In the spotlight: Amanda Liles

Amanda Liles grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and studied Spanish and Journalism at Ohio University. She then went on to spend two years volunteering with City Year San Jose, where she was twice honored for her outstanding service. Liles now teaches six classes of 50 children each in China through Peace Corps, and we connected her via Skype to the children at Southgate Community Center in Reston, Va. Liles has paved her own path through an ambitious commitment to serving others, and she has done so with one arm, as she was born a left arm amputee. To the children at Southgate, where inclusiveness and service are priorities, Liles was inspiring not because of what she has “overcome” but because of her impressive dedication to the spirit of community.


Where are you serving, what is your role and what are the dates of your service?

I am serving in Pingliang, China. I teach English at the local medical college and run secondary projects that meet the needs of my host community. I left the U.S. for Peace Corps training on June 29, 2012, and I will complete my term of service on July 5, 2014.

What has been the most rewarding element of your service thus far?

The most rewarding experience for me thus far has been seeing the progress of my students. Watching their confidence grow has been a huge source of joy for me over the past couple months. It’s been great to teach them vocabulary and how to communicate in English, but it’s been more rewarding to teach them self-worth, the value of mistakes (learning from them!), and how to put their best foot forward. It’s refreshing to see people start to believe in themselves and their dreams.

What has been the biggest challenge?

I’m going to have to say the language barrier has been the toughest part of life here. I know it’s something that all volunteers struggle with, so I feel a little cliché saying it. Nevertheless, it’s hard to build solid, deep relationships when you can’t find the words to adequately express your thoughts. The fact that the Chinese written language is character-centered and not based on phonetic syllables makes learning that much more difficult. You have to learn the spoken language and then the characters of the written language separately. So right now I’m pretty much illiterate here. I’m learning, though.

Do you feel connected to the humanity of the folks in your host community?

I feel closer and closer to the people in my community each day. People have been so welcoming and kind to me that I feel very much a part of their lives. No one has been standoffish. Several people have invited me to dine with them or visit their homes. My students are amazing, my colleagues are great and even the strangers I meet on the street, in markets, restaurants and shops are wonderful people who I have learned from. I have a sense that people here are looking out for me and wishing me the best, just as I have nothing but the deepest respect and highest hopes for all of them. I love sharing my culture with them and learning about theirs.

How are you shaping what it means to be an “American?”

Because I am one of only two Americans living in my community, I have a lot of influence when it comes to people’s idea of who or what an “American” is. I am the first American, foreigner even, that my students have ever met. As they have gotten to know me, they have told me their ideas about what Americans like or dislike and how we live our lives. I answer a lot of questions, but the biggest point I try to make is that America is a really diverse country with lots of different people and perspectives.  Despite differences we all strive to work together and live happy lives. Several people here believe Americans are all light-skinned with blue/green eyes and brown or blond hair. There are also a lot of stereotypes regarding personality: we all like to sing, dance and entertain. Americans are all outgoing.  It has been fun to blow people’s minds with images of friends and family who don’t fit into these preconceptions.

In my time here I want to be a patient, friendly and understanding person. Of course, I would like people to remember me as pleasant. I hope they will have fond memories of our experiences together so that when they think and speak of Americans and America, they are positive and optimistic.

Liles maintains a blog from China. Follow her adventures at

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