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Friday, November 12, 2010

Fairfield Prep Grad Finds Career Path Through Mandarin Chinese Studies

Fairfield Prep Grad Finds Career Path Through
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.

Adventure Abroad

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.

Connecticut-based Program

“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 or call 203-256-3160. For details about Wudaokuo Borderless Learning, contact Chris Alesevich:

"Curtains" Going Up at Staples High School

“Curtains” Going Up at 
Staples High School:
Staples Players’ Musical Comedy Opens Nov. 12
(Appeared on 11/12)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Westport, CT – A production that was initiated on the very first day of the 2010-2011 school year and involved the efforts of over 100 students will make its much-anticipated debut this week.

“Curtains”, a musical comedy with a built-in murder mystery and show within a show, will debut on Nov. 12 at 7:30pm at Staples High School, 70 North Avenue in Westport. The show is co-directed by Staples’ Theatre Teacher David Roth and his wife Kerry Long and stars the high school’s own Staples Players, teens ages 14-18.

As Roth explained, “’Curtains’ focuses on a musical that is being tried out in Boston pre-Broadway. The show within the show is called ‘Robbin’ Hood’ and is a Western version of the Robin Hood story – and it’s just as terrible as that sounds.”

“The opening number of ‘Curtains’ is actually the final number of ‘Robbin’ Hood and, at the end of it, the leading lady faints,” Roth continued. “We later find out that she has died and the Boston police suspect murder. They send in Lt. Frank Cioffi to investigate the case and sequester the cast at the theater – and he just so happens to be a huge fan of musical theater and an amateur actor himself.”

In an amusing and fortunate twist with regard to the fate of “Robbin’ Hood, Cioffi, while investigating the murder, simultaneously helps solve the problems the production is facing – a once married, now divorced composer and lyricist team, a zany British director, a controlling producer and her sleazy husband, a smarmy critic who trashes the show, etc.

Staples is presenting “Curtains” by special arrangement with Theatrical Rights Worldwide of NYC. It is based on a stage adaptation by Rupert Holmes and features music by Jon Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, the creators of “Chicago” and “Cabaret”. The original book and concept was developed by Peter Stone.

Roth notes that the book is “really really funny” and that the show is “one of the funniest musicals that people have never heard of. The music, though written less than five years ago, is classic Kander & Ebb and has a big Broadway, retro feel, in the tradition of classic musicals.”

Staples’ own behind-the-scenes production talent includes musical director Justin Miller, choreographer Joanne Kahn, technical director/set designer Dave Seltzer, costume designers Marjorie Watt and Priscilla Stampa and pit orchestra conductor Adele Valovich.

Roth, a 1984 Staples graduate who studied theater at DePaul University and acted professionally before returning to Staples 11 years ago as theatre director, has high expectations for the production. “I hope the audience will be entertained and that the kids will have a great time doing this. This is the big fall musical and should be enjoyable for the whole family. It’s really about the love of theater and being involved in theater, what Rupert Holmes described as a ‘Valentine to theater.’”

Leading cast members include Max Samuels as Lt. Frank Cioffi; Eva Hendricks at Carmen Bernstein, the producer of “Robbin’ Hood”; and Matt Van Gessel as Christopher Belling, the director of the show. Of seniors involved in the cast, nine are going on to study theater in college.

Regarding the cast, Roth said, “They’re doing a phenomenal job. This is a terrific ensemble production that showcases all our terrific kids.”

Performances will be held on Nov. 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 7:30pm and Nov. 14 at 2pm at Staples High School. Adult admission is $15.00. Student admission is $10. Senior citizens may attend at the student rate on Sunday, Nov. 14 at 2pm. Tickets can be purchased online at or in person (by cash or check only) in the SHS main lobby, Wednesdays through Fridays, 12:30 to 2pm beginning Nov. 10. Remaining tickets will be for sale at the door, beginning 30 minutes before curtain. Seating is reserved. The production is rated PG for some language and violence.  


Man About Town: In the Spotlight at Starbucks

Man About Town:
In the Spotlight at Starbucks
(Appeared as a column in the Fairfield-Citizen News 11/12)
ã 2010. All Rights Reserved.

First light on a recent Monday brought a wake-up call from Mother Nature, who lashed the area with wicked winds and a sloppy freezing rain and snow mix. At times, it was blowing sideways and managed to settle and stick to car windshields, porch steps and rooftops. Kids, who hoped for a quick-decision school closing, and commuters alike, sighed a collective sigh, hitched up their gear and slogged out.

While the wind hadn’t subsided by late morning, the sun was doing its best to peek out, and any leftover ice crystals quickly melted. It was a tease for the season to follow. Though an uncomfortable commuting day, it was a perfect café and coffee day, and the popular Starbucks on Black Rock Turnpike beckoned to passersby.

Barristas Katie and Shirlean were manning the counter, operating the java-making machinery that makes that wonderful shushing sound as it pumps out exotic coffees while sending into the air great smells that themselves alone can stimulate the senses.

“Nice and bundled up today?” inquired Shirlean of an elder man draped in multiple layers, a cap and droopy trousers that were just hanging on.

“You need to wake up!” she good-naturedly said to another man in corporate casual attire who sleepily placed his order. “I was just in a meeting and it was so boring!” he remarked.

A mom, in pink t-shirt with a Hello Kitty image emblazoned on the front pushed a stroller containing her young son. “I’m five at heart,” she joked when asked about her top.

Along with the lattes, mochas, Americanos, cappuccinos, espressos, roasts and caramel coffees available in the trademark tall, grande, venti and magilla-scale 31oz. trenta sizes, customers had a bevy of other purchase choices here. On the top deck of a well-lit glass display case for example, muffins, scones, bagels, buns, doughnuts and English muffin sandwiches perched. In the bay below, towering waters, all-natural drinks, pre-packaged paninis and cans of frappuccino stood at attention. Nearby, baskets contained snack packs. And for the early holiday shopper, a bookcase featured tiers of thermoses, tins of tea, mega mugs and packs of instant coffee.

A blonde woman strolled in, walking stiffly and favoring one leg, with sheepskin-lined suede boots on her feet and black Spandex tights. “Two grande lattes, please,” she requested of a counterman that had joined his female counterparts and was carrying on a chat with an old friend that had dropped in. As the hobbling arrival was wearing a North Face windbreaker, I suspected she may have suffered an early season ski injury. In fact, she had run the New York City Marathon the day before. “It was a pretty awesome experience,” she exclaimed. As to how she goes about recovering, she replied, “I keep moving and drink lots of coffee.”

Her sheepskin boots were a popular choice among patrons, who tromped in with all makes and varieties. Also noted were separate sheepskin cuffs that serve to seal off any air that may try to invade the space between shoe top and pants hem, colorful rubber boots, hiking shoes and waterproof moccasins. No doubt these had all been hastily broken out from storage bins and winter gear repositories for today’s surprising weather condition and now warmed feet that had before now enjoyed less structured footwear.

Toasty feet. Roasty libations. Warm, busy café. It was all good on this wild wintry week-start.