From teacher-in-training in Cambodia and Thailand, to social worker, to earning a master’s degree in school advising, to kindergarten teacher in China, to author, to voice talent for an education app –– there’s (virtually) nothing that Charlie Suero is afraid to try.
Currently living in Shanghai, Suero sat down for an interview on a Thursday at 9 p.m. his time, 8 a.m. EST. He jokes that he feels like he is ‘living in the future’ when he speaks with friends and family from the East Coast.
Suero’s journey began at Penn State Berks, where came as a transfer student from Reading Area Community College (RACC). He earned a B.A. in Applied Psychology from Penn State Berks in 2010, and he used the knowledge and experience he gained through the degree program and his experiences at the college as a stepping-stone to pursue a career that fits his varied interests.
He comments, “It was my internships that gave me a diverse ‘taste’ of what the world had to offer as far as careers and possibilities, from interning with a social welfare organization to a hospital that focused on applied behavior analysis.”
Suero explains that his Penn State degree opened the door to a world of opportunities and along the way ‘education found him.’ In fact, working as an educator has taken Suero to various teaching roles across Asia and most recently, to writing and publishing a children’s book about diversity.
Growing up in a military family, Suero always had an appetite for adventure, and after graduation, he took time to dabble and explore. When an opportunity to travel to Cambodia to complete a six-month teacher training program presented itself, he jumped at it, explaining that he was used to relocating and it wasn’t scary to him.
He worked to complete the TEFL/TESOL program, a comprehensive training that prepares participants to teach English to non-native speakers. Then the program he worked with asked to take a teaching assignment in Thailand where he worked with adult students for another six months.
During that year, Suero fell in love with Cambodia and Thailand. “At first Cambodia scared me because it was like organized chaos but I grew to love it. The people are the sweetest and most endearing. There’s so much culture and life in Cambodia and Thailand.”
After his assignment in Thailand ended, Suero returned to Pennsylvania and began working as an academic enrollment adviser for RACC, filling in for a staff member who was on maternity leave. During the same time, he put his applied psychology degree to work as a part-time social worker and an outpatient therapist.
Eventually the staff member he was filling in for returned to RACC and he considered his options, including joining the military. His experiences in education led him to Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, otherwise known as PCOM, where he earned a master’s degree in school psychology.
After graduation from PCOM, one of his former colleagues from Cambodia suggested that he return to teaching in Asia. In March 2013, Suero began interviewing for a position as a foreign trainer with Disney English, an after-school program that teaches English to children within the framework of Disney’s curriculum, characters, and timeless stories. He was soon hired and moved to Shanghai in November 2013.
“I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know the language, I knew nothing,” he explains of the decision to move to China. “I thought if all else fails, I could get on a plane and go back.”
Suero started working at an American school in China, where he earned his U.S. license as an international educator. The school was dubbed ‘American’ due to the Common Core Standards Initiative curriculum it follows.
When his contract with that school ended, Suero went to work for a Montessori school where he remained for five years. He explains that a Montessori education takes a holistic approach to teaching focused on independent learning. He completed his Montessori training for ages 0–3 and 3–6.
“I learned so much as a person and as an educator. It was an opportunity for me to expand my knowledge, and it gave me a solid foundation in education,” he explains.
Suero decided not to renew when his five-year contract ended at the Montessori school due to the long commute. But soon he found that he missed working with children, so he accepted a job at a French immersion school as a kindergarten teacher. He explains that the school offers curriculum in French, English and Chinese. Parents can choose the French / Chinese immersion program or the English / Chinese program.
During his time in China, Suero learned to speak the language. “I never took classes, I just learned from my kids,” he explains. “It’s a tonal language. I like the structure behind it.”
He became acclimated to life in China and he jokes that he has reverse culture shock when he returns to the U.S. to visit friends and family. He states, “In China, I overheard an entire phone conversation where the person didn’t actually say anything, just made sounds in agreement. When I returned to the U.S., I had the same style of communicating without saying much.”
Suero tries to return to the U.S. whenever he is able. His father, a native of the Dominican Republic, is still living in the Berks County area. His mother, who is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, lives in Florida.
When the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, Suero was teaching from home and not able to travel, so he had the time to work on fulfilling his lifelong dream of writing a children’s book. He parlayed his multicultural background and experience working with multicultural children to write Mersa, which tells the story of a curious young girl who wants to better understand who she is by taking a closer look at her multicultural family and embracing diversity.
“I wanted to give back to the field of education that has given me so much and also to prove to myself that taking risks and challenging myself will only result in growth. I wanted to take what some may see as a negative and turn it into a positive.” He adds jokingly, “I had no idea what I was getting into.”
Suero explains that writing and publishing the book was a long process, but it was a labor of love. From working with a proofreader, to finding a publicist, to purchasing the licensure and the ISBN (international standard book number), there was a steep learning curve. His cousin helped by sketching the illustrations before he found a professional illustrator in China, who then disappeared for a while, pushing the publication date back. He soon found another illustrator and the process continued.
Mersa was finally published in 2021 by Ingram Spark. “The main moral of the story is: You are not defined by your culture,” comments Suero. His fellow teachers have introduced the book in their classrooms and it has been sold in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Malaysia. The book is also available for purchase on Amazon.
Then another opportunity presented itself — he explains that while he taught at the American school, he got to know one of his student’s parents and learned that they were creating educational apps. They asked him to do the voice for one of the characters in the app “Little Adam,” named after their son. To date, the couple has created more than 30 games within the “Little Adam” app, which is available in the U.S.
“It was really fun and a very humbling experience,” states Suero.
What does the future hold for Suero? Education will continue to play a major role. He is working toward a second master’s degree in education with a focus on teaching multicultural learners at Moreland University, based in Washington D.C., which he will complete in 2022. Then he will sit for his U.S. licensure test.
For now, Suero will continue teaching in Asia, where he explains that educators enjoy generous salaries and benefit packages, as well as other perks such as air travel credits and bonuses and a low cost of living, compared to the U.S. When this school year ends, he plans to explore teaching options in other Asian countries such as Singapore and Taiwan.
Suero credits his Penn State Berks degree with giving him choices. “The degree really prepared me for anything and encouraged me to try new things. Penn State is a big name but it really was the people who made me feel that I could make choices for myself and that I wasn’t limited in my choices. My degree prepared me in the sense that I felt confident to try. You may not necessarily succeed, but it’s where you try and fail – that’s where you learn.”
“It has been such an unforgettable journey in all aspects and I will always be grateful for the knowledge, people, and encouragement received during my time as a Penn State student.”