During her four years at the University of Richmond, Jackie McMahon,’09, a psychology major and Chinese minor, studied abroad twice in China, spending a semester in Nanjing and a summer in Beijing. These study abroad experiences, combined with her Chinese classes at Richmond, helped McMahon to become fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

While abroad in Nanjing, McMahon taught English classes. She continued to develop her passion for teaching through the English as a Second Language program at Richmond. It was while working as a Chinese drill instructor during her senior year, however, that McMahon found she enjoyed teaching Chinese as well.

“When it comes to teaching some of the more confusing aspects of this language, I’m able, as a non-native speaker, to relate to my non-native speaking students,” said McMahon. “Because I was so recently a student of Chinese myself, I can describe the nuances of the language to these non-native speakers using the same patterns of thought that worked for me when I was learning.”

During her senior year at Richmond, McMahon decided she wanted to find a way to use her Chinese language skills after graduation. Through USAJobs, a search engine for government employment, McMahon learned that the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) was looking for elementary language teachers. The DoDEA is a U.S. government agency that provides schools for dependents of U.S. diplomats and military personnel.

“The position does not require a degree in education and seemed like a really good fit for me,” said McMahon.

McMahon left for Guam in September and is currently stationed on the South Pacific island. She teaches Mandarin Chinese in two DoDEA middle schools — one on the Navy base and one on the Air Force base.

“The population of Guam is a fantastic mishmash of American, Asian, Oceanic and native Pacific Islanders, and the student population is as diverse as the island community,” she said. “Some of the students have lived in other countries, like Japan or Korea, while others have only ever lived in the states. There is also a large percentage of Guamanian students. Already I’ve been able to experience a unique blend between two cultures with which I am familiar — American and Asian.”

The experience of being an educator in Guam has already had an influence on McMahon’s future plans.

“I’ve had very positive experiences so far in the DoDEA schools in Guam,” she said. “I know that I’ll live abroad again in the future and if these two years in education serve me well, I may work for DoDEA in another country or back in the United States.”