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Kensington, P.E.I., man finds life’s calling as a teacher in China

As Ricky Jamer gazes across the frozen Summerside harbour on a recent trip home to P.E.I., his sights and heart are set on a faraway land.
As Ricky Jamer gazes across the frozen Summerside harbour on a recent trip home to P.E.I., his sights and heart are set on a faraway land. - Desiree Anstey

Ricky Jamer’s life is a study in contrasts.

Here on P.E.I., as he stands on the Summerside boardwalk that overlooks the harbour covered in a blanket of snow, he takes in a scene that is so familiar to him.

And so different from where he now calls home.

This P.E.I. view contrasts with a land where ancient sites built by powerful dynasties sit amid skyscrapers and where mountains shimmer against vast deserts.

Both lands are beautiful, but China has captured his heart.

“I was studying languages for two years and originally wanted to go over to China for just one year to study and teach English. But I fell in love with the place and decided to move there,” said Jamer, a former resident of Kensington.

“I was studying languages for two years and originally wanted to go over to China for just one year to study and teach English. But I fell in love with the place and decided to move there.”
-Ricky Jamer

He set foot in the bustling city of Zhangzhou, located in the Fujian province of China, to study Mandarin in the summer of 2014.

“When I first got there, I couldn’t speak any of the language. I could just say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you,’ so (the) language was a barrier.

“Food was different, too, because I had to learn how to use chopsticks. Even the way they socialize is different,” he said.

But despite the initial lost-in-translation feeling, Jamer quickly transitioned into a local.

“I now go for weeks without speaking English,” he said.

“I see something in Chinese and know exactly what it means. But I won’t know how to say it in English because of the sentence structure and grammar. It’s so different.”

Jamer’s sense of adventure took him on a motorcycle through the countryside and hitchhiking along the Karakoram Highway, which connects China to Pakistan.

“There’s the Karakoram mountain range just west of the Himalayas, and I met a bunch of really interesting people from Pakistan as I was hitchhiking. To get to this place it took me about 40 hours by train. And it was one of the coolest things I ever did.”

Jamer plans to spend one more year in China as a student, before completing his language degree at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.

“I find that coming back now I am having a much harder time dealing with reverse culture shock than the initial culture shock when I first went there,” he said.

“I like living in a bigger city, and I feel like there’s a lot more opportunities for my interests.”

Study abroad has provided a new lease on his life, he said.

“Some day I plan to open my own school in China and have other western teachers work for me.”

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