International student crosses ocean to pursue education degree at UW-Platteville

About three years ago, after much research, thought and consideration, Youkuan Yan made a decision that altered the course of his life: he decided to leave his hometown of Wuhan, China, and travel more than 7,100 miles to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to pursue his dream of becoming a teacher.

Yan, who goes by the name Simon, is a sophomore English education major with a minor in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Teaching seemed like a natural career choice for him, as there is a long line of teachers on his mother’s and father’s sides of the family.

“Most of my relatives are teachers and they always wanted me to be a teacher too,” said Yan. “I realized how much I enjoyed teaching when I had an opportunity to teach guitar lessons to some friends and other musicians in a high school club. Based on this experience, I can visualize standing in front of students and teaching them. It’s my dream.”

Yan learned about UW-Platteville from his cousin, Bing Liang, international admission and recruitment advisor at UW-Platteville, who earned a master’s degree in English education from UW-Platteville in 2012.

“Choosing UW-Platteville is one of the best choices I ever made in my life,” said Liang. “I am confident and excited to introduce my family members to UW-Platteville. I know Simon will have a great experience here.”

Adjusting to Platteville, UW-Platteville

Youkuan (Simon) Yan's high school graduation in May 2017Adjusting to living in Platteville – after spending all of his life in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province with a population of 10.6 million – went more smoothly than Yan had imagined, and he soon grew to appreciate his new community’s small-town feel.

“It is easier to form deeper connections and closer relationships in a smaller community,” he said. “UW-Platteville is a wonderful school – I love being here. When I first arrived, the international students and the American students were very friendly. They treated me like their true friend. Most people admire me and respect me as an international student. They want to learn from me, and I want to learn from them. We are learning from each other and relying on each other for help.”

Yan noted that the education he is receiving at UW-Platteville is excellent and very practical. “Last semester, in my Introduction to Education course, I observed a teacher at Shullsburg High School,” he said. “I saw how this teacher prepared lesson plans, which helped me a lot. For myself, I don’t like reading textbooks. I learn best directly, by observing and doing.”

In addition to practical, hands-on experiences, smaller class sizes have been instrumental in helping Yan learn more easily. “At other universities, there are hundreds of students in one class and students don’t always get a chance to meet and know their professors as individuals or have their questions answered,” he said. “At UW-Platteville, class sizes are usually 10-20 students and professors have a lot of office hours.”

Professors provide academic support, encouragement

Yan admitted that being an international student has had its challenges, many of which stem from language differences. He noted that throughout his time at UW-Platteville, however, his professors have provided him with extra academic support and encouragement that has been crucial to his success. He was especially thankful for the help he received from Dr. Joan Riedle, professor of psychology at UW-Platteville, when he was a freshman.

“When Dr. Riedle noticed that I didn’t understand some of the terms she was teaching, she asked me to come to her office,” said Yan. “She went through everything we had learned in class to make sure that I understood. She encouraged me and helped me understand the importance of consistent meetings and regularly keeping on track. She was very nice to me.”

“I really appreciated Simon’s willingness to do the extra work needed to be successful in my class,” said Riedle. “If he models that same behavior with his own future students, he’ll be a great teacher.”

Daniel Bredeson, lecturer of education at UW-Platteville, said that Yan greatly enhanced discussions in the classroom. “I enjoyed having Simon in my Introduction to Education course last semester as he was willing to share his experiences in the China school system,” he said. “He provided the class with a different perspective when comparing the China school experience with our experience here in the United States. He will make a great teacher as he has compassion and empathy, and he understands the importance of developing relationships with his students. He will be able to relate with his students about the difficulties of learning a language while also learning other curricula.”

Experiences outside the classroom

In addition to pursuing excellence in his courses, Yan shoots video for the university’s Media Technology Services, and for the past two years, he has also worked with International Programs. This year, he serves as their front desk attendant. Last year, he posted their social media posts on WeChat, a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment application.

“Simon has been a wonderful addition to our international student community on campus,” said Donna Anderson, director of International Programs at UW-Platteville. “He is outgoing, upbeat and well-liked by his U.S. and international peers. We enjoy having him here in the office as a student worker.”

One of Yan’s favorite moments at UW-Platteville was this past April when he and two international students and two local students performed at International Night, an annual event organized by the university’s International Club. The group performed “The Weight” by the Canadian-American group The Band and two other songs, one in French and one in Japanese.

“This experience gave me an opportunity to perform music with people from different countries who had different styles and to improve my musicianship,” said Yan, who taught himself to play guitar when he was in high school and who has played the keyboard since elementary school. “There were so many people there. I was nervous, but I felt good.”

Looking ahead

After Yan graduates from UW-Platteville, he would like to return to China and teach students at his former high school, Maple Leaf International High School, a co-educational boarding school for grades 10-12 that mirrors the high school curriculum offered in British Columbia, Canada.

“I want to teach students not only the ability to speak and write in English, but I want to teach them values and how to be a good person,” said Yan.