Many IEI alumni will remember Elisa Brittain, who taught here from 2011 to 2015. After
leaving IEI, Elise moved to New York City. There, she taught at the New York Language Center and developed courses as academic program coordinator at Bluedata International Institute.
Now, Elise has started a new adventure: A 10-month fellowship from the U.S. government to work with the Samarkand State Institute of Foreign Languages in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. “I’ll be teaching third-year students writing and also a class on teaching integrated skills,” says Elise. “At the same time, I’ll be developing workshops for teachers on topics that are important to them and leading conversation clubs for students.”
Becoming an English Language Fellow has been a dream for Elise since she was a graduate student. “I was introduced to the program by wonderful TESOL faculty while I was completing my masters at Murray State University. I was so eager to participate that I applied for the program prematurely before I had enough teaching experience. Even so, the idea stayed in my mind for five years.”
Now that she has arrived in Uzbekistan, Elise is excited to learn about the country and its culture as she helps her students and colleagues in Samarkand to achieve their goals. She also expects to gain a better understanding of the challenges her U.S. students face.
“I want to step out of my comfort zone so that I can grow professionally and personally,” says Elise. “This experience helps me understand students’ perspectives in the U.S. as they attend classes and navigate a foreign environment. By experiencing this myself, my compassion for students’ challenges and motivations will broaden.”
Elise is one of only 165 English Language Fellows chosen this year to work to strengthen English language instruction in 80 countries. The English Language Fellow Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State. It has worked since 1969 to “promote English language learning, enhance English teaching capacity, and foster mutual understanding between the U.S. and other countries through cultural exchange.”
Looking back on her time at IEI, Elise recalls the annual camping and rafting trip as a favorite experience, both for building relationships and using English to work together. “I remember sitting around the campfire for hours, listening to students sing songs from their countries, tell jokes, and just have a wonderful time. I remember the students’ intense language learning experience of being on the rapids, when myself and five students became a team and had to work together to make sure everyone did their part.”
While she admits to feeling nervous about beginning her assignment in Uzbekistan, Elise is taking the new experiences one day at a time and looking forward to new experiences. She encourages IEI students to do the same.
“As a fellow, I am trying to practice the advice that I give students. Depending on your personality, you can have different challenges in developing language skills. I have always identified with my quiet students. Quiet students are sometimes shy, but they’re also more focused on listening to others rather than being listened to. This can be a great asset for them. Sometimes quiet students fear making mistakes and taking risks. If you identify yourself as a quiet student, that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn.”
“Here is what I remind myself of every day, and what I want to remind students of: Don’t worry about the others around you. Focus on your own abilities. Take smaller steps. You don’t have to climb the whole mountain today. Think of two sentences you could say today or tomorrow. Make it your goal to say those sentences or two other sentences. As you build success with smaller steps, bigger successes will come. Celebrate these successes. If you fail to communicate, it’s okay. You can always try again. Each time you try to push your comfort zone, you are learning. Keep going.”