Mandarin Chinese Studies
(Appeared on front page of Fairfield Sun 11/11)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – A love of travel and decision to study Mandarin Chinese “on a whim” in college has opened incredible doors for a Fairfield Prep graduate who is himself now teaching the language and culture in a new free program that has just begun in Fairfield Public Libraries.
Christopher Alesevich, 25, who graduated from Fairfield Prep in 2003, is offering the program at both the Fairfield Woods Branch Library and Fairfield Public Library. The first class, a one-hour session geared to young adults ages 12-18, launched Nov. 3 at Fairfield Woods. Classes for children begin 11/8 while those for adults start 11/16, both at the main library. The sessions offer local people of all ages the opportunity to learn Mandarin Chinese and about Chinese culture through virtual field trips, lesson plans and live interaction with China-based teachers.
Through the free classes, Alesevich also hopes to encourage people to take a deeper interest in the language and enroll in his Wudaokou Borderless Learning online school. The website just launched this past July and already a handful of students are participating.
“I have always been interested in traveling, meeting people and learning about where they come from,” said Alesevich, who was born and raised in Shelton. Leaving home to attend school at the University of California was one of his first big adventures. “No one in my immediate family had lived outside of Connecticut,” he said.
Alesevich decided to pursue an International Relations major and was also interested in taking a language. He had studied Spanish in high school but didn’t want to continue. On a whim, he chose Mandarin Chinese.
One of his first Chinese teachers told him, “You will learn a lot and study hard, but at some point, go to China.” While that thought played in his head, he undertook a key initial travel experience cross-country during the summer of 2005. The trip was part of a college journalism project with a goal of asking people he encountered what made them happy.
“I collected stories from folks from all walks of life. I met chili pepper farmers in New Mexico, woodworkers in New Hampshire, lobbyists in D.C. and activists in Oregon,” he shared.
He had whet his whistle and, in Jan. 2006, during his junior year, went abroad to China, residing and attending Beijing University. He enrolled in an intensive Mandarin program in which students from all over the world also participated.
“It was fascinating to be in the capital of China, immersed in its culture and surrounded by earnest learners,” he said. “I felt I was on to something and wanted to continue to learn, but get away from campus.”
Alesevich’s thoughts led him to take a leave of absence for a year, during which he traveled to Shanghai to work as a project coordinator for Laticrete International. He worked with Chinese employers and suppliers, applying his language skills. After six months, though, he decided he liked Beijing better and returned there for the balance of the year to work for state-owned enterprise China International Intellectech (CIIC), the second largest human resources company in mainland China.
As Assistant to the General Manager, Alesevich translated sales presentations and contracts from Chinese to English and presented materials at meetings. “I was the first foreigner to work for them. Even though there were thousands of employees at CIIC, I was just known as Chris. This was a 100% Chinese working environment, with the exception of me.”
Alesevich returned to USC with some real-world global experience and got involved with U.S. China Institute on campus as a staff reporter for its magazine U.S. China Today. “I penned articles about famous scholars that studied Chinese, the modern economy as related to Hong Kong and tourism in southwestern China.” His work required him to interact with experts in the USC community and he spent hours in USC’s library.
He also took a high-level Chinese literature class. “I was the only one in class that had gone abroad – I felt empowered.”
After graduation, Alesevich went back to Beijing, for a year, reconnecting with Chinese friends. He started teaching English to Chinese people, which evolved into a small business. “I would recruit students, teach, recruit more.”
A Business Is Born
Perceiving a greater interest and need in the international community, he decided he would teach Chinese instead. “In my apartment on the east side of Beijing in February 2009, I hatched the concept for Wudaokou Borderless Learning.”
With partner Michael Fengbo, Alesevich immediately dove into putting together an online Chinese language instruction school and recruiting tutors. “In an underground KFC in a nearby shopping mall is where we began our pitch to tutors,” he mused.
With regard to the website, he said, “I wanted to share what it’s like to learn Chinese in China for those people not fortunate enough to have that opportunity.”
Over a three to four month period, he and Fengbo got far with recruiting, lessons development and the website before Alesevich returned to the U.S.
Locally, Alesevich connected with more resources, including Destwin LLC, a Monroe-based online software company that provided the foundation for the Chinese learning platform. Initial lessons were PDF docs but have since involved to full-blown virtual tours that help teach the language. These take students through notable sites like the Great Wall and Forbidden City with a sophistication superior to many virtual tours provided by travel services and hotels.
Alesevich became interested in reaching out to folks in Connecticut and showing them how they can easily learn Chinese. “In learning Chinese in Beijing, I had found that I made the greatest progress when I interacted and practiced one-on-one live with my instructors.” He incorporated this element – really a founding principal – into his new website, to provide that experience, which he says is fundamental to how language is learned.
“I recognized a great interest from our local community in China, its culture and its language. China is the second largest world economy and poised to be the greatest partner for peace and prosperity in the future,” Alesevich remarked.
He also recognized that it was difficult for people to find a place to learn Chinese. To that end, he created a rolling class program and scheduled it to be held over the next few months. The structure calls for one free hour-long class every two weeks for each of three age segmentations – children, teens and adults. These classes are free and open to the public.
In addition to Alesevich sharing his language and culture knowledge, the program will provide an introduction to his Wudaokou Borderless Learning system. He hopes that this access will really enable people to experience China and interact with native teachers.
“My family has been very supportive of my plans all the way through, but is especially happy I’m back in Connecticut. They agree that the program has value to the community… and it’s a great way for me to spend my time right now.”
Mandarin Chinese Classes Wow Staff and Students at Fairfield Public Libraries
Fairfield, CT – The lower level of the Fairfield Woods Library was the site Wednesday afternoon Nov. 3 of the first Mandarin Chinese language and culture class, a program created and introduced by Fairfield Prep grad Chris Alesevich.
It was met with very positive response from both staff and students.
“Eleven teens signed up for the class and they’re coming here after a long day in school,” said Nancy Coriaty, Deputy Town Librarian. “That’s very telling as to how important the language is.”
Coriaty also marveled at how great it is that libraries can connect with people like Alesevich, who can offer these programs.
Assistant Director for Administrative Services Dawn LaValle echoed Coriaty’s sentiments. “We’re very excited about the program and offering it to a community like Fairfield. It gives patrons something they’ve been seeking for a while.”
LaValle commented that the trend has been going towards Asian languages, particularly as students consider careers and more adults do business worldwide.
As Alesevich summoned China-based tutor Vicky Liu through a live Skype audio/video connection for interaction with the class, Brigette Anderson, 13, shared her enthusiasm. “We have been learning about China in Social Studies. I like learning new languages and thought this would be interesting.”
Fairfield Warde student, Conor Cosgrove, 14, was equally enthused. “China’s pretty big in the world. My mom thought I should learn the language as I might need it job-wise one day. I’m also part Chinese, so it will be interesting to learn my mom’s native language, too.”
With the support of the live tutor, Alesevich taught the class basic greetings, gave them a virtual tour of the Great Wall and provided a few history details.
Summed up LaValle, “We’re very happy to partner with Chris and hope the program will last a long time.”
For more information about and to register for the free Mandarin Chinese program, visit www.fairfieldpubliclibrary.org or call 203-256-3160. For details about Wudaokuo Borderless Learning, contact Chris Alesevich: firstname.lastname@example.org