Iain Culp ’09 ran away to join the circus.
But only after he finished his degree at Pacific University and headed to China to pursue dreams of teaching.
“It’s been one heck of an adventure,” he said.
Culp came to Pacific planning to major in chemistry. But even then he knew he wanted to be a teacher like his mother.
During his freshman year, he found himself drawn to the stage. He switched to a double major in English literature and theatre and spent a term abroad in England, practicing the technical side of theatre.
But his end goal never changed.
“My original intention was that I was going to end up teaching … which is kind of what I’ve done, because I’m teaching abroad in ESL.”
“I think drama as a method of teaching a foreign language is pretty powerful.”
– Iain Culp '09
After graduation, Culp went oversees to teach English with Teach in China. But the passion for the stage still called and, as he put it, “I ended up running away and joining the circus.”
Spark Circus is an organization devoted to bringing joy and healing to children through play and performance. Culp had taken up fire spinning in England and further developed those skills through Pacific’s Lu‘au. In China, he added in clowning as he joined the 2010 Spark Circus, spending his January vacation on the border of Burma and Thailand with refugee children.
“I was basically the emcee for the group, as well as one of the performers,” Culp said. “We would take toys and teach these kids circus skills … then we would donate some toys to the schools so the kids could continue playing year-round.”
Since then, Culp has been involved with “social circus” in several countries, including China, Thailand and now South Korea, working with North Korean refugees, as well as students with disabilities and autism.
He supports himself by teaching English in South Korean schools, where he uses drama and song to help 5- and 6-year-olds develop their bilingual skills.
He also works with two ex-patriat theatre groups, Seoul Shakespeare and Seoul Players.
Next year, Culp plans to return to the United States and pursue a master’s degree in teaching. But ultimately he’d like to return overseas to continue teaching.
“I have a friend who has started up a youth theatre and ESL education program in China,” he said. “I think drama as a method of teaching a foreign language is pretty powerful.” ■
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This story first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Pacific Magazine. For more stories, visit pacificu.edu/magazine.