Jim Pitcher: The Great Mentor for Chinese Students

Jim Pitcher helps Chinese students adapt to the academic requirement and social life in central New York.

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Jim Pitcher sits in the library of Alibrandi Catholic Center at Syracuse University

Ruobing Li

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If you pass by the library in Alibrandi Catholic Center at Syracuse University on any Wednesday afternoon, you can always hear the loud sound of discussion and laughter.  Six Chinese students practice English and study American culture and customs. Jim Pitcher, instructor of the group, helps them adapt to the academic requirements and the social life in Central New York.

It all started at the Slutzker Center for International Services at SU, where Pitcher worked as a volunteer in three conversation groups and developed friendships with some Chinese students last year. During the past summer, Pitcher set up his own social groups that aren’t connected with the Slutzker Center.

Pitcher now meets with five groups of students, four of which are independent from SU. Twenty students are involved, all of whom are Chinese.

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 Jim Pitcher leads the discussion in the English conversation group

“I chose these students by preference,” Pitcher said, laughing.

Pitcher has been to China three times and he has worked as an English teacher in Northeastern China in 2009 and 2011. During his stay in China, he developed a real interest and loved for Chinese students, which is the motivation for him to participate and establish the conversation groups. His acquaintance with the Chinese lifestyle and culture is beneficial to his work with students.

“I know I can lead a conversation group even though I’ve never been to China,” Pitcher said. “But when students in my groups talk about their experience in China, I know exactly what they are talking about. And I experienced the things myself. So it really helps me to make a connection to the students.”

In the conversation groups, Pitcher never teaches words or phrases from any teaching materials. Instead, he just facilitates the conversations among participants. He provides the direction of the conversations, asks questions and gives the instructions along the way in the use of language.

“I try to keep it somewhat light-hearted,” Pitcher said.

Traditionally, the group lasts one hour, but now they usually go for an hour and a half, or even longer. Students tell Pitcher that they are willing to hang around because they can learn and relax at the same time.

Now Pitcher is thinking of inviting American students into the conversation group, which he knows is a great challenge.

“Not everybody is interested in Chinese students, so it’s a challenge and a long-term goal,” Pitcher said. “But eventually, I hope I can devote my full time and energy to this program.”