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Ethiopia and China: Educational Landscapes

Upon initial reflection, the similarities between Ethiopia and China may be few, distanced between contrasting continents, and spread across differing ideologies.  Yet as a teacher, something I have learned that brings the world closer together is education, and the understanding that achievement in the classroom often brings about success on a larger stage, regardless of location.

This past week I had the opportunity to revisit Ethiopia, a country where I taught for two years prior to coming to China.  Engulfed in social, economic and educational change, Ethiopia, perhaps more than anywhere else I have lived, taught me more about myself both as a person and a professional, instilling in me ideals and beliefs which I have carried over to my instruction here in China.  During this recent trip, my eyes were once again opened to the importance of education in a cross-cultural context, and the role it plays in being an agent of change.

Classrooms in China come equipped with the latest technology, from Smart Boards to integrated online platforms.  In contrast, classrooms in Ethiopia sometimes lack basic necessities such as chalk or electricity.  Yet it is the ambition and determination of the students from each respective country which rise across physical and cultural divides; understanding that motivation comes from within, fueled by the dream of a better tomorrow where collaboration, not competition, drives global sustainability.

During my week in the capital city of Addis Ababa, I led two English workshops, met with educational leaders, and even collaborated with scholarship recipients who have turned their dreams into reality.  One commonality they all shared was an interest in hearing about my experiences from China, a country which they see as an integral part of global growth.  For it is China where more and more students are turning to for educational and business opportunities, and they wanted to know more about things ranging from the university system to the high-speed trains.  I view myself not as an American teaching in China, but rather as a global educator, and I was happy to share stories with the Ethiopian students about the opportunities which exist not only in places like Shenzhen, but in fact anywhere they chose to set their ambitions towards.  Ethiopia, more than anywhere, is full of hope, and this communal strength is what continues to sustain their dreams.

To be able to work in these juxtaposed educational environments has underscored the notion that the world is our classroom, and that learning is indeed lifelong and worldwide.  I am grateful for these opportunities and hope that I can in turn share an extended worldview with my students on whichever continent I may be teaching.

Matthew Jellick is a Senior Lecturer in the Center for Language Education at Southern University of Science and Technology.

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Ethiopian Herald Article: “Upon Return To Ethiopia”

Splintered memories spiraling back into my consciousness as I take a taxi from Bole to Shiromeda; uneven roads lined by development and paved by history.  Having spent 2014 – 2016 in Ethiopia on a Teaching Fellowship, my return to “The Land of Origins”, two years later, brought with it anxious anticipation juxtaposed with hopeful ambition.  The harrowing intersection at Meskel Square acting as symbolism for the crossroads where education and culture meet here Addis Ababa.

Beyond any other place which I have been, Ethiopia has taught me more about myself both as an individual and a teacher.  The lessons I gave at different universities across the country paled in comparison to the education I received from the kind people here, all of whom were careful to shed light, but not to master.  “You” they said, “have the clock, but we have the time.”  My past two years living and teaching in China have underscored the meaning of this statement, a testament to the patience and fortitude of the Ethiopian people, a country with a 13-month calendar, and millions of years of history.

The landscape of Ethiopian education continues to grow at the same pace of business development.  Students understanding the value of not only a degree, but the underlying importance of constructive dialogue and critical thinking.  With a personal pedagogical approach rooted in the belief that the teacher should be a facilitator of discussion rather than a lecturer, I have seen firsthand the benefits of cross-cultural exchange within the classroom, and the respect it brings to both sides of the conversation.  Students I taught at Ambo University in 2014 still update me on their personal and professional lives, proud of who they have become both inside as well as outside the classroom.  For me, this speaks to the power of global education more so than a high GPA or standardized test scores.

The rich culture which infuses every aspect of Ethiopian life resonates far beyond campus, instilling a sense of pride which defines these people and this country.  Some of my best memories include the food and music that dominate the social scene here, and which as a cultural ambassador, I have made efforts to share with others, whether back home in California, or in China, where I currently live.  It is these pooled influences which make the world more understanding, shedding isolation and embracing common interests.

The experiences during my return trip have helped to dismiss any negative connotations associated with developing infrastructure and instead, replaced them with a belief in the power of persistence.  I am thankful for the opportunities Ethiopia presented me during my two years living and teaching here, and going forward, this week, with a renewed hope for a country and people whom have shared so much with me, and for whom I am eternally grateful.

Matthew Jellick was an English Language Fellow, teaching on behalf of the US Embassy, at both Ambo University and Dire Dawa University.

Poem: “Pacific Journey”

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Constrained between two Full Moons,

California glows with its horizon on fire.

From Sunrise to Sunset,

A brief four weeks to quench my heart’s desire.

Transpacific flights to and from paradise

Bring with them hopes and dreams,

While taking back reflections:

A collection of memories.

The blue hues of the ocean

Contrasting with the whites of crashing waves,

The sky above, mirroring my thoughts

On these carefree Summer days.

The Golden State has, is, and will

Forever be my home.

Yet this global educational trek I’m on

Encourages my mind to roam.

Family and Friends coupled with

Tacos and Beer

The Moon meanwhile, playing games,

And by mid-August, has disappeared.

Mexican Cacti and the Californian Poppy

Line the edges of the sand;

Tepid green and bright orange

In this beautiful desert land.

Innate love and lifelong friendships

Dot my days and nights,

My mind body and soul

Not wanting to get on that returning flight.

Yet the Moon, she reappears

Bright as the night I came,

Telling me it’s time to go back now,

California, another time, I can visit again.

 

Education is Lifelong and Worldwide

…an article I wrote for my university’s magazine, “Scientia” :

My educational journey to SUSTech has taken me across the world, from the peaks of JiriSan in South Korea to the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia.  Along the way I have worked and taught with countless interesting people, including Nuns in Nonsan and Diplomats in Addis Ababa, each reflecting upon me the beauty of cultural diversity shared through the common language of learning.

During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to travel, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, to Mexico to do cross-cultural educational research, once in Nogales and once in Oaxaca.  In this land of a thousand stars, I studied migrant education, trying to understand the complexities surrounding the motives why people would leave their homelands in search of a better tomorrow, whether they be for economic, political, or scholastic reasons.  I didn’t know then that I too, through this platform of global education, would follow along a similar path, leaving behind the comforts of California for the experiences which lied beyond that great blue Pacific Ocean.

In 2009 I moved overseas, leaving behind North America for my first stint in Asia, teaching English in South Korea.  The Land of the Morning Calm welcomed me with a kindness I had never experienced before, called a foreigner in name only, while in reality I was treated as one of their own.  The personal and professional relationships I established then I still rely upon now; a testament to the people of Korea and the warmth with which they nurtured me.  It was while in Korea where I learned to understand the intersection of culture and acclimation, going on weekly adventures into the peninsula, trekking up national mountains or enjoying the warm hot springs.  I simultaneously fell in love with the metropolis of Seoul while at the same time found solace in the villages of Chungcheongnam-Do, each offering me a new element of life breathed in with that fiery Soju.  I remained in front of classes delivering lectures, but the truth is that I became a student of Korea, embracing its rich history while simultaneously standing in amazement at its boundless future.  The sleepy suburbs of Orange County or the placated cities like Portland couldn’t compare to the speed which I saw in Korea, a new vision I was witnessing through lenses I had never tried on before, but which I found, fit me perfectly.

One of the interesting things about living overseas is that it goes to redefine your perception of home, able to view it from a different perspective.  It was by providence through which I ended up in Korea; an uneasy sense of restlessness growing inside me while I lived in the United States, which somehow manifested itself through applying to jobs in a country I knew little about.  Yet looking back on that decision, it was perhaps the single most important one of my life, encouraged from a young age by my parents to travel, and still supported by them to continue chasing my dreams, wherever they may lead.  My move to Korea increased my professional development, but perhaps more importantly, it expanded my worldview.

It was during my five years in Korea where I began to earnestly write, sharing my experiences through travel articles and getting more serious academic-based pieces published in local magazines and newspapers, something I continue to do now, nearly a decade later in China.  The words I transcribed seemed to flow effortlessly as they were mere reflections of my thoughts, then as now, positive experiences from these magical places.  On long weekends I would fly to cities such as Cebu, Bali or even Vladivostok, incessant in my desire to see as many countries as possible, finding beauty in the absurd, and satisfaction in the delicious.  The contrasting cultures of Asia mesmerized me, from the clothes to the faiths and from the music to the foods, each one unique in its own individuality, writing their own stories of which I simply played a part.  Yet upon each return flight to Incheon Airport, I never felt any remorse, as I was coming home to a Korea which continued to be new to me, whimsical in its eccentricities and sometimes absurd in its distinctiveness.  It’s what kept me there for five years and why when it came time, it was so difficult to leave.

After enough memories to last a lifetime from my experiences in Asia, I wanted to challenge myself both personally and professionally, looking for a new opportunity which was as unique as I was.  Complacency can subtly disrupt ambition and I wanted to be careful to follow up my growth in Korea with something that tested my resolve as an individual and as a teacher.  Applying to a competitive program, I was accepted as an English Language Fellow, working on behalf of the US Embassy in Ethiopia for a two-year program which placed me at universities across the country, teaching English to students and Methodology and Pedagogy to teachers.  The single greatest “experience” of my life, while at the same time being the most difficult thing I have ever done, those two years in Ethiopia taught me more about myself than I could have ever anticipated.  Yet like the people I met in Korea, the kindness of the Ethiopians knew no bounds, welcoming me into their communities with open arms and warm hearts.

Within an Ethiopian educational context, I quickly discovered that learning outside of the classroom seemed to have a longer lasting impact on the students.  While we met weekly for our prescribed classes, it was our trips to Gender Empowerment Art Exhibitions, Sports through Diplomacy Programs, and Poetry Workshops which meant more to these students, most of whom were the first in their families to receive a tertiary education.  I was the first foreigner they had ever had as a teacher, and I felt that it was my responsibly to not only teach them English but to expand their cultural awareness as well, giving them ownership over their future and options from which to choose their direction.  By all accounts, Ethiopia is a developing nation, and my role there as a Fellow was to instill notions of pride, empowerment and ambition into the minds of the students and teachers I worked with.  These practices in turn taught me not only about the context I was working in, but also the context from which I came.

An advantage to working overseas is that I get to experience opportunities which would be hard to come by if I was teaching in a California school district.  In Ethiopia, these were manifested through outreach I did with local communities, including volunteer teaching at a Mosque school, organizing a $500,000 book donation to my university, and bringing my students to see President Obama speak at the African Union.  While my teaching contract stipulated that I teach 20 hours a week in the classroom, I was able to excel because I quickly learned that true education takes place outside the confines of campus, where reality shows both sides of its nature.   For my students, these opportunities gave them sustainable learning experiences which will last long after I have moved on and provided them with the tools to build a future in which they can continue to help lead their country.

During my two years in Africa, the Asian countries I used to travel to were replaced by trips to Djibouti, Kenya and Burkina Faso, each of which I was able to present at international conferences, highlighting my work in Ethiopia from a socio-linguistic perspective.  Yet it was at the 2016 TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Conference in the United States, presenting on Gender Identity in an Ethiopian Context where my road to SUSTech was paved.  This preeminent conference in our field had attracted the Center for Language Education (CLE), and I decided to sit down for an interview, explaining myself and my viewpoints on teaching.  With a return flight to Africa to finish my Fellowship, a future in Asia was once again dancing around in my head, interested to find out more about not only SUSTech, but Shenzhen.

As part of an Embassy program, two years was the maximum time I could spend in Ethiopia, so I agreed to come to China, excited about a new opportunity in a country I had only visited once on vacation (Beijing, 2010).  I arrived at SUSTech in the Fall of 2016, and in the time since, have once again been welcomed by a student body and administration which wants to learn, while at the same time, is happy to share knowledge.   Teaching both students and staff, I have tried to instill many of the lessons I learned while living in Korea and Ethiopia, from authentic learning in the classroom to extended opportunities outside of campus.  Over the course of nearly two years, I have worked with students in the English-Speaking Club and also started a Staff English Book Club, both examples of education which doesn’t have to be from a prescribed format.  Similarly, I have been honored to work on International Student recruitment, a firm believer that multiculturalism in the classroom is a benefit to all; broadening the scope of dialogue which can take place and strengthening the bonds between differing ideas.

I continue to write about my experiences, having numerous articles printed in the local English newspaper, The Shenzhen Daily, highlighting the work I am doing at SUSTech, and even helped one of my Sophomore students get an article published as well.  Traveling remains an important aspect of my time abroad, visiting Malaysia, Cambodia and Singapore since arriving in Shenzhen, cognizant that Asia is multifaceted, with each country a piece of a complex puzzle.  The conversations I have and the lessons I give are a reflection not of me as an American, rather as a global educator, combining my experiences from across the globe and transmitting them through a platform of inclusion, including aspects from China, too.

The direction which SUSTech is on is one of rapid transformation into one of the leading research universities in the world, and I am privileged to be a part of the process.  It is my hope that through my teaching I am able to instill in this community of learners the knowledge necessary for a successful future in which they get to make decisions which will, quite literally, affect the world.  I am grateful to be able to share my story here, for as long as it may seem, is only one small chapter of my life, complex as it is interesting.  The conflux of teaching and travel has given me these opportunities and continued to remind me that Education is Lifelong and Worldwide!

Staff English Coffee Socials: An Authentic Language Platform

One of the goals pertaining to my approach to teaching English is to provide as many authentic opportunities as possible to practice the language.  Traditional classroom lessons are fine, learning the fundamentals which underscore the importance of grammar, syntax and pronunciation, but for the communicative properties of English, it is important to provide everyday settings for students to utilize their knowledge.  To facilitate this, I have begun the Staff English Coffee Social, meeting once a month for not only language practice but to do so while enjoying delicious Ethiopian coffee.

Using the beautifully designed Social Science and Humanities Center on the 2nd flood of the SUSTech Library, I try to provide an arena where colleagues from different departments across the university can meet to network, share ideas, and get to know each other in an informal setting.  Lowering the effective filter is an easy tool to promote oral practice, and through our relaxed setting, ideas such as this are endorsed.  Staff English students from Physics, EEE, and the Library (to name only a few departments) all come for about an hour to meet and talk, perhaps sharing collaborative ideas or perhaps simply making new friends, both of which are underlying reasons why I thought this is a good idea.  Our Coffee Socials foster positive outreach from those who attend, aiming to build cross-departmental relationships for the betterment of the university at large.

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Coffee Social

The lubricant of the discussions is delicious Ethiopian coffee, from the Oromia region, a remembrance of my past teaching experience on the Horn of Africa.  To able to share cultural ties which bind my current set of circumstances in China to those from my time in Ethiopia is something I am grateful for, and which highlights the worldview which has shaped my teaching experiences: Learning is Lifelong and Worldwide!

All are welcomed to join the Staff English Coffee Socials, expending the growing network of English students at SUSTech, working together for our common goals…

The World’s True Global Langauge

With the World Cup taking place, I am reminded of the influence of Football, especially its extension beyond the field, crossing the chalk lines of socio-cultural bounds the way in which no other sport – or language – has the power to do.   From the surfing towns of Mexico to the banks along the Egyptian Nile, and from the soccer-crazed metropolises of Korea to the cafes of Ethiopia, football has stamped my passport in every country I visit, providing deeper insight into a culture than any travel book could ever offer.

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Djibouti

In 1994 I had the opportunity to attend matches in Los Angeles during the World Cup which was being hosted in the United States.  The stadium where I went to see the games was the Rose Bowl, a cacophony of colors and languages crowding the seats, mirroring the multicultural beauty which defines the populace of LA.  It was my first time watching soccer on an international stage, where I was treated to Gabriel Batistuta vs Gheorghe Hagi on the field, while in the stands I saw the true power of Football, and its ability to bridge geographic divides and bring fans from different countries together.

During high school, I remember a family vacation to France, Switzerland and Italy, where I bought some European jerseys: Tottenham from the EPL and Juventus from Serie A, mesmerized by the history of the colors, crests and numbers; souvenirs for an American teenager who had limited overseas exposure to the Beautiful Game.  In Milan, I made my family take me to visit San Siro – the stadium which houses both Intern Milan and AC Milan – even though it was of course closed to the public on a Wednesday morning.  Simply staring at the famous spiral staircases was enough for me, entranced by the mystic which surrounded this place where European Championships were housed and where legends had played.

Years later as a Teaching Fellow in Ethiopia, I was able to partner with Nike Korea to organize a $50,000 donation on behalf of the US Embassy’s Education and Cultural Affairs Office.  We hosted a “Gender Empowerment Through Sports” initiative whereby we held clinics around the country not only giving out donations of cleats and balls but more importantly, pairing it with messages of empowerment for female youth. In Djibouti as well, we used Football as a mechanism for social change, creating opportunity through sport for those who don’t always have economic advantages at their disposal.

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Shenzhen Daily

Soccer, or Football, has been a constant throughout my life, paving the road, regardless of the country I am traveling in.  Stuck in a taxi in the notorious traffic of Phnom Penh, I can talk about Messi’s latest heroics to ease the anxiety between the driver and myself.  Similarly, living for two years in Ethiopia without adequate access to electricity, I would pass the hours playing Soccer with my students, oftentimes with a ball made from yarn and plastic bags.  Yet the differences in our nationalities, cultures, or languages never mattered because of the commonalties found in our love for the sport, something which crosses continents and oceans, arriving this summer in Russia, but forever remaining the World’s Game.

Ethiopia and China: Global Education

I vividly remember the endless blue skies underneath which I sat, surrounded in some settings by rising plateaus upon which to set my gaze, wonder abound by the life I saw around me.  Working as an English Language Fellow, I split my time between the classroom and other contexts, teaching to be sure, but more perhaps more importantly, learning.  Spending two years living on the Horn of Africa in Ethiopia, I was able to gain new perspectives about myself as well as others, an experience I surely will never forget, and the lessons of which I brought with me when I moved continents to come and teach in China.

By some estimates, there are more than one million Chinese in Ethiopia, many of whom are working on various infrastructure projects, from railways to telecommunications.  A global player on the world stage, China has not shuttered from the call of international relations, for as even as early as 2014, when I first arrived in Addis Ababa, I remember conversations which revolved around the Sino-African narrative.  To a large degree, both the United States and China have important partnerships which continue to aid in the development of Ethiopia, with strategic approaches from both ends.  My particular interest is of course education, and that is how I found myself in Africa, to develop sustainable teaching methodologies which could be used in classrooms from high school to the university level.  Similarly, my involvement with tertiary education brought me to Shenzhen, where I am a Senior Lecture at Southern University of Science and Technology.

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Discussion

An office we have on our university campus here, UNESCO International Center for Higher Education Innovation (ICHEI), does global engagement work beyond China, including with numerous countries in Africa, specifically Ethiopia!  From Addis Ababa University to the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, our UNESCO ICHEI office is able to partner with stakeholders whom likewise have a vested interest in continued educational opportunities, working with them on both continents, and in fact, hosting an upcoming seminar on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Application in Higher Education for African Countries.  I was honored to recently have the opportunity to sit down with our campus UNESCO office to share some of my experiences as they pertained to my education in an Ethiopian framework, helping to shed light on differing platforms, including language training and cultural outreach.

I view myself not as an American educator but rather as a global one.  Sure, I incorporate into my curriculum the practices I learned from my university studies in California, but equally, I share teaching methodologies which I practiced in Ethiopia as well.  Both have value and place in any classroom, be it in the US, Africa or Shenzhen and should be acknowledged in all learning arenas.  I am grateful for the personal and professional growth each of these respective places have given me, and to have continued opportunities to share these experiences with others is another piece of the puzzle which makes up the complexities of global education, where learning is lifelong and worldwide…