He taught in countries such as Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and France.
Not only did he teach at schools and universities, but he also taught at large companies and factories in order to ensure that every worker spoke a common language, which is English.
In addition to teaching at schools and companies, he also taught privately. In one case, a Japanese businessman he was teaching decided to focus his lesson away from grammar and sentence structure; he picked something else that is evident in American culture.
“He reached out and closed my books and closed my papers. And he said ‘Thank you very much Jim, can you explain to me the rules of American football?’” Barnhart said.
Nevertheless, Barnhart said working abroad has many positive experiences. He says it boosts your resumé and the job markets abroad are much more flexible. He also said being an American over there is definitely an interesting experience.
“I didn’t mind getting that attention of being an American and that sense of specialness. People looked up to me, and at first I felt like it’s not justified,” Barnhart said.
“They think I’m great because I’m from a country that’s richer than their country. But you know what, after a while it made me want to live up to it, and in the living up to it, I kind of became that person who they thought I was at the beginning,” Barnhart said.
The relationship with students was very different in other countries compared to American culture, according to Barnhart.
He said when he worked in Thailand, his students would bring him snacks almost every day. When he worked in China, his students made him a goodbye video and gave him a photo album.
Along with these positive experiences, Barnhart said there are many negative experiences as well. He said many of his colleagues at the school he worked at would essentially go through the motions. He said the teaching system in many of the countries lacked a sense of professionalism.
“One school I taught at, nine of the local teachers went away to the Philippines for one school year, and they came back and they all had Ph.Ds, in nine months. Did they really have Ph.Ds? I don’t think so,” Barnhart said.
In addition to being cut off from American culture and the increased possibility of getting an unfamiliar illness, Barnhart said he also experienced a time of loneliness.
“I’m in this subway car that was so crowded that I could feel people pressing up against my ribcage, front and back, and I’m lonely,” he said.
Barnhart also said working abroad offers opportunities that might not normally be available in America.
He said when working abroad, one has to be ready to change plans rather quickly, and if someone prefers a more secure environment, than working abroad might not be the right choice.