Taking Chances

Jack Walter '19 at Caterpillar's Shanghai, China, facility. (Photo provided)

Matt Hawkins
February 5, 2018

Jack Walter ’19 didn’t plan to study abroad at Bradley until tragedy provided an opportunity. The accounting major from Morton, Ill., suffered a stroke, broken rib and a traumatic brain injury when a vehicle struck him as walked home from an internship late one June 2016 evening.

The hit-and-run incident along a quiet neighborhood street left him unconscious for a week. When he regained his senses, he learned the incident also left him with memory loss that would keep him out of class a semester to heal.

Extended rest fully recovered his mind and body by October, and doctors told him to find mental exercises to prepare for academic life. Walter could’ve chosen to read newspapers or take online classes, but — by chance — he found a monthlong Mandarin language program in Shanghai, China, where his father worked for Caterpillar.

“I could waste a semester at home or I could learn a new language. That was an easy choice,” Walter said. “There would be more career options if I learned Mandarin now. Who knew how things would snowball after that? I realized my brain-training program needed to be longer because I was in awe of the country, the culture and the people.”

He expected to be back in Morton by Christmas, but the language and fast-paced lifestyle gripped him. As the first month drew to a close, he enrolled in a business and culture study abroad program for the spring semester. The experience placed him with a host family while he took courses at two Shanghai universities.

As the formal academic venture neared its end, Walter still didn’t want to come home. Again, by chance, he tried a summer teaching English to children ages 3 to 6. Even though he lacked a teacher education background, his cross-cultural visit enabled him to connect with children and peers.

Busy days reaped rewards as children embraced Walter’s native tongue. “I’d be exhausted after a long day teaching and traveling to work, but then I’d remember the kids who had the courage to say their first English word or sentence,” he said. “That made me euphoric.”

Walter’s entrepreneurial spirit joined his newfound passion for Chinese culture as he networked with other Shanghai-area English teachers and educational agency leaders. Those relationships prompted a business idea: a one-stop clearinghouse for English tutoring agencies and prospective teachers. Shortly after he returned to campus in the fall of 2017, he partnered with his English education employer to launch the business.

After many chance events, the future came into focus clearer than it seemed one day in June 2016.

“Moments happen when we least expect them,” Walter said. “They can be anything from a week in a hospital to a year in China. No matter what course I’m on, I learned to accept it, work with it and grow beyond it. Who knows what future this could lead me on?”