Faculty Spotlight: Dinner with the Aycocks

John Aycock Family

At just over two years old, Luke has already become something of a local celebrity on campus. You’ve got your friendly convenience store ayi, the laoshis of the Campus Service Center, the friendly baoans of each dormitory building, and then there’s Luke who is often seen around Mirror Lake happily playing, accompanied by his parents John and Fan Aycock. “It’s not just people with kids that are friendly with Luke, it’s everyone. And that makes it very nice to be here,” Fan tells me. After about one and a half years of working and living at Nanyan, we sat down with the Aycocks for dinner to learn more about their lives and John’s recent win at PKU.

John moved to China’s Jiangsu province after college to teach English at Nanjing Foreign Language School where he met Fan, originally from the nearby city of Nantong. “It was an office romance,” he jokes before noting that they will celebrate their ten-year anniversary in the coming year. When asked about the complexities of having to balance two cultures in their lives, Fan says she’s never felt the need to pay extra attention to it. “When I met John I didn’t feel that he was a foreigner, he was just one of us. I guess we got lucky because we have similar personalities.” Since their days in Nanjing, the pair has moved around quite a bit: two years teaching English in Osaka, law school at the University of Michigan, a summer with an NGO in Geneva, a year and a half clerkship in Guam, and now business trips for STL. “We’ve been traveling so much for work that we haven’t yet seen the need to travel for pleasure.”

Prior to taking on his current position as director of the PKU School of Transnational Law’s Graduate and International Programs, John taught the Legal Research and Writing course as a C.V. Starr Lecturer. “I was curious to see if I would enjoy teaching something else and it turns out I did.” In fact just this month, his joy for teaching caught the eye of his colleagues as he traveled to Beijing to participate in the 17th PKU Young Teachers Teaching Competition. John took home first prize in the Humanities and Social Sciences division, as well as an award for Excellent Lesson Plan. “It is wonderful that PKU allows young teachers opportunities such as this to develop their teaching skills. In Beijing I was fortunate enough to receive helpful comments from actual students and fellow participants, as well as highly experienced professors.” His job at STL is a large and varied role that has him balancing tasks from student services and exchange partnership coordination to program design and ensuring that STL gets the best incoming exchange and LL.M. class each year. “I’ve got my hands pretty full right now but I’m hoping to teach an elective course in quarter four.”

John Aycock 17
Director John Aycock presenting at the 17th PKU Young Teachers Teaching Competition

But it isn’t always hard work here on campus. With events and friendly faces everywhere you look, it’s no surprise the young family fits in so well. “The student body is very active and is always receptive to faculty participation. I regularly play basketball with students who are very eager to have me and other faculty members join. And the Computer Club invited us to try out virtual reality demos!” says John. Fan adds that not only is campus safe and eventful, but even just the people make life enjoyable. “The students, especially the girls on campus, love Luke so much. A lot of times I’m happy that someone is playing with Luke so I can relax for ten minutes [laughs]. There are lots of friendly people around, which is also another reason why his Chinese is so good—he gets to talk to many different people.”

Luke’s language abilities are a favorite topic amongst new acquaintances. As parents they take the bifurcation of their son’s language immersion seriously, in that Luke speaks Chinese with Fan and English with John. “Obviously his language is biased toward Chinese because he’s growing up in a Chinese environment and most of the people he interacts with speak to him in Chinese. We try to make a conscious effort to keep things separate but all things said and done, his Chinese is better than his English.” With timing almost too good to be true, Luke tells Fan in Chinese that he needs to go to the bathroom, then walks over to John and repeats himself in English, perfectly demonstrating the fruits of his parents’ careful efforts.

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Away from the Nanyan campus grounds, there is no singular favorite spot in Shenzhen for the Aycocks. “We like anywhere Luke likes! Because when he has fun, we can relax. So yeah, we’re a big fan of the zoo—we’ve got the annual pass and have been there at least ten times already,” laughs Fan. On weekends, the family enjoys relaxing and sometimes heading to their favorite sushi spot downtown. “Weekends are obviously nice because that’s one of the few times that I can play with Luke in the daytime, especially now in the winter when it gets dark so early,” notes John.

As for the future, it seems that after years of moving all over the world the Aycocks have found a home in China. “With my family, I’ve made a commitment to China and its culture. And with Fan’s family taking me as one of their own, I want to make sure China is a lasting part of our lives. That said, I really do enjoy living here so it’s worked out well!”

Reported by Megan Mancenido
Original interview held on December 18, 2017

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