Coming from a small town of Garden City, Kansas in the US, Jacob Algrim wanted to see more and got the taste for travelling, languages and cultures during his college years. Jacob is currently a Lecturer and Independent English Learning Coordinator in the English Language Centre (ELC) at UIC.

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Jacob Algrim

It all began during the summer of 2010; Jacob jumped at an opportunity to spend a week and a half volunteering in India at an orphanage, which triggered his fascination with the country. His interaction with the locals and his experience in another culture motivated him to see and experience more.

Jacob moved to Chicago where he studied Applied Linguistics and Ancient Greek for university. He also began to learn Hindi, in preparation for further travels to India, which he did for a second time in the summer of 2012.

Promptly after graduation, Jacob did a ten-week course on teaching English and received a Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA) to adults. Jacob did this with the intention of moving abroad to teach English and as well as chasing his other passion of studying a foreign language.

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Jacob taking part in the Chinese language class

After teaching part-time for a short duration at a community college, Jacob began to apply for work overseas with his original intention of travelling in India. However, due to some issues, that door was unexpectedly closed, which led to him looking further east to China, where he was offered a teaching position in Guangzhou.

When Jacob first thought about China, he saw it at the same level of development as India, but that soon changed after he arrived and saw how advanced and developed China was. “You could say China exceeded my expectations,” said Jacob as he recalled the bus ride from the airport to the hotel on his very first day.

Jacob spent some of his best times exploring Guangzhou with the new circle of friends that he had acquired. However, the job in Guangzhou was not precisely what Jacob had hoped for, so he set his attentions to teach in Zhuhai, which landed him a position at an experimental high school on Qi’ao Island.

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Jacob (second from left) with faculty members from the Chinese Language and Culture Centre

The idea of living on an island appealed to Jacob, but that only lasted nine months before he saw an opportunity to work at UIC in 2016. Jacob explains that he wanted to work in a university environment, and UIC offers a great selection of resources, and the students are ideal for the type of class that he wants to teach.

Jacob saw a Jet Li movie called ‘Hero’ several years before coming to China and has had an interest in a traditional Chinese instrument, the Guqin, ever since. Upon arrival, Jacob showed determination by studying Chinese so he would find an opportunity to learn the Guqin. It took a couple of years before Jacob was able to find a proper teacher and have a level of Chinese which was adequate to understand the teacher and books about the Guqin. Jacob now takes regular lessons with an instructor from Beijing Normal University (BNU) plus he spent a semester learning with the UIC Guqin Club, where he attended evening classes that were taught by an experienced student.

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 Jacob enjoys playing the guqin

During the past couple of years, Jacob has achieved a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics and Foreign Language Pedagogy from the University of Massachusetts in Boston. This degree sparked an interest in Jacob to further pursue a PhD in Cognitive Linguistics or something similar as he likes conducting research and working at a University level.

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Jacob (right) travelling around China

The love of languages flows through Jacob, and it shows as he is currently at level 5 HSK (Chinese language test) with the intention to take the level 6 examination.

Jacob thoroughly enjoys his role in the ELC as he supports the curriculum and the freedom he gets with the job. He says that teaching university-level students is much more of a pleasure as they have a good command of English and can engage in topics and subjects that also interest him.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has been a tough year for many people in the world, and it resulted in quite a burden to the educational sector. Jacob and other UIC teachers had to adapt to online teaching during the first few months of the pandemic. Still, he is relieved to finally be back on campus where he can fully implement his style of teaching, engage directly with the students and feed off their energy.

Reporter: Samuel Burgess
Editor: Deen He