TESOL master’s grad Gabe Ryan continues teaching journey in Vietnam

Sometimes, identifying the right career path is a difficult and gradual process, the result of painstaking deliberation and back-and-forth consideration of a multitude of options. Other times, you just know. For KU alum Gabe Chun-bok Ryan, it was the latter.

Inspired by teachers in his past, Ryan recognized the impact that a dedicated educator can have in a student’s life. And after getting a taste of classroom instruction, he quickly decided how he would realize his goal of helping students form connections across the world.

Now living and working in Vietnam, the 2021 graduate is on to new adventures, applying his passion for teaching language and skills sharpened in KU’s online master’s in TESOL program as a lecturer of academic English.

Tell us what you do for a living.

I currently work as a lecturer of Academic English, teaching students at the International School of Business at the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City, in association with Western Sydney University. I thankfully was able to start this position just months after graduating from KU. The courses I teach focus on areas such as research methods, writing organization, speech delivery, and vocabulary instruction for English second-language speakers in our English language university program.

Before taking on this position, I managed an English Language Center with several branches, based out of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. My responsibilities included teacher training and program design for a K-12th grade English language program. I still work with the Language center group on some projects, and I am happy to say that a dear friend and fellow KU graduate has now taken over the reins as that school’s manager in Ho Chi Minh.

These are not my first positions abroad. I have actually been teaching abroad since 2011, starting first in South Korea and later moving to Vietnam.

“I wanted to help students connect to people across the world.”

I was drawn to the idea of teaching English, as it is the current lingua franca, used worldwide for communication. I wanted to help students connect to people across the world. When starting off, I remembered language teachers that I had over the years, and knew that the job was one where a real difference could be made by a dedicated teacher.

I think that everyone has moments where they suddenly feel a sense of purpose or drive in their career. For me, it came on a night after teaching. I had studied Korean in the morning and had learned a lot. I thought about my experience as a learner and an educator. At that moment, a feeling came over me that I had made a great career choice, that this would be fulfilling and beneficial work. I have never regretted my choice to become a language teacher, and have enjoyed continuously learning about the craft.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Western Sydney University’s Vietnam Campus is a wonderful place to work. Since I was a university language class student myself, I dreamed of one day teaching students in a university setting. It feels quite special to have reached this goal.

If I have to choose what I like best about my job, I would say it is the overall atmosphere of the school. It is so motivating and comfortable to work with students and staff that care so much about education. When I see my current students, I know that they are some of the best and brightest of Vietnam, and I am happy to be a small part of their journey. They are really capable young people, and I believe they can make a difference in Vietnam when they graduate. By working together closely with my fellow lecturers and the staff, we fine-tune the program and lessons to try and make them as impactful for each learner as we can. I admit that I truly care about education and it feels great to be surrounded by a community that does as well.

“I think that my time at Kansas gave me invaluable tools as an educator… Most importantly, it taught me that I could solve issues that my students faced by researching and comparing my findings.”

How did your experiences in the School of Education & Human Sciences prepare you for your career?

I think that my time at Kansas gave me invaluable tools as an educator. It gave me people to look up to, such as education theorists like Paulo Freire. It also gave me a better understanding of the fundamentals of language education, such as steps for exam creation and a better knowledge of the process of language acquisition. Most importantly, it taught me that I could solve issues that my students faced by researching and comparing my findings.

What’s a mistake you made in college or in your career that you’d caution others to avoid?

I would recommend that you get your master’s in education sooner than later. Your options as an educator abroad increase with a master’s so I think that is worth considering.

What are your top career tips for current students?

As I have worked abroad since 2011, I’d like to share some advice on pursuing work overseas. If you are looking to work abroad, you should research carefully about your career options. As an educator abroad, there are 5 main avenues that you could look into. First, you could work as a public school teacher. That is only possible in certain countries though. Second, you could work for a private education group. Third, certified teachers can work at an international school. Fourth, teachers with a master’s can often find employment as an instructor at a university abroad. Fifth, you might find work creating educational materials.

Whatever path you choose, you should learn as much as you can about the job opportunities in the country and the areas where you might live. You should also reflect on your goals as a worker abroad. Once you have done that, have an open mind. The goal should always be to shine as an employee wherever you are and to learn as much as you can about a new culture.

“By gaining experience in the field, you will learn more about your interests, strengths, and weaknesses, while also building valuable connections for the future.”

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself as a freshman?

If I could go back to the time that I was an undergraduate freshman, I would probably seek out more internships or real chances to try work experience. No amount of classes will prepare you for the real experience of work better than working will. By gaining experience in the field, you will learn more about your interests, strengths, and weaknesses, while also building valuable connections for the future.

Which opportunities at KU would you urge students to take advantage of?

I would suggest studying abroad. I studied abroad in Korea, while I was an undergraduate student. That experience gave me the confidence and awareness to pursue work overseas in the future. I can say that my time studying abroad was one of the most memorable periods of my life. If you are independent and open-minded, I can’t recommend the experience enough!

Please share the names of any KU mentors who made an impact on your life.

I would like to thank Dr. Rocha, for providing me with so much guidance and insight into the structure of second language acquisition. The time and attention she gave me are what I aspire to give back to my students now. I would like to thank Dr. Cho, for creating courses that helped reshape the way that I viewed my relationship with students and their families. I would like to show appreciation to Dr. Gonzalez-Bueno, for really helping me to better understand the fundamentals of linguistics. Lastly, I would like to thank Dr. Habtemariam, for helping me to grow as a writer and researcher, and for guiding me to produce work that related specifically to my teaching context. What I learned about Vietnamese-English language learners in his classes helped me to create better programs for my students. What I learned from each professor mentioned helped me to become a better educator and leader.

“Life is an adventure. There is no one right way to pursue your career, so make choices that you personally believe in.”

Favorite KU tradition:

I love the chant for KU. It is a unique quality of our school, and really showcases a piece of history and tradition. I will be chanting it while watching the NCAA final four match this weekend and then hopefully again during the finals! Rock Chalk!

As an online student, my favorite memories came from moments interacting with the passionate Professors from my program. They were always so helpful and supportive. They helped me to make more of an impact on the wonderful students that I have here in Ho Chi Minh.

One other fun memory as an online student came before the global lockdown began. I was traveling in Thailand, about to board a boat at a dock in Koh Samui to meet friends. The sun was setting, casting a pink light over the beach. All the while, I was sitting by the shore with my laptop, reading and completing assignments for a Module of my Kansas course work. I can admit that I felt pretty lucky to be an online student at that moment!

Final comments:

Life is an adventure. There is no one right way to pursue your career, so make choices that you personally believe in. Lean in on life and really get the most out of your time as a student. When you graduate, make your mark by dedicating to work that you do. Success will find you after that.

Learn more about the School of Education & Human Sciences, the Department of Curriculum & Teaching, and the Online Master’s in TESOL program at the University of Kansas.

Preparing educators and human science professionals as leaders since 1909.

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KU School of Education & Human Sciences

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Preparing educators and human science professionals as leaders since 1909.

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