First Rio, Then Shenzhen


David Vonnahme ’10 isn’t just chasing his dreams—he’s making them a reality. Having studied in London and Merida during college, Vonnahme knew his calling would lead him abroad.

Since graduation, Vonnahme has taught English in two countries with rising economic and cultural cachet, Brazil and China. He first learned the value of teaching while in studying in Merida, thanks to resident director Valerie Grimsley.

“Valerie had a huge influence on me to look further into the issues and think outside the box,” Vonnahme says. “She also encouraged me to volunteer in a community service-learning project teaching an English literature class.”

With a newfound taste for teaching, Vonnahme volunteered to teach English courses at a church in Des Moines after graduating from Central. Preparing lessons and finding unique ways to keep students interested proved a challenge, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. And he was itching to do more.

Rio de Janeiro was calling his name. To Grimsley, this was no surprise: “Dave was always positive, motivated, independent, up for anything and everything and a leader within the group,” she says. “Even with limited Spanish, he ended up knowing more locals than almost anyone else in the group.  Even in 2008, he was talking about how he planned to work abroad at some point in his life.”

Vonnahme decided it was finally time to accomplish his goal of living and working abroad, and Brazil was exactly the place he was looking for.

“I love connecting to different cultures, learning new languages and doing things that you can’t get out of a normal, short vacation,” he says. “I wanted to learn the culture and a new language, live like a local and develop new relationships.”

He accomplished all of his goals with Brazilian Experience—a company that places foreigners with a Brazilian family. Vonnahme taught his three host siblings English when they arrived home from school, and during the day he volunteered with CEFET, an elite high school in Rio.

At CEFET, Vonnahme taught other students a few times a week. He also started conversation times outside of class, since most students didn’t have the opportunity to actually use their English. When he asked his students why they wanted to learn English, the most common response was: “To get a better job to have a better life.”

Vonnahme’s two-month Brazilian experience was extended into four. In August, he said ‘goodbye’ to Brazil and ‘hello’ to China.

After doing some research, Vonnahme found The Center for Teaching & Learning in China, a program for Americans and other foreigners wanting to help locals learn English. After his training in Beijing, Vonnahme moved to Shenzhen, a city just north of Hong Kong. At Bao’an Middle School, he teaches students ranging from 12-16 years old. With a grand total of 15 classes weekly and 767 students, Vonnahme is certainly making a difference.

But one question remains: What’s up next for the world traveler?

“Renew my contact in China? Go back to school? Backpack South America? Settle down and do something crazy like get married?” Vonnahme jokes. “I’m definitely keeping my options open, but I plan on getting an M.B.A. I’m interested in working in Latin America or the study abroad industry, but I’m not in a hurry to get there.”



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