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Chatteris Tutor leads an ESL activity at a school funfair
26 Aug 2022

Life Beyond Chatteris: Working for the US Department of Justice

In this post, Chatteris’ own Jack Salmon speaks to former Chatteris Tutor Davis Backer about his career after Chatteris, and how his time in Hong Kong influenced his career path.

Hong Kong is a place with a unique temporal nature – something that is reflected in its urban composition. Unlike most other major global cities, Hong Kong does not boast a main public square. In its absence, the city’s inhabitants have come to occupy less conventional spaces that are usually considered merely transient, places that you pass through rather than remain, such as malls and intersecting overhead passes. But the urban layout has forced us to rethink these traditionally unremarkable spaces as being purely for pragmatic function, instead demanding we place them at the very heart of civic sociality. A sort of transience in perenniality. 

Chatteris Tutors lead an ESL activity with a group of students
Some Chatteris Tutors leading an activity with a keen group of students | Image by Chatteris

Indeed, many of those who come to work and live in Hong Kong can attest to the transient nature of the city. An ex-colleague of mine, who recently departed the organisation after four years, spoke of how her difficulty in leaving the wealth of spatial and personal connections was compounded by the widely-consensual sentiment that Hong Kong is a fundamentally “addictive place”. 

It is within this vein of thinking that we can establish the experiential parameters of many of those who come to Hong Kong. Despite working for Chatteris for just a year, Davis Backer reflects on how his time in the city has had a long-standing impact on his life and career which followed. 

Chatteris Tutor Miles runs a game at a school English Funfair | Image by Chatteris

Davis joined the organisation in 2012, and emphasises the boundary-pushing opportunity a move to Hong Kong represented; “I found myself overwhelmed, wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into. I had committed to moving my life halfway around the world where I didn’t know a soul, didn’t speak the native language, to take a job teaching, which I had never done before. To say I was firmly outside of my comfort zone would be an understatement. And there were days, and even weeks, where I had profound doubts about whether I would be able to rise to the challenge of embracing this life for the term of my contract.” In spite of the challenges such a monumental move forces one to confront, a decade down the line, Davis reflects with pride on his time in Hong Kong; “the opportunities Chatteris afforded taught me a great deal about my resilience in the face of uncertainty, and about my commitment to public service.” 

Following his time with Chatteris, Davis returned to the US to attend graduate school, embarking on a 4 year dual-degree programme simultaneously studying both a law degree and a masters degree in environmental science at the University of Colorado. Upon graduation in 2018, he joined the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) as a trial attorney, and for the last 3.5 years has been practising law in the Environment and Natural Resource Division, where much of his time has been dedicated to Endangered Species Act litigation. This, alongside defending government agencies such as the US National Park Service and the US Forest Service in Federal District Court, is a role which Davis has found to be incredibly rewarding; “[it is] exactly what I hoped to be doing when I first applied to law school in terms of using my degree for public service and advocating on behalf of the country’s environmental assets.” 

Chatteris Tutor Tommy leading a lesson in the classroom | Image by Chatteris

Navigating these professional opportunities over the last decade has demonstrated that working and living in Hong Kong has captured the imagination of potential employers, who were often keen to ask Davis about his time teaching abroad in interviews. Indeed, he exalts his time with Chatteris as being a truly formative experience, in both a personal and professional sense; “the lessons in patience, responsibility, and self-sufficiency alone that I took away from my year with Chatteris were instrumental in helping me find success through law school and now in my role as a trial attorney.” 

It is sometimes far too easy to reduce periods spent working and living abroad to picturesque Instagram posts and clichéd soundbites about transformational experiences. However we must be cautious not to devalue the genuine and unique merits of such opportunities, as Davis reflects: “It feels Pollyannaish to say that my year teaching with Chatteris was life changing but I have every reason to believe that it was.” 

I would like to sincerely thank Davis for taking the time to write to me in such detail about his experience in Hong Kong, and his career in the years that followed.

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