The rich culture of Ethiopia is not relegated to the confines of East Africa alone, with countless Diaspora living across the world, adding both success and knowledge to the global communities they call home. Included among these is “Little Ethiopia” located in Los Angeles, California, a vibrant neighborhood that adds to the limitless multiculturalism which helps to define the United States. The second largest Ethiopian community in the U.S. behind only Washington, DC, Little Ethiopia fosters the positive exchange of ideas coupled with constructive discourse between people with vested interest in the direction of their homeland.
A city block which is lined on both sides by restaurants, cafes, and cultural shops, the street remains vibrant with locals and visitors alike, teaching and learning like any sustainable practice should, with enlightenment through knowledge about both countries and the ties that bind them so closely together. Little Ethiopia is not an island surrounded by a vast sea, but rather one of a number of cultural enclaves within California including Korea Town, Little Bangladesh and others, all of which play a part in the global community which makes up the country’s most populous state.
As an educator living and teaching in both Ambo and Dire Dawa, the visit for me was a means of celebrating my understanding of Ethiopia within the context of a city where I grew up. A constant reminder that the world is a classroom where knowledge is obtained well outside the realm of any campus, the cultural exchanges between partnering countries can only gain in strength through these continued learning opportunities.
Matthew Jellick is an English Language Fellow who will be teaching at Dire Dawa University during the upcoming academic year…
Dawit Negeri has been teaching in the English Department at Ambo University for the past five years. With a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s Degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Mr. Negeri is familiar with the subject, using his knowledge to share with students the importance of acquiring this global language.
With about 30 hours of actual classroom time per week, Mr. Negeri divides his attention between three separate sets of learners. The first is non–English majors who are required to take “Common Course” English classes, as English is the medium of instruction in the country’s higher-education system. For this group, Mr. Negeri teaches Basic Writing Skills, a class that all undergraduate students must take, regardless of their majors and English ability.
Mr. Negeri also teaches in the U.S. Department of State’s English Access Micro-Scholarship Program, working with local high school students on Saturday mornings through innovative and engaging teaching practices. Begun at Ambo University this year through a partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, the Access Program is a practice in sustainable education designed to make students entering the tertiary system more comfortable with English and more skilled at using it.
But Mr. Negeri’s main teaching focus is on the university classes of English Majors he instructs in the skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Of his overall teaching workload, he said, “It is a lot of different approaches to the same topic, but I enjoy the variation it provides me with as a teacher.”
It was during his younger years that Mr. Negeri knew he wanted to be an English teacher. Encounters with missionaries in his Western Ethiopian hometown of Gimbi—where he met his wife, now an English teacher in an Ambo high school—along with a strong desire to help others, brought him to this early conclusion. Whenever he was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Mr. Negeri never hesitated with his answer. Now, years later, he says, “When I graduated with my Master’s Degree, I remember calling up my elementary school teacher and telling him that I was now an English instructor at Ambo University. He said he couldn’t believe it, but of course was proud of me.”
In Ethiopia, students do not choose the major they study or the university they attend because a government directive fills the needs of development through individualized placements into particular tracks. For motivated teachers such as Mr. Negeri, this is viewed as an opportunity, not as a limitation. During his time at Ambo University, he has taught a variety of classes, from Advanced Speech to Basic Writing, and from Comprehensive Reading to Introductory Listening. But a common theme that permeates the disciplines he teaches is his dedication to both the students and the materials, as he makes every effort to correlate the two through progressive pedagogy and modern methodology.
Located in the heart of the Ambo University campus is Classroom #41, where each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday Mr. Negeri and his English-major students meet for a two-hour session. The room comfortably holds about 30 students but his class is crowded with the 41 on the roster. On most days the room is hot, with windows that open but unfortunately face towards laundry and cooking facilities, which emit steam that seemingly affects all five senses. At the front of the classroom, however, is Mr. Negeri, eager for the day’s lesson. He brings a variety of his own materials to share with students, although the classroom is equipped with only a dry-erase marker and a whiteboard.
The opportunity to teach a variety of classes allows Mr. Negeri to experiment in one while refining in another. For example, he likes to practice with idioms, which he uses to get students to think as they enter early for their classes. He writes an idiom on the board and has students come up with possible meanings as they settle in for the day’s lesson. For the English majors he teaches, he expands upon this practice, asking students to use the idiom themselves either in speech or in writing, incorporating it into their exercises and making it their own. He said, “To college students, outright games may seem a bit elementary, but if you can make something fun without the label of a ‘game,’ then it goes to liven up the class a bit.” Mr. Negeri fully understands the effect of fun and engaging activities in a class that many students did not willingly choose to enroll in, as well as one with limited resources and support. Simple things like creating enjoyable lessons about idioms go a long way in a classroom that has no books, computers, or connectivity.
Electricity is unreliable in Ambo, so generators at the university are running most of the time during the day. This does not directly affect the light in a classroom, which has an entire wall of windows. But providing materials for the students can be difficult; rarely are copies handed out, and the use of computers is virtually nonexistent. Explaining how he copes, Mr. Negeri said, “It was the same case when I was a student, so I am accustomed to what many Westerners would view as limitations, having to constantly figure out work-around solutions to keep my students engaged while following the prescribed curriculum.” Mr. Negeri uses other techniques such as varying the seating arrangements and using group-pairing to incorporate constructive teaching practices, having the students take charge of their learning environment and not fall victim to the limited infrastructure.
Within the English Department as a whole, there are many fewer women than men: only two instructors out of 40 are female, and there are many more male students than female students. Taking these numbers into account, Mr. Negeri often arranges his classes in groups, with at least one female student in each group. Eight women in a class of 41 would suggest an imbalance in participation, but through the group arrangement, Mr. Negeri has found that the female student in each group frequently speaks more than her male counterparts.
Mr. Negeri described a recent lesson he taught in which a foundation of introductions gradually elevated to simple conversation. Role-playing partners (one male and one female) first practiced casual greetings with one another in front of the class—for example, strangers passing on the street or long-lost friends reuniting. As the class progressed, the groups turned from two members to four, with expanded dialogue between participants—two couples on a date or family members sharing a walk. Mr. Negeri said that “having the students speak in front of their peers creates authentic learning practices so that others can hear the level of their classmates, not simply comparing themselves with my ability which may be viewed as much stronger.” This practice also doubles as a public speaking opportunity, as most of the speaking in typical classes in Ethiopia is limited to teacher-student/question-answer dialogue that does not truly foster sustainable language development
Because Mr. Negeri teaches such a variety of classes, he rarely gets the chance to teach students in consecutive years and therefore is not able to observe their growth in English. Within the rural landscape of Ambo, there is little practical use for English outside the classroom, making English classes that much more valuable for students’ language development. Mr. Negeri said, “I wish I could see the progression which takes place, but for my scheduling, it is difficult to see my former students after I have taught them.” With a tight-knit group of teachers in the department who can be viewed more as friends than as colleagues, he is able to get sporadic updates on former students. But he still wishes he could reunite with them in an academic setting, able to capitalize on their language development, which he helped to strengthen.
The teaching and learning environment within Ethiopia, and especially at Ambo University, can be described as challenging. The country is in a developmental phase that has seen the number of universities jump from three to 33 in a ten-year span. Yet instructors such as Mr. Negeri are moving education in a positive direction. While the infrastructure may be lacking in some areas, motivated teachers—including Mr. Negeri—are using the tools they learned in similar settings years ago to process solutions and not dwell on adversities.
Asked about his future plans, Mr. Negeri sticks to this optimistic narrative, still following that vision from the time when he was a fourth-grader hoping to achieve that which he now practices. And his dream endures. He said, “I hope to continue my own education and obtain a PhD so that I will be able to help my country through teaching, knowing that a sustainable future lies in the education of my people.”
This article was written by Matthew Jellick, an English Language Fellow teaching in Ethiopia. He completed his first year at Ambo University and has returned to Ethiopia for a second year, at Dire Dawa University. You can follow his path @MJellick.
Since graduating from The University of Southern California (USC) with a Master’s Degree in Teaching (TESOL) in 2012, I have remained active within their educational community including partnerships from Korea to California to Ethiopia. Since I first started classes in the Fall of 2011 though my time working in an East African context, USC has played a significant role in how I view education, and in turn, how I practice that craft with my students.
Home for the Summer on a short break, last week I was asked to participate on two separate occasions for incoming M.A. students, with one platform being online and the other in-person. Honored to be a part of each respective panel, I made arrangements, listing the opportunities I have been provided both as a student and as a teacher.
The first session was held via a dynamic online Adobe platform for prospective Master’s candidates who are interested in TESOL and the worldwide implications of this global field. Speaking from the perspective as both a former student and current teacher, I was able to share my experiences inside as well as outside of the classroom, highlighting the educational path which has somehow led from USC to Ethiopia. I have participated in numerous similar platforms before, even while I was living and teaching in Korea, yet now the stories seem to be even more unbelievable with respect to power of teaching, and how it truly goes to have such an impact on every student I meet irrespective of location or means.
Two days later I was invited up to the USC Campus in beautiful South-Central L.A. to again sit on a panel. This time however I was presenting to incoming International M.A. TESOL students who will begin their program soon. Alongside me were the very professors I learned from myself during my classes, and to be seated next to them presenting was a bit of a surreal experience due to the esteemed regard of their company. Faculty Lead Dr. Min, Associate Professor Dr. Crawford, and Associate Professor Dr. Anya are all testaments to the unparalleled educators involved with the TESOL Program at USC! Their work not only on campus but the reach it has to the furthest corners of a map speaks to the vested interest they take in their positions and the importance students place on learning.
Throughout my work in schools across the globe, I am constantly reminded that The World is My Classroom, and similarly, that Learning is Lifelong and Worldwide! These two motto’s and the value placed on each of them was evident while I was a student learning methodologies, and now as a teacher implementing those same practices. To be able to have a continued relationship with USC and the TESOL Department, and likewise to be able to share my experiences as they pertain to the growth which the program has enabled, is something I am grateful for, and likewise, which I hope to continue to foster no matter where this journey takes me…
Each morning this week before the start of daily meetings for my conference in D.C., I have been riding a bicycle from the Hotel, through Rock Creek Park, along the Potomac, and down to the National Mall. A firm believer that education should extend outside of the classroom, I think this theory likewise applies to my circumstance here in Washington, learning everyday within the various conference halls but also recognizing the importance of this beautiful city which I am able to visit annually.
Leaving with the rising Sun at 6am, I put in my headphones and while most others are still asleep, enter my own personal dreamscape, surrounded by nature and history; beauty and knowledge. As I ride along a silent but swift river, the music acts as a secondary alarm clock, a soundtrack to my mornings which I share with joggers, rowers, and other bikers, each of us valuing this special time of day where we try to find direction, around some corner where it’s been waiting to meet us. The sky turns from a sleepy Grey to an awakened Orange, mirroring the positive attitude change in me as well, grateful for these opportunities.
While riding a bicycle in Ethiopia would be akin to a Death Wish, outside of East Africa, it still remains my singular favorite means of transportation. With extensive experience riding along the West Coast of the United States as well as the entire length of South Korea, I think that a bicycle affords more mobility than either by car or foot. The best way to see a new place, I continuously welcome the chance to ride, floating it seems through both time and space; foot to pedal and wheel to ground.
To arrive at historical monuments in the early morning with the Sun painting them its own special color, I am able to ride around the National Mall, visiting everything from the Korean to Vietnam War Memorials as well as the Lincoln and Washington Monuments too. With occasional trips which deviate to the White House or Capital Steps, it is a great way to start a day, underlying some of the cultural and historical foundations which helped to lay the groundwork of our country. Having visited the respective monuments of various capitals around the globe during my travels, I would be remiss to not the take the time to see Washington’s, a short bicycle ride away from where I spend a week learning how English Language Fellows are Cultural Ambassadors as well.
The fresh morning air combined with the sights which pass my eyes is a great way to start the day, enhancing my love for this city with each passing mile. Unsure of whether these daily rides are a continuation of my dreams from the night before or the start of a new and empowering day, regardless I remain grateful for these opportunities, surrounded by dynamic people, natural beauty, and historical contexts…
The apex of his visit to Kenya and Ethiopia was President Obama’s remarks to the African Union, here in Addis Ababa. Having spent five days on a two-country tour, Mr. Obama was able to address the Continent as a whole on Tuesday, sharing both his hopes and his concerns to a packed audience of 2,500 attendees inside Mandela Hall. As a witness myself, I can attest to both the positive politically and socially charged atmosphere which was felt throughout those in attendance, waiting to hear from the Leader of the Free World what he and his administration view as the paths which have gotten Africa to where it is, along with the direction he hopes it will continue to follow.
Working as the Deputy Director for the White House Press Center, I was not only granted access myself, but likewise was able to invite many of my students from Ambo University, including those in the Women’s English Club as well as the Access Micro-Scholarship Program. Total, we ended up having 104 students, six teachers, and one administrator who made it to the event- the single largest contingent in attendance apart from the Union members themselves! The expressions of the students spoke for themselves; faces filled with joy coupled with wonderment. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I have no doubt that the remembrances from a Tuesday afternoon in late July will continue to resonate for years to come with each of those Ambo students who were lucky enough to be there.
Joining the Press Corps. for the entrance, I too was taken aback by the grandiosity of the African Union, this too being my first time to have the opportunity to visit. Built by the Chinese (who are also in the process of building an adjoining hotel) I have only been able to glimpse from a distance, the buildings which make up the compound. Yet with a police escort and badge clearance, this was obviously a different experience, allowed in rather than directed away. Making my way though the vestibule and lobby, there were homage to past African leaders, many of whom have shaped the development of this great continent.
Leading up to Obama’s speech were some opening remarks by Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Chairperson of the African Union. She spoke of slavery and the subsequent building of America on the backs of free labor for reparation, cognizant that neither continent would be where they find themselves today if not for each other. Likewise she expressed the notion that although Mr. Obama is indeed the President of the United States, Africa too, claims him as their own. Dynamic and certainly speaking to the audience of Africans in attendance, Dr. Zuma was adamant in both her admiration of Obama as well as her foundation in Africa. Partners not opposition; growing and learning together through political, economic, security, and economic progress.
Taking the podium for his nearly one-hour speech, Obama was, of course, met with a raucous applause from many in the audience, including my students who had left Ambo at 6am in the morning for this exact moment. A rather good public speaker, he took control early, speaking in both generalities and specifics about the relations between the U.S. and Africa. Acknowledging the faults associated with our respective early histories, he directed most of his efforts towards the future, knowing that is where the opportunities lie, including the prospects of students, not leaders, understanding the value of youthful energy coupled with developing ideals.
Touching upon issues which Ethiopia has many faults with, including Democracy and Human Rights got the largest applause, with the Prime Minister feigning interest knowing that after Obama leaves, nothing will change. Still though, to introduce those notions to the audience and in turn to the rest of Africa hopefully will go to, at the least, begin a discussion which thus far has been oppressed with imprisonment and death. With the same ruling party here for the past 25 years and with a neighbor in Burundi who will not step down, there were specifics names mentioned, drawing unwanted attention to a few specific countries. Mentioning that the United States is not without its faults, the President reiterated that at least we try, while others simply don’t even bother.
For the members of my Women’s English Club who came, they were treated to highlighted issues dealing with gender equality, something that apart from me, they don’t really hear a lot of within and East African context. Mr. Obama pointed out that,“The single best indicator of whether a nation will succeed is how it treats women…” most likely the first time many of the women in the audience had been aware of this. Imagine having to wait until you were in university to be told that as a female you were equal to men, surrounded in a landscape that adamantly does not value equality amongst gender differences?! This was what I was hoping for with respect to content; words which both directly describe and affect my students, encouraging them through motivation.
Since I wrapped up formal classes at Ambo University, these past few weeks have been an absolute blur, with continuous assignments and deadlines for the POTUS visit. It was an incredible experience to be a part of, dealing with issues and complexities I could never have imagined. Yet after the speech, when my students came up to hug me and express their gratitude for helping to facilitate their attendance, it made everything worth it. If the late nights, the hurried writing, and the augmented scheduling on my behalf were a sacrifice for expanded knowledge, encouraged dreams, and fulfilled desires for my students, then President Obama’s address to the African Union was perhaps the best speech I have ever heard…
The Press Center staff met this morning to review and go over the procedures beginning even prior to Wheels-Down tomorrow. On the lead team are myself, one White House contact, a member from the U.S. Embassy in Rome, and two representatives from the Embassy here. Within the general pool working with us are probably about 20 different local (read: Ethiopian) staff who will assist in a variety of different functions, including many of whom work in the Public Affairs Section, and with whom I am already familiar. Their roles will be as tape couriers, press escorts, and technical support, working in revolving shifts over 24-hour periods for about three days starting tomorrow.
After the morning meetings, I made my way to the Embassy to pick up the Official Invitations for President Obama’s Speech at the African Union. From my end, I have secured places for two different groups: The Ambo University Women’s English Club as well as the Ambo Access Micro-Scholarship Program. From the Women’s Club, there are a total of 10 invitees, while from the Access Program, we are hoping to get 100 students to attend, plus six teachers. Another difference between the two groups is that the women are all living in the capital of Addis for the Summer while all the Access students are still out in Ambo. I have plans to meet the local student tomorrow (Sunday) to deliver the tickets, but am still in the process of arranging transportation for the Ambo students who are about three hours away.
For the speech itself, there will be two sections of attendees: those who will be in Nelson Mandela Hall and those who will have to view it via a parallel transmission in an “overflow” room. This is the first time a sitting United States President has addressed the African Union, so it is understandable that there will be more people than seats, but our friends at the AU are certainly doing everything they can to accommodate everyone as best they can. For the Access Students though, this means that about half will have a “real time” view of the President while half will watch via a live feed. Such is a small price to pay, I imagine, for participation in a historic event.
As part of the Press group, I hope to have credentials which should allow me in via a (somewhat) VIP entrance, seated a bit closer than the average attendee, but still by no means next to Mr. Mugabe or Dr. Zuma. However this may pose a problem with access to my students, all of whom will most likely be seated in the nosebleed seats, but still there nonetheless. The effort I have put into this particular project is for them, so I do everything I can to see it though, hoping to be able to visit with them at some point within the AU Headquarters.
After processing Tuesday’s future plans with regards to the speech, I headed back to the Press Center where I am writing this from. CNN has completed setting up their equipment and the Press Room looks like nothing I have ever seen before anywhere in Ethiopia. There are hundreds of working telephones, computers, televisions, and other electronics which, after having spent the past nine months at Ambo University, look like something from the future 2050. While the Revolution will certainly NOT be televised, the POTUS visit to Ethiopia certainly will be!
This is all a whirlwind experience for me, and this time next week I will be on a flight over the Atlantic via Frankfurt to Los Angeles. Yet the reason I agreed to take this on was because of the lasting memories it will go to create, regardless of how hectic it all seems right now. Sleep is not of the essence, rather production is, and over the course of the next week I aim to take as much of this in as possible. From Obama’s short visit to what at times seemed like an eternity living and teaching in Ethiopia, I am grateful for these opportunities, and am happy to share a snapshot of them with you here…