American couple relish life in ‘land of unexpected opportunities’

The Banker couple say they enjoy their life in Zhanjiang and the great hospitality of city residents.

Guangdong Ocean University teachers Zach and Amanda Banker love their life in Zhanjiang, from the students they teach and also learn from, to the village atmosphere of living on a lush green campus 20 kilometers from the city’s downtown area.

The married couple moved to China in 2011 from Portland, Oregon, and spent six months in Beijing while applying for university positions, then chose Zhanjiang from six job offers.

Zach has a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in culture, and Amanda has a bachelor’s in public relations. Both also obtained master’s-level TESOL certificates before relocating to China.

Zach said they chose to live in Zhanjiang because of its location and climate.

American couple relish life in ‘land of unexpected opportunities’

“It’s pretty much always summer here,” he said, “and for the most part, the sky is always blue.”

“We don’t like big cities,” Amanda added. “If we live in China, we want to feel like we are living here. We love the rural areas because this is where we see the most hospitality. We wanted to experience the culture. We wanted to be challenged.”

While studying at Murray State University, where she and Zach met, Amanda took part in an exchange program to the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in 2001. She returned in 2004 to see her former students graduate, bringing Zach with her. Amanda teaches spoken English and Zach teaches English writing at Guangdong Ocean University, sharing about 300 sophomore students.

Having worked at the university for the past five years, Zach and Amanda feel very much at home with both the residents and nearby shopkeepers, who often help them with their Chinese language studies, and the students they teach who come from all around China.

“I love the diversity,” Amanda said. “We have students that come from Guangzhou, we have students who come from really poor villages and we have students that are the first in their family to come to university. The stories that they share with us are very unique.”

The couple have been invited to students’ hometowns and also find themselves introducing residents to parts of their own city.

“When we get there, they’ll say, ‘I’ve lived here for 20 years and I didn’t know this was here’,” Zach said. “We love going around and seeing things.”

The pair have traveled through most of Guangdong province, as well as visits to Guangxi, Yunnan, Shanghai and Beijing and the surrounding areas, and Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Amanda said it seems like they have seen a lot of China, until they look at a map and see how much they have yet to visit.

They have no plans to return to the United States in the near future. “Five years,” Zach said, referring to their time at Guangdong Ocean University, “and if they let us stay for 10, we will.”

“We laugh and say that this is the land of unexpected opportunities,” Amanda said. “Everything from being in a TV show to really just finding our place. We’ve found our niche here. We love what we do.”