Staff Spotlight: Jilli Leonard

Program Coordinator and Liaison


What is your favorite travel memory?

I made some really sweet friendships with other teachers at my school placement. Despite living in a different city now, I was invited to a friend's hometown in the countryside of Jiangsu Province over the National Holiday weekend.

Eating the local food, meeting her family and friends, and going WAY off the beaten path was precious. It's relationships and trips like these that AYC helps foster; while you can travel and see the sights independently, a deeper, richer, and more intimate China reveals itself when you live here for 10 months.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

Living abroad simply changes you for the better. China is challenging, raw, colorful, amusing and amazing. Living here makes you tougher and softer at the same time. It's really magical; kindness doesn't have a language barrier, and some of the generosity I've been shown in China has moved me to tears. Sometimes parts of China are disturbing, challenging, and chaotic.

But they teach you what you care about, and who you are at your core. Letting those situations sculpt you, and showing yourself how brave you are, is kind of magnificent.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

Our program, put simply, is meaningful. EAs gain self-confidence and awareness, become more open-minded to new perspectives, are global citizens, learn to navigate cultural differences, make connections personally and professionally... the list goes on.

Living abroad can be really challenging, but it for me was (and is!) abundantly more rewarding.

A current EA told me recently "I'm looking into next year and realizing how special Ameson was to find. It requires so little from you, and it actually makes something out of you. It's the perfect bridge from graduation because there was so much assistance and guidance from the staff and the school, but it also gave me so much experience that I feel ten times more confident applying for jobs for next year."

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

As a previous participant in the program, I was hired to join the Shanghai office staff to act as a cultural bridge between the Chinese staff, DC office, partner schools, and the participants. I'd go on in this current role, because it uniquely fits my gifts, passions, and experiences.

One reason I had such a positive experience as a participant was the community of other participants; we were a great resource for each other, whether it came to exploring the city, practicing Chinese, or working through homesickness.

A big part of my job now is helping foster this network and support across the AYC program; I also train and prepare EAs for 10 months of teaching, walk with them through the cultural adjustment process, provide teaching resources, and assist with conflict resolution as needed. AYC participants and staff are a great resource during your time abroad.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

The AYC is unique because it's not simply a teaching abroad opportunity. As an Educational Ambassador, there is a large emphasis on cultural engagement and a sense of community among participants that is special and rare.

Logistically, the program provides free TEFL training and flight reimbursement upon program completion; this makes AYC a relatively cost-free opportunity to work abroad. China requires 2 years of work experience, but through the program, college graduates can work immediately after school.

Many programs like ours place participants in training centers, while AYC is a total immersion experience; participants are placed in public school among Tier 2 and 3 cities.

Support throughout the program includes free Chinese language lessons online, representatives who advocate for you throughout your time, a school coordinator, teaching resources, a community of EAs within the program, and the alumni network after.

I’m most proud of the team when I see the office staff take down cultural barriers between a participant and their host school, or when everyone comes together to celebrate Christmas in Shanghai; these breakthrough moments of trust, when you can see the fruit of the support and friendship regardless of native country, that I am most proud.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Our role as a non-profit, non-governmental institution is significant. There's a huge emphasis on cultural exchange across the programs, not just AYC specifically. This advancement of cultural and educational exchange as our priority distinguishes us from other businesses' purpose and goals.