Matt Chen, a native of Beijing, China, will be spending his high school years living in Vinton with teachers Scott and Deborah Dreyer and attending Roanoke Valley Christian Schools (RVCS).
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 online with Dreyer Coaching—first with Scott last summer and then with teacher Connie McKinney last winter, spending 15 hours each week, from 7 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, working intensively on speaking, reading, and writing English.
Matt and his mother, Lydia Du, arrived for the new school year on August 13 after a 14-hour flight from Beijing to Dulles Airport to Roanoke. He began the ninth grade at RVCS on August 19. She returned to Beijing on August 22, where she lives with her husband and younger son.
Lydia is an English teacher in a high school in Beijing and a self-described “English nut.” Matt’s father is a chemist.
His family wanted Matt to study in America 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.”
Lydia believes she may have passed her passion for the English language on to Matt; “he has shown a great talent to learn language.” In fact, he is already quite fluent in English from his months (and many hours) of study with Dreyer Coaching.
Because Matt has 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.”
Matt and Lydia say that the Roanoke Valley is very different from Beijing, one of the most populous cities in the world, and not only crowded, but mostly pavement and buildings with “few natural things.”
In the days between their arrival and the opening of school, Scott took them on excursions to Natural Bridge, the Peaks of Otter, Smith Mountain Lake (for a Dreyer Coaching company party), and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Matt says that he finds the Roanoke area, in comparison to Beijing, “totally different, peaceful, and relaxing.”
While there are exponentially fewer people on the streets of Vinton and Roanoke, “the people say hello.”
Matt said he was “only a little nervous” about coming to study in America, and he “feels very comfortable with Scott and Deborah.”
Matt has traveled abroad before, but this is his first time in the United States. He spent about 10 days in Germany participating with classmates in an Odyssey of the Mind competition. His mother came to the United States in 2010 on a tour of high school and top universities with colleagues, believing that “establishing communication between cultures is very important.”
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.
At RVCS, Matt will be enrolled in classes in English, Geometry, World History, Earth Science, Bible, and Physical Education. Currently, biology is his favorite subject.
Last year in Beijing his class load included English, Chinese, math, geography, history, biology, physical education, politics, computer, art, and a shop-type class. (Education in China can be high pressure.)
Students in China begin studying English in first grade, but not the “REAL English from REAL native speakers” offered by Dreyer Coaching.
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. He also says that studying via computer, talking with native speakers, is “not enough. You still have to work hard.”
Lydia has found the Dreyer Coaching team “very professional and committed to teaching Matt.”
Scott says Matt will live as part of their family. They have plenty of parenting experience having raised four children of their own, the youngest a student at UVA this year.
Matt has agreed in advance to follow the family rules and adapt to their schedule. That includes breakfast every day at 7:15, respectfully attending church on Sunday mornings (at Parkway Christian) and youth group on Wednesday nights, and completing his homework.
Lydia believes it will be quite easy for Matt to conform to the Dreyer way of life and that he will improve his English as he goes along.
One aspect of his life in China that will be more challenging in the United States, at least in Roanoke, is his passion for the Olympic sport of badminton. Although he did discover—at the Dreyer company picnic—one of the teachers is a badminton enthusiast.
Matt hopes to attend college in the United States. Dreyer Coaching assists students with the application process, including essay writing.
Chinese students who recently spent their high school years with the Dreyer family have gone on to universities in the United States, including Virginia Tech and Longwood.
Scott says that Matt “has a great attitude” and expects he will be very successful at RVCS. He and Deborah will provide extra support as Matt adjusts to life here and improves his English skills in the “natural environment” of home, church, and school.
Matt will be 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. Matt says his grandparents were a little apprehensive about him traveling and living so far from home in Beijing, but they are supportive of his goals.
Dreyer Coaching served about 70 students with six teachers with their online program during the last school year. The new year gets underway in September.
Scott is originally from Roanoke. He met his wife in Taiwan, where he had moved in 1989 to work as a teacher, after graduating from William and Mary. He served as academic director at a language school in Taiwan, and taught English at Hsinchu Presbyterian Bible College. He later served as college advisor and world geography teacher in the National Experimental High School’s Bilingual Department, taught English conversation and writing at Chin Min College, and served as pastor of the Hsinchu International Church.
The Dreyers married in 1992 and returned to the United States in 1999. He taught for ten years at Patrick Henry High School and then in 2008, began offering year-round English coaching and tutoring, for children and adults, via the Internet.
The business got a boost with The Advancement Foundation Gauntlet business program and competition in 2016 when Dreyer Coaching won a large cash prize which enabled Scott and Deborah to travel to China and Taiwan to recruit more students for their academy and to settle in at the HIVE.