Green Lake resident Chris Foos wears many hats in the community, serving as an alderman, teacher and entrepreneur.
Foos grew up as an Army brat, his dad served in the 82nd Airborne, so the family moved around a lot, settling in Palatine, Ill.
He attended Marquette University from 1982 to 1987 on a partial scholarship, government grants and a work-study program. He double majored in politics and communications, and minored in philosophy and photojournalism.
In 2010, he moved to China temporarily, returning in 2017 before being elected to the Green Lake Common Council earlier this year and he teaches at Green Lake School.
Foos recently took part in a Q&A with the Ripon Commonwealth Press.
Q. What motivated you to move to China in 2010?
A. At that time, the U.S. was in a pretty deep recession from the crash of 2008 and I had been in the printing industry for almost 14 years by that time and the market was really slowing down. My daughters had become more independent and I had heard of the incredible boom in the Chinese economy at that time and was curious to see if there were any interesting opportunities in China. I accepted an offer from a friend to take an English teaching position in Tianjin, a large city about one hour east of Beijing. I had always been curious about Chinese culture since I was a kid, so I made the move.
Chris Foos stands next to his wife, who he met while teaching in China.
Q. What was the biggest culture shock for you living in a different country?
A. Since my father had worked at United Airlines, our family received great benefits back then and I had the opportunity to travel all around the world to many different cities and countries.
But to really live in a different country provides quite a different perspective when you’re having to do the day-to-day things we usually take for granted; like finding a place to live, where to get groceries, how to get a cell phone, how to pay your bills and such.
It’s immersion, it’s a lot different than a two-week trip to see the tourist sites. I really had a great chance to truly experience Chinese culture and society from within.
I guess the biggest culture shock was in learning the different social values there, for example, the concept of “face,” which is basically social dignity and appearances; the concept of “guanxi,” which is a system of networking connections either through family or friends, classmates, and colleagues. Also, the incredible rigor with which the Chinese people approach work and school. For example, the standard work week is six-days long, and for students, they attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the evening, also six days a week.
On the positive side of “culture shock,” I witnessed how cooking is truly a formal art form in China and was amazed at the incredible value you can receive while fine dining there! I realize those examples are quite general, but I’d be happy to get into more specific examples with people if they’d like to contact me to discuss them.
It’s really quite interesting to trace back certain behavioral differences to specific historic situations which can lead us to understanding such vast differences in world cultures.
Q. You founded the Satellite Education Program in 2012, connecting U.S. public schools to students in China. Could you describe the program a little bit more and how has it evolved?
A. The original idea for the Satellite Education Program came from my spouse, Jasmine, who had been a middle school and high school teacher in Tianjin, China for 33 years.
Her initial concept was to connect American curriculum with Chinese students in China and offer the opportunity to earn American high school diplomas from within China. I was inspired by this idea because at the time I had been teaching in China for two years and had seen financial exploitation of Chinese students at the hands of profiteering English “training centers” that merely existed to profit from the Chinese parents with promises of sending their children to top U.S. universities, but without authentic and responsible preparation.
Often I’d heard of parents being delighted to hear that their son or daughter had been admitted to a top-10 American college, only to find out after a semester or two that the student had been enrolled in a seminary, or a vocational technical school, the unwary parents finding out too late because of the language barrier.
So after making some connections in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, as well as among Wisconsin public school superintendents, I was able to gain interest and support from the Wisconsin educational community to offer an extreme distance learning/virtual school experience to the Chinese Ministry of Education in Beijing.
Those Chinese officials introduced me to the Peking University’s Affiliated High School program. From there, we launched the Satellite Education Program, to connect Wisconsin school districts who would hire Wisconsin teachers to go to China to teach in our American program in Tianjin.
In China, students would be remotely enrolled in the American school districts and take the exact same curriculum as what was being taught back in the Wisconsin schools. The students would pay an international fee to participate in the program, at least a third of which went directly to the Wisconsin school districts, and the students had the opportunity to earn Wisconsin high school diplomas if they met all of the requirements of the school district for graduation.
We were creating Wisconsin teaching positions and providing revenue to Wisconsin public school districts as well as fostering authentic English immersion and educational preparation for in-country Chinese students.
Sadly, due to a breach of contract by our American principal, as well as the corruption of one of the Chinese partners extorting money from the parents, I ended the project with Peking University in 2017 and focused on developing a teacher and exchange-student experience, as well as establishing a partnership with an American publishing company to distribute English proficiency testing throughout China. Operating this endeavor from the USA allows for more control over finances and ethical concerns as well.
Foos stands next to his wife, Jasmine, left, and her daughter, Grace.
Grace introduced Jasmine to Chris when Chris was teaching English in
Q. Why did you move back to the U.S.?
A. I moved back to the USA in June of 2017 after a visit back to the U.S. in March revealed that my oldest sister was dying from ovarian cancer and consequently had asked me to be her primary medical care trustee. At the same time, the unfortunate events with our program in China sealed my decision to move back permanently.
Q. What brought you to Green Lake?
A. I had been working with a wonderful, honest, and very accomplished Wisconsin school superintendent, Terry Reynolds, for many years on my project in China, and when Terry found out that I would be moving back to the USA permanently, he suggested that I contact Mary Allen at the School District of Green Lake. Mrs. Allen was interested in expanding the Green Lake International Student Program.
I spoke with her several times and it turned out to be a good fit for me to take a position as their new resident advisor for the international students. So, after my sister had passed away and we had taken care of the formalities in northern Illinois, I packed up and moved to Green Lake in the last week of August 2017.
While still waiting for my wife’s visa to clear, I inherited guardianship of five teenage international students to care for that coming school year. It was an interesting time to say the least!
Q. You were elected to the Green Lake Common Council in April. What issues are the most important to you?
A. I strongly support our Green Lake School. It is the only K-12 International Baccalaureate School in the state of Wisconsin as well as one of the top schools in Wisconsin for open-enrollment, an undisputable testimony to the quality of the school’s staff and educational experience.
I am also deeply committed to the economic development of the city of Green Lake. I am also driven to finding affordable housing for Green Lake’s employment community of whom very few live in Green Lake.
The housing and economic issues are critical for the long-term sustainability of the community as we know it, not to mention for providing the same wonderful place to live and do business for our future generations.
Q. What’s your favorite part of being on the City Council?
A. Easily, my favorite part is talking to the people in District One and in the City of Green Lake about pending issues and then representing those views in the council meetings. That is the essence of our democracy in a nutshell and one that I am truly passionate about as a civil servant. I am also thoroughly enjoying the process of learning about municipality operations, I know that probably sounds super nerdy, but I find it fascinating.
Q. This fall, you’ve been teaching at Green Lake School. What has your role been at Green Lake School and how has it been rewarding?
A. At first, I was substitute teaching during some cautionary quarantining of school staff. That was for a variety of grades and classes and was quite fun and never a dull moment!
Lately, I’ve been offered a position as a special education instructional aide which is particularly rewarding as this position features the opportunity to support and encourage students with distinctive challenges in their academic and social journeys.
I teach an employment skills class that I feel is quite useful for those students about to enter the workforce. I’ve seen that it can definitely be exhausting and occasionally frustrating; but yet when those golden moments occur where a student makes some measurable progress or I get to witness a student finding confidence in themselves, that makes it all worthwhile.