Five CSU graduate students are going to central China this summer to teach English as a second language at Xi’an Jiaotong University. For four weeks, they will teach six hours a day five days a week. Their primary duty will be teaching language skills to Chinese college students, including reading, writing and verbal communication in English. The program flyer describes the school and its location this way:

Xi’an Jiaotong University (XJTU), one of the country’s oldest higher education institutions, is a national key university under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. Currently, XJTU has 26 schools offering undergraduate and postgraduate programs in science, engineering, medicine, economics, management, art, law and education, with an enrollment of about 30,000 full-time students, including over 14,697 masters and doctoral candidates.

Xi’an is located in the central China. As a city with over 3000 years of history, Xi’an is proud of its historic sites and relics including the Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Emperor, one of the eight wonders of the world, the City Wall, the Bell Tower and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.

In the weeks before they go, we’ll be profiling some of these students on the blog as part of our Student Success Stories series, and a few of them have agreed to send us updates and pictures while they are there. In this profile, we’d like to introduce you to Kristen Mullen.

kristenKristen Mullen
MA English: Literature
Graduating Spring 2016

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up in small town Ohio and attended Ohio University where I got my bachelor’s degree in Middle Education in English and Social Studies in the heavenly hills of Athens. I got ants in my pants and decided to move out west to get closer to what I wanted for myself, instead of what everyone else wanted for me.

I’m obviously a huge fan of books and when I’m not reading for class, you can usually find me outside or in the Alley Cat reading sci-fi. Right now I’m on a Kurt Vonnegut kick, who’s quite a genre defier. And so what?

I’m a big fan of all things science, I’m really into anything that has to do with plants or technology. I try to spend as much time as I can in the mountains, running in town, or volunteering as a conversation partner at INTOCSU and getting to know our awesome international students! Also I love Lucifer, my magnificent black cat.

What brought you to CSU?

On a particularly dreary week in Ohio, I received a little funding to fly out to CSU to attend a prospective graduate student get-together. I had a blast and met some real winners with whom I remain friends and who also decided that day that CSU was where they wanted to spend the next two years.

Actually, CSU ended up being the only school where I applied. When I was doing my research on graduate programs, Marnie and some of the literature staff answered all of my questions, emailed me so quickly, and treated me like a real person instead of a number. I knew if I was moving 1,200 miles away, I wanted to surround myself with supportive people and I must have good judgement, because now I spend my days with the most intelligent, sincere, helpful staff and classmates! And it’s located in beautiful Fort Collins, so I’ve made the right choice.

Favorite English class? Favorite English teacher? Favorite assignment or project?

This is a hard question to answer. I wasn’t an English literature major in my undergrad, so I’ve tried to really branch out in the classes I take and they’re all absolutely fascinating and new to me. I’ve dabbled in crossing the ocean with Christopher Columbus in Zach Hutchins’s class, I’ve experienced the eccentric world of Charles Dickens with Ellen Brinks, I’ve gone medieval with Lynn Shutters, down the rabbit hole of literary theory with Leif Sorenson, and experienced some world literature with Leslee Becker.

I would have to say Research Methods with Roze Hentschell changed my whole perspective on grad school. I was really able to narrow down what I wanted to spend my time researching and pick up some good habits from Roze, the biggest multi-tasker I know. I made the greatest friends and supporters in that class. I also can’t forget to mention my project I’m working on for my internship with the Tobi Jacobi’s CLC SpeakOut! program. I’ve just renovated our websites, so if you’re a community member who is involved in public literacy, if your curious about what the CLC does, or if your interested in volunteering with us next year, check it out! ( and

Why is it important to study English, the Humanities?

Books are the recorded history of our culture. They show us earthlings where we’ve been, how we’ve thought in the past and how we’re building a future. They teach us how to dream and be more compassionate and understanding human beings by exposing us to characters with thousands of personalities that differ from our own. Literature is so much more truthful and less censored than the textbooks we’re taught in school.

The Humanities flex our imagination and keep the world open to new ways of thinking.

Having strong reading and writing skills and being able to reach your audience is important in any field. Knowing how to write under pressure helps too. Studying English also allows you to research anything; the possibilities are endless. Without the Humanities, I would never be able spend my time studying robotic ethics from a philosophical and literary perspective, a way different research approach than those of mathematicians and engineers, but I feel it’s not any less essential to technological advancement.

How did you find out about the opportunity to teach English in China over the summer?

Marnie and Ellen Brinks made an announcement for the Xi’an Jiaotong Summer English Program in early spring, which included contact information for Anne Bliss, the program coordinator and ESL/EFL Educational Consultant at University of Colorado. After getting in touch with Anne, she was really hands on from helping me format my cover letter and C.V. to encouraging me to go big and apply for a teaching position, rather than the TA position. I felt it was a long shot, but her encouragement gave me the added confidence to aim high.

Why did you apply?

I love the time I spend in the classrooms at INTOCSU and have learned that language is not as big of a barrier as it previously seemed. I found that friendships can be formed through body language and laughter from the hilariously messy venture of learning to understand one another. I also see how quickly the students’ English improves through the languages exercises facilitated by teachers like Gayla Martinez (who so generously offered to let me steal some of her lesson plans if I got the job).

It seemed like a long shot, but I figured it never hurts to apply and I had successfully journeyed across the nation, so why not try out all the new things I’ve learned at CSU and take it across the world? I also knew that XJTU (Xi’an Jiaotong University) has The Institute of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and I was hoping that when I wasn’t teaching I could pick the minds of their department and learn about visual information processing for my final research project.

What do you expect it to be like?

I’ll be teaching large classes of about 30 students at a time. I expect it to be fast-paced, I expect to gain a lot of new information about Chinese culture as my students learn English from me, and I think the students will be really enthusiastic after we build a learning connection. All of the students have a background in English, so we’ll be focusing on fine-tuning their communication skills such as subject-verb agreements, tenses, and context. With such a high focus on conversation skills, I feel it will be a lot easier to get to know my students in a short amount of time.

We have a lot to accomplish and July will go by quick. I suspect that there will be a lot of communication between me and my lovely fellow CSU teachers and time spent getting to know instructors from other states and countries. We are also provided with some cultural tours and I have high expectations for Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum where the Terracotta Army rests. They happen to be something I’ve always wanted to see up close.

When do you leave? How long will you be gone?

We leave June 23rd and arrive two days later and we will get back July 27th on the same day (Thank you, time travel).

What sort of preparation have you had to do? What do you think you’ll miss most while you are gone?

I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know my students’ background with English, I’ve had to apply for my passport and visa and book my flights—no easy task, and I’ve been getting my schedule down (time blocks for teaching, how that time will be divided, and what exercises we’ll be doing and when). After finals, I plan to spend time attempting to learn some Mandarin so I can communicate better with students and find bathrooms. Always important.

I have a one year old sister and a four year old brother, Lilly and Tommy and the time change (fourteen hours) will make it hard for me to catch them awake, so I will certainly miss hearing their little voices and baby laughs as often for that month.

What advice do you have for current students?

1) Never, ever stop yourself from getting your name out there and applying to opportunities, even if they seem intangible or highly unlikely.
2) Use your time in school wisely because your around the best network of people that are invested in making things happen for you.
3) Don’t let money hold you back. I never have extra funds to fly around the world, but I do make it a priority to look into educational opportunities that provide funding.
4) Find a solid writing group. The only people that will truly understand what your doing are the people that are doing it right there with you, its invigorating to have a few brains moving on the same wavelength in the same room with you.
5) Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Instead of stifling your stress or frustrations about school, feel it, acknowledge it and move on. Build a tough skin. Successful people are the ones that take criticism and set backs and then keep going.

What do you want to say to prospective students about the CSU English department?

I will say that they will not find a staff as approachable and resourceful as our CSU English department. Although they’re all such busy and productive individuals, our staff will always take the time to help students. Whether its working through a project idea, finding resources, helping to edit a draft, or logistical inquiries about things like course credit or how to apply to conferences, I’ve always been met with patience and thorough explanations. It’s certainly a friendly atmosphere AND we have our brand new Eddy building ready to accommodate a bunch of eager English nerds next year!

What are you looking forward to most about moving back into a remodeled Eddy Hall?

Being in a classroom that doesn’t smell like science chemicals, being in a classroom that isn’t located in a basement or windowless, not having to make the trek to Ingersoll, and having a central place to store my jacket and lunch. I also think it will provide an even bigger sense of community and help with communication within the English department, because we won’t be spread out all over the place.

Where will we find you in five years?

I used to think I had the five year plan down, but in the past year so much has changed. I would like to see myself possibly finishing a PhD program in some fun city, teaching somewhere overseas, or you might just find me sitting on top of Horsetooth Mountain grading papers for the super awesome classes I’m teaching at CSU. Or maybe just at a patio in Old Town, it gets windy up there.