After graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2013 with a degree in English, Luke Pralle moved to China to teach English to children.
When you came back from serving overseas, how did you end up at Edgewood College?
“I guess my Edgewood College story starts with me getting out of the Marine Corps after being stationed at Camp Pendleton, Cal. from 2005 until 2009. I wanted to go to school. I had also decided that it was time for me to go back home to Wisconsin. After doing a little research, Edgewood College’s small class sizes and friendly vibe were attractive to me. I was looking at a few other schools back home, but Edgewood College’s admissions, especially the staff handling Veterans Admissions, proved to be extremely helpful, and I was Madison bound within a few weeks.”
What sparked your interest in learning more about China? And why China specifically?
“It was my professor Binbin Fu (School of Integrative Studies) that introduced me to China. It began with my language studies. I needed to satisfy a language requirement, and Chinese characters look cool, right? It sounds silly, but that’s where it began. I became more interested in China as my language studies progressed, and as I received more in-depth training about China’s history from Jinxing Chen (Professor, History Department).”
What was the path after your initial study tour trip to your eventual internship in Beijing?
“The initial trip was important. It helped me see that China was an alright place. Many Americans, and I certainly was one of them, don’t know much about China. The trip exposed me to not just a country, but a civilization that was and had been doing things their way for thousands of years. The experience was incredible, and I wanted more.”
“I interned in the 798 Art District in Beijing shortly after my graduation. The 798 is comprised of a bunch of munitions factories and other military complexes that have converted into art galleries, restaurants, and other really cool venues. I had the honor of working at Yuanfen Flow under David Ben Kay, one of the guys that started the 798. It was an awesome experience, and it really showed me a different side to living and working in China as an expat. This trip wasn’t so much about going to see the Great Wall outside Beijing or the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. It was about using the assets that you have as a creative person to make things happen.”
What went into the decision to move to China after graduation?
“I was hooked after Beijing. China was an interesting place with friendly people, and there was a massive need for English teachers, so I had a stable job waiting for me. It made sense. I just needed to pack my bags and buy the ticket.”
What do you teach now and what is Suzhou like?
“I teach English to virtually all ages and levels in Suzhou. For instance, on one of my days I teach primary school kids in the morning and computer engineers in the evening. It’s a diverse schedule that works for me, and it helps to keep my job fresh.”
When not teaching, what do you like to do for fun?
“Suzhou is amazing. It’s called the Venice of the East because of the hundreds of canals that run through the city. There are many historic gardens here as well. It has big city stuff, but it’s very relaxed here compared to cities like nearby Shanghai.
Suzhou also has a very tight-knit expat community. A lot of the expats that you run into out here have been in Suzhou for at least a few years, because well, why would you want to leave? The community includes many musicians and other artists that are very supportive of each other. So when I’m not teaching, I’m doing music stuff with other expats and writing stories. I also co-host a podcast called Worm Island, where we interview and feature local talent.”
How did Edgewood College help in making all of this happen?
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the College. The education I received brought me here and has given me the tools to do good things.”
What are some of the benefits of getting to know your professors so closely?
“I’ve actually met up with both Binbin and Jinxing since I’ve been in Suzhou. A personal connection with your professor is vital. If you want to learn something you can read a book or watch a YouTube video. Sure, experience is huge, Binbin and Jinxing brought me to China, and that’s another reason why I’m here, but if I wanted to learn how to write code for games, build my own drone, or learn French I could find a way to do that. We live in a time where we have almost instant and infinite access to information. Whether you’re taking in the good stuff or the trash, that’s up to you, but the thing that isn’t available after a click or two is somebody that is great believing in you—showing you the way and giving you room to fly.
I have fond memories of walking the busy streets of China with Binbin or swinging by second floor offices on campus and sharing stories or ideas, some quite terrible mind you, with my professors—great people that believed in what I was doing. And there’s no substitute for that.”