Throughout the 2013-14 academic year, A.C.E. is commemorating its 40th anniversary with a series of celebrations and reflections to mark the occasion. From local events in Japan and Seattle to global receptions at NAFSA in St. Louis and San Diego, we are honored to share in this milestone with friends of A.C.E. over the years. As a special report to the A.C.E. blog, former A.C.E. staff and instructor Davey Young shares his reflections on building cross-cultural connections at A.C.E. and around the world.
I started out at A.C.E. gigging as a program assistant for a group of junior high school students on a two-week language and culture exchange to Seattle. I use the word “gigging” here deliberately, because that’s exactly how I saw it. I was transitioning out of part-time work as an ESL tutor for an after school program because the hours were going to conflict with my graduate program in TESOL. I was about to go back to school by relying on a few shifts per week waiting tables at the other part-time job I’d had for nearly three years. So the two-week program with A.C.E. was a gig, a one-time deal, a sudden cash infusion to keep me in Top Ramen for my first semester of grad school. Or at least that’s what I thought.
That was in August of 2008, and between then and March of 2012, I wore several hats at A.C.E., often times simultaneously. The organization supported and nurtured me intellectually, professionally, and personally through graduate school and launched my teaching career. I’ve since ended up teaching at a university in Japan via another in China.
I had a chance to catch up with my old colleagues and friends recently on a trip to Seattle, and again at the 2014 TESOL Convention in Portland, OR, at the end of March. It was genuinely hard to believe that I hadn’t seen any of them – hadn’t worked alongside, solved a problem or celebrated a success with any of them – in two years.
When I talk about A.C.E., I still use first person pronouns. I say “we” and “our,” not “they” and “their.” In part this is owing to the fact that A.C.E. became my world for the three and half years I worked there. I hardly lifted my head out of the sand between updating the Staff Services Portal, processing I-20s, planning the 35th Anniversary Symposium, and teaching the odd Conversation Class. But when I stop to think about it, that’s not the only reason. It isn’t even the main one.
Teachers are often asked about their teaching philosophy – usually at job interviews – and I formed mine while working at A.C.E. If you’re familiar with A.C.E. – if you’ve ever received one of those familiar blue folders in the mail-then you already know the motto. “Making the world your community.” In a nutshell, that’s A.C.E.’s mission: to make the world your community. To me that means showing every student who sits down in an A.C.E. classroom (in any language classroom, really) that the world is only as big or as small as they make it. Ultimately it’s my job, my responsibility, to convince my students that the ability to communicate cross-culturally is their passport to every district and enclave within that community.
I’ve been fortunate in my jobs since leaving A.C.E., which is to say, I’ve worked and continue to work in programs that view English language education as a means to an end, and that end is always the same: global citizenship. I remember, back when I was just an Enrollment Assistant in the Central Office, David Woodward went through a phase of saying “We’re building bridges!” as he roamed around the office giving his impromptu and characteristic pep talks to the staff. “Davey, how’s that Oman report coming?” he’d ask, followed by “We’re building bridges!” and then he’d be off to return a phone call or have coffee with someone at Nielsen’s. That’s the attitude that guides A.C.E. at every level, and even though I’ve left Seattle, I’m still building those bridges.