AS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER JENNY SU RETIRES, SHE TELLS HOW A CONVERSATION 19 YEARS AGO BROUGHT HER TO A REWARDING NEW CAREER IN TEACHING.
In 1999, Jenny Su was working as a chemist for a company in Canada when her life changed. Her husband had accepted a job with a large firm in China, and the family relocated to Guangzhou. At first, with no job of her own, she was bored. “I had nothing to do, other than walk the kids to school and see them off,” she explains.
But that school was AISG. And when a chat with (former School Director) Dr. David Shawver revealed her background as a chemistry major, he invited her to join the staff as a lab specialist. The move would awaken a passion she wasn’t even aware she had: working with children. “I was working in the lab in Canada for I don’t know how many years, but it was so different when the children came along,” she says. “I just loved coming to work every day and seeing their faces. I found my passion here.”
Jenny’s first task at AISG was to source all the equipment she needed from Guangzhou, instead of relying on expensive imports. “At that time, everything was coming from the U.S., even sulphuric acid. It cost big money, as you had to pay import duties. So I localized everything, including the instruments, and worked in the High School lab teaching students chemistry experiments.”
Three years later, Jenny made the move from Chemistry to Mandarin, starting with teaching High School and then IB – teaching the first student ever to gain an IB in Mandarin at AISG. She has since taught the language to all grades, from IB to kindergarten. “It’s very hard to choose my favorite time, but if I had to, I’d say teaching Mandarin in Elementary School wins out. I enjoyed it the most and for the longest time over the 19 years I’ve been here.”
Having been at AISG for 19 years, Jenny has seen the place change considerably. When she joined in 2000, the only campus was the Greenery, home to just one small school building with four floors and a basketball court on the roof where students from grades 1 to 12 studied together.
“The swimming pool was in the residential area, and running class was held in one of the yards on the complex!” It may have been small-scale, but there was a real family feeling. “So many families were living in the complex, it made everything so easy. We’d often get together for BBQs on birthdays and other events.”
A major advantage for Jenny was the fact that her own kids attended AISG. “AISG was good for them. It helped my boys grow up into two bright young men.” Even though they have flown the nest, community ties have stayed with them. “When my elder boy married in New York, friends from AISG came from all over to the wedding. They were talking about when they were kids, playing basketball, eating my homemade spaghetti. Those memories were made in the Greenery.”
A Passion for Dance
AISG didn’t just open up Jenny’s love of teaching. It also helped her share her other passion – dance. As she talks about one of her proudest moments, when children performed a traditional dance dressed as jasmine flowers, this passion comes alive.
“I designed the costumes, then went to Hui’an and bought the material. I gave my drawings to a professional tailor, and she made the costumes. It was the first time the children learned this kind of dance, and it was beautiful – it gave parents and teachers a passion for folk dance and an interest in Chinese culture.”
Jenny has now put on dozens of dance shows, with parents as well as kids. “Parents don’t have that many chances to dress up and show off, and so I decided to give them a chance, too, and everybody loved it!”
It doesn’t sound like Jenny will be hanging up her dance shoes any time soon, even when she retires from AISG. So, what are her retirement plans? “I’m doing nothing, enjoying myself! I will register for a class to study some kind of dance, but other than that I am waiting for my husband to stop working so we can move back to Canada.”
Although she is looking forward to her retirement, she will miss her friends and colleagues at school. “Over 19 years, it’s become my life. I’ve enjoyed working here, and I’ve looked forward every morning to coming here.”
However, Jenny admits she is looking forward to at least one new thing when she retires. “I think I will stay in bed until nine o’clock. I don’t need to get up when the alarm wakes me anymore!”