U Alum on Creating an English School in China


(Courtesy Vicky Wason)

By Kayleigh Silverstein , Special Projects Managing Editor, News Writer


Zheng Zhou, or “Joe”, the English version of his last name, is a University of Utah alum who started an English school in China after becoming enthralled by linguistics in his undergraduate studies.

Joe was born in Rizhao, China, a small, coastal city located in the Province of Shandong, during the control of China’s One Child Policy.

Joe’s father works for the government at the department of Maritime Academy as a shipping coordinator. His mother is now retired, but she used to work at a shopping mall as a saleswoman.

Throughout his early education, he spent his time in Rizhao. However, for college he moved to the United States to attend the U.

“My favorite subject was linguistics. It helped me gain a good understanding of how to learn a new language, methodically,” said Zhou in an email interview with the Chronicle. Zhou said that the four years he spent at the U were precious moments. He met many friends from different countries.

The “U is definitely a place with cultural diversities,” Zhou said.

Through his linguistic studies at the U, surrounded by a community of international students, he was able to study the phonetic problem for people with diverse language backgrounds when speaking English.

“This kind of study experience was precious and practical,” Zhou said.

After he graduated from the U in the summer of 2016, Zhou went back to China. Later, he found a job for half a year as an English tutor at an English training agency in Shenzhen, training students who wanted to study abroad to take the TOEFL and IELTS exams — English language tests for study, immigration and work.

He then moved to Qingdao, China to continue with the same teaching program, but focusing on teaching English speaking and reading.

He started an English workshop at the beginning of 2019, without any preparation.

“I rented the room three days before I opened and bought seven chairs, two tables, plus one writing board. Not until the middle of April, I didn’t have any students or parents coming to me,” Zhou said.

By May, however, he was lucky enough to encounter some parents who were looking for an English school for their children.

Through this experience, Joe has learned many things that he wants to share with students. First, he says, do not be clueless — try to avoid this by seeking internships and work experience with professors through on-campus jobs.

“Second, being arrogantly confident — I was quite proud of my teaching ability and years of living studying experience in the US, so I was ready to welcome people coming along to find me and take my class,” Zhou said.

Joe is set to open a new English school in a few months.

“Those mistakes/lessons mentioned above will be my next priority to deal with, I will tell those to my partners in the meeting as well and keep them in mind, preventing us from running off the track,” Zhou said.

Zhou is also preparing to start his own teacher training program, which will hopefully train English teachers in his school by sharing the teaching skills and experience that he developed in the TESOL program, where he got certified to teach ESL.

“A successful English agency in my opinion not only has the ability to improve the language efficiency of students, [but it can also] enhance the teaching foundation by supplying patient/responsible teachers into the society,” Zhou said.

He said, however, that it can be difficult to run an English agency in an area that is not metropolitan.

“The biggest challenge so far would be the shortage of teacher resources. With a shortcoming that my city is not a metropolitan place that has many universities or college institutes, so sometimes it is hard to find one qualified English teacher here. But we will work step by step,” Zhou said.

He said he would be more than happy to help U students interested in teaching ESL.

“I would be happy to welcome students from the U who are interested in teaching, especially those who study TESOL, to come here to my school for a semester-intern during the summer break if they are ready and excited to have a teaching trip in China,” Zhou said.


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