Buddhism, Adoption Inform Adult Student’s Journeys to China

May 16, 2006

Jim Yoxall outside the Pannill Student CenterFor most of his adult life, Jim Yoxall had an unusual, and he admits, rebellious, career goal. “I wanted to hold a position that required a college degree without actually having one.” At age 42 Yoxall found himself working as an upper-level manager at a counseling center, supervising people who held bachelor’s and master’s degrees, while he had a General Education Development (GED) diploma, the equivalent of completing high school. Then he decided to stop holding a college degree grudge and get one of his own.

On May 21, he was among the 319 Mary Baldwin students to receive degrees at the college’s 164th Commencement.

Yoxall left high school in western Canada, where he grew up, at age 15. He came to the United States at 25 and earned his GED. When he and his wife, Hilary, settled in the Shenandoah Valley, he enrolled in classes at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, then he transitioned to Mary Baldwin’s Baldwin Online and Adult Programs after he saw his wife’s positive experience in the program. She graduated with a degree in Healthcare Administration last year.

Almost immediately upon enrolling at Mary Baldwin three years ago, goals and interests in Yoxall’s personal and professional life started to congeal. “I always had a fascination with Asian studies — specifically Chinese, and I also enjoyed making and teaching art,” said Yoxall, who was in the process of adopting 4-year-old Hannah from a rural Chinese orphanage at the time. Yoxall set out at Mary Baldwin as a studio art major, and complemented his studies by working as an art teacher at Guardian Angel Academy and interning at the Staunton Augusta Art Center.

He soon met Professor of Asian Studies Daniel Métraux and started to feed his desire to learn more about the religions, languages, and cultures of China and the Far East. Although Mary Baldwin does not have specific courses or a major in Chinese studies, Métraux helped Yoxall develop independent study courses — classes for which he determined reading material and assignments with Métraux. He also hooked up with a Chinese language partner — of Chinese heritage — at the University of Virginia. Yoxall made his second trip to China in 2004, this time to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) at a private school in the city of Zhuji. While there, he said he “fell completely in love with where I was,” and he concentrated on absorbing the art, history, and written and spoken language of the area. Gradually, his Mary Baldwin major shifted to Asian studies, with studio art as a minor.

During summer 2005, Yoxall returned to the Zhuji school to teach ESL as well as conduct intensive research on medieval Chinese dynasties, which he translated into a course and a paper for his Asian studies degree. Hannah, now 7 years old, accompanied him and they traveled extensively in the region.

“The more I studied China from a scholarly perspective, the more I wanted to understand its spirituality and people on a personal level. I want my daughter to understand and respect the culture in which she was born,” Yoxall said.

Yoxall said he considers himself “more of a Buddhist than a member of any other spiritual community.” He grew up Catholic and later studied and practiced Native American spirituality and traditions while living on a Yukon Indian reservation. Yoxall’s interest in Buddhist principles evolved from a study of martial arts and a class with Métraux, to a daily practice of tai chi and meditation and a perpetual search for ways to end suffering in himself and in others.

Yoxall’s educational and professional opportunities continue to be exciting as he looks beyond his graduation from Mary Baldwin University. His capstone project — a study of the rural education system in China — and acquaintances at University of Virginia led to a presentation for the Chinese Scholars Association which he gave at the university last month. His experience with creating classes and a course of study at Mary Baldwin will be useful as he pursues a master’s degree at Union University. The university is in Vermont, but Yoxall will take most of his classes remotely while still living in Staunton, and he will earn a degree in a field of study he designed — an independent cultural and anthropological study of China’s rural orphan population. He plans to use an extended trip to the country as a hands-on study for one of his self-designed Union University courses. He was offered positions both in China and stateside as a cultural education specialist with Ronghuai Corporation, a cultural education company in Hangzhou City, China. He and his wife are also in the process of adopting their second Chinese child, a young boy from the same orphanage as Hannah.

“It was a wonderful thing when my education became more about the knowledge than about the degree,” Yoxall said. Having his diploma in hand is still pretty momentous, though — and his mother will travel here from Canada to see him receive it.

Related Commencement 2006 articles:
Berry to Address Volunteerism at Commencement
Brain-Based Learning Inspired MAT Student
Liberal Arts Approach Does Graduates Good
Students Share Senior Projects