By Debbie Adams
In August 2019, Scott and Deborah Dreyer welcomed Matt Chen, a native of Beijing, China, to their home. He is spending his high school years living with them in Vinton while he attends Roanoke Valley Christian Schools (RVCS). He began his freshman year at RVCS on August 19.
The Dreyers founded Dreyer Coaching, based at the HIVE business incubation center in Vinton. Scott teaches English to Chinese-language speakers, mostly in China and Taiwan. Deborah teaches Chinese to English speaking students.
Dreyer Coaching offers online language classes, but they also provide opportunities for students to study in the United States— in summer and winter language camps or living with a host family for the school year.
Matt began taking English classes in China online with Dreyer Coaching in 2019— seven classes a week from January to early June— and then bumped up to 15 classes a week from June through August, spending 15 hours each week, from 7 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, working intensively on speaking, reading, and writing English.
His family wanted Matt to come to the United States to study because of the opportunities and possibilities the program provides– to be an independent young adult, to explore a new environment, and to “experience a new kind of life.”
Because Matt had worked so successfully with Dreyer Coaching, the family decided on Roanoke as the place for Matt to continue his education— “Scott is here; so go to Roanoke, and have a wonderful life. When we got here, we found we had made the right choice. Roanoke is a beautiful place with friendly people and Scott is just great.”
Scott recommended RVCS for Matt because it is a “long-standing school with a good reputation and the long history of a strong international program.” This school year RVCS has six Chinese students, in situations similar to Matt’s, but in different grades.
Matt says while studying with Dreyer Coaching online was very beneficial to improving his English language skills, he wanted “to try American school life.” Studying online has many advantages including a more flexible schedule and no travel to classes, but he wanted to live the life.
As a freshman at RVCS, Matt is enrolled in English, Geometry, World History, Earth Science, Bible, and Physical Education. He still has one-on-one instruction with Dreyer for vocabulary review.
Dreyer says that Matt is doing very well at RVCS and in America after almost eight months. He is finishing up ninth grade with good grades, has made many friends, and seems “to love it.”
When asked about his biggest challenge in living and going to school in the United States, Matt said, “The answer must be the language. And that’s obvious because, when I was in China, we talked to each other with Chinese, we chatted to each other with Chinese, we joked to each other with Chinese. We did almost everything in Chinese. But when I came to America, everything changed. There are only a few people who know how to speak Chinese here. Instead, most people speak English, which means now I need to express all my feelings in a new language. And that can be really hard sometimes. I’ve already learned the certain expressions in Chinese which can show my feelings exactly. But now, I need to find some new words or phrases in English to express myself instead of using Chinese. I think this is the hardest part of using a new language, being able to express yourself. However, if you can deal with this, then this means you are not just using the new language, but you are actually ‘living’ it.”
As for “What have you enjoyed most about your time here?” Matt’s response was, “I think what I enjoy most about going to school in the US is participating in various sports teams. I have tried my school’s cross country, soccer and tennis teams. I really enjoyed being part of each of them. Many school sports teams in China have a lot of people who are very professional in that sport, so when you train with them, you will feel very tired, as if you will take up this sport as your career. Compared with the school teams in China, I think the school teams here in the US are not as professional and demanding, but they are still very interesting. Besides, after I joined these teams, I also had the opportunity to play my favorite sports with my friends after a day of school. And that made me very satisfied.”
The Dreyers have four children of their own (now grown) and have enjoyed the addition to their family as Matt “is a pleasure” to have in their home and “very cooperative.”
He has needed minimal rules and guidance— he gets up on his own and is punctual. He completes his homework independently.
Matt is learning American culture, and also hearing the Christian message as he attends church with them at Parkway House of Prayer. He has also become part of the youth group at the church.
A family who lives nearby has transported Matt to RVGS for classes. Unfortunately, RVCS, along with most other schools in the area, has closed for now due to the coronavirus outbreak in Virginia. By Executive Order from the Governor, the academic year “will conclude off-campus through academic work provided by teachers.”
Matt has been able to communicate with his family in China on a regular basis through such online resources as Facetime and WeChat, which is the social media in use in China.
He had planned to return home to visit his family in China over the coming summer, but those plans are up in the air given the coronavirus situation. Dreyer says they are working on creating a summer experience for Matt here if he is unable to travel.
Dreyer says that there are thousands of Chinese students in the United States with the same dilemma. If they travel back to China to visit, they might not be able to re-enter the United States for the next school year. It’s a “heart-wrenching” situation.
Matt hopes to attend college in the United States. Dreyer Coaching assists students with the application process, including essay writing.
Dreyer Coaching helps students online who have recently gotten into Virginia Tech, Carnegie-Mellon University, Swarthmore, Purdue University, Northeastern University, the University of Wisconsin, etc.