The 2023-24 Alumni Ambassadors Make Their Entrance
The 2023-24 Alumni Ambassadors are ready for their one-year honorary assignment recruiting new Fellows, Specialists, and Virtual Educators and building new relationships with the U.S. Department of State’s English Language Programs. Indeed, this year’s Ambassadors, the largest cohort since the Alumni Ambassador Program began in 2016, have already thought of some ingenious ways to share the message of the many benefits of the program.
Fresh Ideas for the New Season
Summer Peixoto, an international education consultant based in Lawrence, Kansas, looks forward to sharing her stories as a Fellow in Brazil to convey the profound impact of her tenure abroad. To make her experience more accessible, she’ll create short videos, perhaps even a podcast, that speak to “the adventure and the mess,” as she puts it, of teaching and living in another country, as well as the resulting insights. Christopher Stillwell, Distance Education Coordinator at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California, will host a series of virtual workshops addressing technological topics of interest to educators – ChatGPT included – while “sparking interest” in the kinds of cross-cultural educational exchanges that he himself benefited from as a Specialist in Brazil, Egypt, and Mexico. And on a local level, Farrah Littlepage, supervisor of the English Language Program in Grandview C-4 School District in Kansas City, Missouri, will focus her recruitment efforts on the sometimes hard to reach pool of elementary through high school teachers. Speaking at schools and state and regional conferences, she will share her stories as a Fellow in Laos to help educators “imagine themselves teaching abroad” knowing herself that it requires a leap of faith.
From Vision to Reality
These alumni have all experienced first-hand the program’s vision of being an international educator and cultural ambassador. “The English Language Fellow, Specialist, and Virtual Educator Programs are exciting exchange opportunities for American TESOL professionals to work with students and teachers around the world,” said Joe Bookbinder, Director of the Office of English Language Programs at the U.S. Department of State. “The Alumni Ambassadors are a selected group of alumni who represent these programs to their networks and communities around the United States to further promote these opportunities. We’re committed to spreading the word about our programs in as many ways as possible with the goal of increasing the diversity of our participants, and Alumni Ambassadors help us do that.”
Indeed, the varied ideas of these alumni for raising program awareness come as no surprise, given the unique interplay between their home careers and overseas experiences. David Malatesta teaches ESL, Spanish, and French at Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois, a predominately minority-serving institution with a student body that speaks more than 90 languages. His years spent working with such a diverse demographic group proved a distinct advantage when, as a Specialist in Turkey, he ran a camp for the English Access Microscholarship Program that taught tolerance among the students’ many ethnic groups and provided tolerance training for the Access teachers. The curriculum he developed, which included role plays, interactive games, and simulations, has since been adopted by his Illinois high school.
Lina Jurkunas, Academic Director at the Intercultural Institute of California, manages a cadre of part-time ESL instructors teaching 100 international students and, as a result, is used to daily multitasking, from accreditation reporting to marketing. As an in-country Fellow in Turkey, Lina Jurkunas was busy leading teacher training workshops, when she was suddenly evacuated due to the pandemic. She quickly put her leadership skills into action, reconnecting via internet with her students overseas and creating a Book and Conversation Club, with projects ranging from literacy-themed scavenger hunts to a four-week poetry unit later showcased in a poster session at the 2022 TESOL Convention in Pittsburgh. As an Alumni Ambassador, Jurkunas will apply her management acumen combining her regular job with her Ambassador duties, with plans to reach out to contacts at TESOL master’s and certificate programs to offer regularly scheduled events such as one she has playfully titled “Wind Down Wednesday with an English Language Programs Ambassador.”
Sharing Experiences, Building Relationships
Building such relationships with students, teachers, and administrators at educational institutions will be key to the recruitment efforts of these alumni, as will representing English Language Programs at regional and international TESOL conferences, where Alumni Ambassadors will tell their stories at information sessions and at the program booth. In addition, chronicling their work overseas and interacting with English language educators far and wide on social media will play a vital role in their tenure as Ambassadors.
Whatever means they use, sharing their personal experiences is the core of the Alumni Ambassador program. For many, the program provided totally unforeseen opportunities. Mayonne Granzo, adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University’s English Language Center in Washington, D.C., notes that her stints as a Virtual Educator in Djibouti, Morocco, and the Philippines introduced her to an international community of teachers and students “beyond what I could have imagined.” Chloe Bellows, TESOL graduate instructor and doctoral candidate in language education at Rutgers University, considers her time as a Fellow in Brazil akin to a crash course in professional development. “I was conducting teacher education, creating materials, leading workshops, and giving conference presentations and plenaries in ways I had never done before,” she recalled. And as a Virtual Educator in Guinea-Bissau, Andrea Lypka, E-Learning Program Manager at Pinellas Education Foundation in Largo, Florida, was able to combine her English language teaching and journalism backgrounds in a training that included journalists and social media influencers from that country.
Adding Intangible Professional Tools
Leaving their educator comfort zones to teach internationally, whether in country or online, also added intangible tools to the professional resource kits of these Ambassadors. Leticia Medina, doctoral candidate at the University of Texas and English language instructor at the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio, says that her time as a Fellow and Virtual Educator in Russia, navigating teaching, research, and conference responsibilities, taught her to “maximize my resourcefulness and sharpen my creative skills in the classroom.” The self-assurance that Melissa Hauke, ESOL support teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, gained from her time as a Fellow in Russia enabled her to take on a more active role in TESOL International and her local TESOL affiliate, a prospect she had previously found intimidating.
For Devon Jancin, as a Fellow in Indonesia, her work deep in that country’s mountain region with schools that had limited resources bolstered her problem-solving acumen and in-class flexibility. Now Curriculum Coordinator for the English Language Center at the Idaho Office for Refugees, she feels much better prepared “for the job and life challenges in my current work,” she said. “There is nothing like meaningful life experience to increase a teacher’s effectiveness.”
Following a recent Kick Off event in Washington, D.C., the 2023-2024 cohort of Alumni Ambassadors stand poised to share those experiences. During that orientation program, the Ambassadors added fresh ideas to their already rich arsenal of recruitment and engagement initiatives, brainstorming with one another and meeting with a variety of representatives from English Language Programs, including its regional officers from abroad and D.C.-based team members. Together, they explored how best to reach educators from diverse backgrounds – widening and deepening the reach of English Language Programs – and concrete approaches to harnessing the power of social media, educator conferences, and local community outlets to convey their stories of professional and personal growth as Fellows, Specialists, and Virtual Educators. During the coming months, these Ambassadors will put their plans into action, as they take their alliance with English Language Programs to an exciting new level of involvement.