Girl on fire

This past weekend was the first ever Writing Center Association of China (WCAC) conference, which was held at my university. The conference was relatively small, but it was one of the most encouraging and positive academic experiences of my life.

The sign that tells me “you are here.” Me: I’m so glad to be here!

Before I share my thoughts on the conference (and my presentation!), I want to share some great news! I received my teaching allocation for the next year, and I will work 75% of my time in the writing center (woohoo!!!) and 25% of my time in what is called “assisted delivery,” which means I’ll teach language skills for students taking a course in their major and help them succeed with content-specific English skills.

What’s amazing about this allocation is that I got my first choice. I feel beyond lucky. How could I get my first choice?! (Maybe I’m blessed, maybe I’ve paid my dues so to speak, and maybe I earned it. I don’t know, and it’s probably a combination of the three, but I’m thrilled!) I’ve wanted to get back to working with writing centers ever since I did my master’s thesis on the topic of these special learning environments, and now I get to work with a small team at my huge university to grow our fledgling center!


It rained all day, but we bonded indoors. We started off with our keynote speaker (Michele Eodice, editor of the International Writing Center Association (IWCA) journal,, and the energy from our group was palpable.

I attended several presentations by colleagues teaching at other Chinese universities. Some have writing centers, but most don’t and are eager to start them. I hadn’t realized exactly how lucky I am to work at a place where we have a writing center, albeit small and relatively new: one presentation shared statistics that shocked me (see image).

I am working at one of FIVE writing centers on Mainland China.

Again: maybe I’m lucky, maybe I’m blessed, maybe I earned it. At any rate, I’m working at a pretty unique place and I have a great opportunity to do something important not just for students at my university, but also for others in China to build the presence of writing centers.

I felt really excited about the information from the first session I attended, so I made a point to talk to the presenter, who is Chinese and working at a Chinese university. After a few minutes she shared that she will be going to the U.S. to pursue her Ph.D. The natural follow-up question is “where are you studying?” When she said Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I almost laughed. That’s where I earned my MA TESOL! That’s literally a half an hour drive from my hometown! We shared contact information and promised to keep in touch. I can’t wait to hear her stories about life at IUP. I know my alma mater is quite well known in the writing center world, but running into someone who is heading there while I’m living here in China?! I did NOT see that coming! 😀 It truly is a small world!

After the presentations wrapped up for the evening, we all walked to dinner. The conference center on campus had Chinese dishes for us, so it was fun to see some  visitors experiencing real Chinese cuisine for the first time. I sat with the keynote speaker and the director of the Language Center (my “big boss”) as well as my two new bosses: our writing center director and the manager of the assisted delivery courses. It was wonderful getting to know all of them. I can’t wait to work with and for these people. I think we are going to work well together.


Mine was the first presentation of the day, so I got to campus early. One of the things I like to do before a presentation is to scope out the room. It helps me to get comfortable so I don’t feel nervous. I get to ask: do I have a clock? is there going to be light in my eyes? how should I stand to be able to advance slides easily? Then I rely on my speaking skills, my notecards or slides, and pure adrenaline to push me along…

In the zone talking about one of my favorite topics.

I was *so* excited. I’ve waited for years to present this information, so I could hardly contain myself by the time I got up to speak. I felt like I was lit on fire from the inside. (The song “This Little Light of Mine” was in FULL effect, I tell you!) The presentation is a blur in my mind, but I had a good crowd and great feedback and questions. So, by that barometer, it went well!

(I’ve since received much more praise and many other questions from others because our Q&A time was limited. It is so validating and rewarding to talk with people about my research topic! Many people asked questions that would make excellent research studies by themselves, so I feel inspired by this engagement. (I also feel relevant!) And, I hope it’s okay to mention without sounding like I’m bragging, I’ve gotten lots of praise for my presentation skills and demeanor. (Even colleagues who didn’t attend were talking about it to me today!) This feedback is always helpful because when I’m presenting I often just rely on the muscle memory of existing skills, so I’m happy to hear my style is accessible and professional.)

Some of us after lunch. (God, I’m tall…)

I enjoyed the rest of the presentations and then we had lunch. I sat with just one other woman, who is from Florida, and we talked about her presentation and her experience of visiting China. It became clear to me, through my interaction with someone who is visiting, that I live here. It’s such a different experience and hearing about her visit made me feel happy that I live here right now.

I’ve been glowing from the inside out for the last few days because I feel so happy about my interactions at the conference, my presentation, the possibilities that are available to me, and my own sense of self. This isn’t always going to be easy or feel so good, and I knew that moving here, but I’ve quickly turned things around from where they were just a few weeks ago. I made it through some really hard stuff this spring semester and I’m moving to more hard work, but in an area where I shine and on a topic I adore. To use a very appropriate phrase from another of my alma maters: Hazard Yet Forward.


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