Most of you know Chris Ray as a professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. But do most of you know that even though Mr. Ray teaches humanities courses, his career has primarily been focused on finance? Do most of you know that Mr. Ray speaks more than five languages, including Spanish, Samoan, Chinese Mandarin, Filipino and Nepali? If not, then you are about to explore Mr. Ray’s character from a different angle.
Mr. Ray is an MBA graduate and has worked in finance for the most of his career. His job involved travelling to different countries, encouraging local banks there on behalf of the U.S. Government to lend loans to people who otherwise would not get it. “Initially, it was very exciting to go to Egypt for two weeks or Ghana for three weeks, but after some time I had a feeling that I am narrowly focused on one thing, and became an expert at the loan guarantee program.” Even though travelling was an integral part of Mr. Ray’s job, it could not be compared with the experience he was going to have as a Peace Corps volunteer.
In 2007, Mr. Ray decided to change his job and go to live in China as a Peace Corps volunteer. “Except my finance job in China I was also teaching English to kids during the weekends.” Before travelling to China he had preconceived notions of what Chinese people are like. He was sure that they are very hard-working and competent, yet very serious. “It was wonderful to have that stereotype shattered,” Mr. Ray said. “They were the most fun people I have ever worked with. Now I always tell myself not to go to a new place with expectations; let them surprise you.
After China, his next destination was the Philippines, and there, he started to consider teaching as a career. Although it was risky to hire someone with no former teaching experience, a middle school hired him. For almost a year, Mr. Ray was a substitute teacher and would teach any class when a teacher was sick. A year later, he was already hired as a full-time Spanish teacher. It was his first experience with humanities courses, and the most challenging part for him was to get students motivated to learn, because they had no chance to practice Spanish outside of the classroom.
Even though Mr. Ray was teaching humanities courses, his passion was still math, and this was the main driving force for him to get his master’s degree in teaching. “So, I became a math teacher and was certified to teach math up through calculus.” In Nepal, Mr. Ray was already teaching math.
After six years of teaching experience, Mr. Ray knows that he is passionate about it and he gains energy from teaching. “I thought of teaching as something that takes so much out of you. I thought it would be exhausting and I would burn out,” Mr. Ray said. “Now, I have a feeling that I have to come to class every single morning and be enthusiastic. Now, I know that teaching is a two-way street and I love it.”
Mr. Ray has lived in Samoa for two years, and there he had his best professional development experience. After he received his undergraduate degree, he has got a job outside New York City; he was working for long hours. However, he had a wake up after his older brother visited him. “At the age of 24 I already had stomach issues, and was not thinking about the quality of my life.” As his brother suggested, Mr. Ray applied to Peace Corps for the first time and was offered a job in the isolated part of the Pacific, in Samoa.
“I was totally outside of my comfort zone, far from my relatives and friends. At the same time it was challenging for me to live with a host family and I was going through struggles and trying to adapt to a new culture.” Sometimes his job did not tell him what to do, instead he had to think what the local people needed. Teaching was again a part of his job. “People at the department where I was working, were not trained how to use computers. I developed tutorials and taught them how to use Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.”
Of all the places Mr. Ray has lived in, he still remembers Nepal as a fascinating place where he had experienced a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism. According to him, the capital city Kathmandu is very dirty, dusty and polluted, while outside the city, the nature is absolutely gorgeous.
“One thing I love about Nepal is the Monsoon season.” The Monsoon season takes place during the fall and winter months, when winds go away from the Himalayas. During the summer months, when the Indian subcontinent heats up, winds come towards Himalayas, and when they hit them, the air goes up, and it starts raining.
Mr. Ray still remembers that during his first Monsoon season he was dreading, as he knew there would be water, mud and flood everywhere. “But what was amazing to me were the Nepali women, wearing their colorful and vibrant saris, who could walk through the muddy streets of Kathmandu and never look dirty,” Mr. Ray said. “Instead, I would have mud all over my shoes.”
In his childhood, Mr. Ray did not have a talent for music, and he had never played any instrument. However, he has long had a desire to learn how to play the piano and he was insistent that someday he would try it. “I have always wanted to learn to play “Fur Elise,” and I still remember when a friend of mine played it at high school, I thought it was gorgeous,” said Mr. Ray. “Armenia is an ideal spot, and I knew if I do not do it now, I would regret later on, thinking I never tried it.”
After a few months of piano lessons, Mr. Ray already sees the patterns and feels the connection between math and music. “When I play the notes I can definitely see how notes are related and feel when I play a wrong note. The same is with a math equation: you feel when the answer is wrong.”
Mr. Ray believes that when one lives in a new country language becomes a survival skill. Whenever he moves to a new country, he wants to get integrated into the new society and be able to talk to people in the local language. “I know I will always be a foreigner, but learning the language helps me to decrease the gap between me and the locals.”
He found out in Samoa that any effort to speak in the local language makes a huge impact. “Someone may look at you and think ‘Who are you and what are you doing in my country?’ But as soon as you start speaking to them with their language it breaks down the barriers.” One thing that he has learned over time is never to be afraid to speak. “As people get older, they do not learn new languages because they are afraid of sounding stupid. I make tons of mistakes every day, and I am still not afraid of sounding stupid.”
After living in China, Samoa, the Philippines, Nepal, and Armenia, Mr. Ray’s next destination is the United States. “It has been 10 years now, time to go home,” he said.