Djibouti Educational Outreach

For the second year in a row I took the opportunity to travel during “Ethiopian Christmas” which is celebrated the second week in January.  Paring both work and vacation, I made my way to the neighboring country of Djibouti which is only about a 30-minute flight from Dire Dawa (but a $90 Visa On Arrival).  There I spent four full days with the first two immersed in educational outreach in partnership with the Embassy and the second two relaxing pool side overlooking the Gulf of Aden.

As was the case last year, I again was privileged enough to work with the Cultural Attaché in the Public Affairs Office, Joia Starks, who also runs the English Language Programming in Djibouti.  With no English Language Fellow, Fulbright Scholar, or even Peace Corps. Volunteer, the challenge to reach every need throughout the country can be daunting, although Joia and her staff do an incredible job given the circumstances.  Still, it was a welcomed opportunity to assist, if even for a few days, with workshops and meetings both in rural areas and the capitol alike.

On Wednesday we traveled about three hours by Motor Pool to the desert town of Dikhil which is actually on the road back to Ethiopia.  There we were able to meet briefly with Prefect Mohamed Cheiko Hassan (read: The Governor) exchanging pleasantries before heading out to a library to meet with local teachers and students.  With about 10 teachers and 20 students in attendance, I led a short lesson incorporating interactive techniques associated with English language acquisition through a program called “Activate” hoping to promote engaging learning practices as opposed to rote memorization.  Overall it was a success, especially given the outlying location of the project, with both the teachers and students full of an enthusiasm which can hard to come by.

During our trip out to Dikhil, we were joined by Combat Camera(!) who filmed our outing for part of a “Faces of Diplomacy” they are promoting for the new U.S. Diplomacy Center in Washington, DC.  The Star, Joia, was filmed in the field so as to showcase some of the educational and cultural outreach she is doing on behalf of the Embassy in Djibouti, with our lesson at the library acting as a perfect example of the benefits associated with such initiatives.  From my end, I made a cameo appearance (or two), hopefully highlighting the cross-cultural cooperation taking place between the respective countries of Ethiopia and Djibouti.  More than anything though, the film crew aimed to capture the positive environment of the mission, from the diplomatic efforts made to the practical lessons learned.

Dikhil Library

Thursday saw us to meetings with both the public and private educational sectors in the capitol, including an audience with the English Department at the University of Djibouti.  The relationship between the Embassy and the University is one which is constantly evolving, and to be able to meet with 10 members of their staff speaks volumes to the diplomatic efforts of Joia and her team.  They were all engaging and had valid points to make as it pertained to English language learning not only within the confines of the university but also to the extended community of learners which makes up Djibouti.  A Francophone country who holds perhaps the single most important geopolitical location in today’s climate, the country is on a rapid pace of change and these educators understand the importance of English within that algorithm.


University of Djibouti English Department

Given the short distance between Dire Dawa and Djibouti, I have plans for future collaboration there as well as here.  For the upcoming Mid-Year Conference, the new Information Resource Center (IRC) Coordinator, Turki, will be invited to help expand his network as it relates to English Language Programming on the continent.  Similarly, I have plans to return to participate in a Nike Football Project, donating equipment to Djiboutian female youth as a means of empowerment through sports.  My experiences both last year as well as last week have taught me that continued cooperation between these two country’s educational and cultural fronts will be to the benefit of everyone involved, and I for one, am grateful to be a part of that process…

Gulf of Aden



Abdul Kadir Mosque English School

Apart from Dire Dawa University, the only other formalized English school in the city takes place at a local Mosque, Abdul Kadir.  Run by an absolutely amazing International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) Alumni, Imam Mohamed Abdifatah, it hosts about 100 students for daily/weekly classes, ranging from beginner to advanced, all taking place in a school housed on the same compound as the Mosque.  Organized and efficient, the classes duplicate as a community builder as well with local students and teachers pairing to not only learn English to but to likewise foster discussion on municipal issues as they pertain to education and society.  As the only American educator living (semi) permanently in Dire Dawa, I feel that it is my responsibility to assist in any way I can, including donating both time and resources to this incredible venture which is taking place in my adopted community.

English Class

In partnership with Imam Mohamed, I have agreed to volunteer teach on Saturday nights throughout the year, working with the higher-level students on all four skill sets as they pertain to English-language attainment. In addition, I will be donating materials as well, including books, magazines, and media-literacy tools so that the school is able to expand its library; allowing access to a wider array of resources to utilize for educational growth.  From a cost-perspective, it is 80ETB (about $4USD) a month to attend the school, and I am hoping to establish some sort of Scholarship where I can facilitate eight low-income students a month to be able to attend, for they know as much as I do that second (and in many cases third) language acquisition is a gateway to a more promising future.

With Teachers

Of all the individualized teaching opportunities Ethiopia has presented me with, I feel that this one is the best yet, working alongside devoted teachers and in conjunction with motivated students in a setting which mirrors the beautiful complexities which extend beyond any classroom.  The inquisitiveness of the students is palpable and I find myself replying to their questions with a smile on my face, knowing that I am making both an educational as well as cultural difference in their understanding of the world.  Yet the marker of any good teaching experience is what I, the teacher, am able to learn, and I have no doubt that over the course of the upcoming months I will find out firsthand from both these teachers and students alike that we share similar ideas and dreams for the betterment of tomorrow through educational and cultural exchange, teaching and l from one another about the beauty we all possess…

With Students


Video: “My Classroom: Ethiopia”



Recently the digital version of the State Department’s English Teaching Magazine, Forum, came out featuring an article I wrote titled, “My Classroom: Ethiopia”.  While I have shared the article itself before here, today I am happy to show an accompanying video I made which highlights some of the examples mentioned in the article.

The star of the clip is Mr. Dawit Negeri whom I featured in my observations, and who works at Ambo University.  Mr. Negeri is a model teacher who infuses practical teaching methods into his practice, believing that the Affective Filter in his English classrooms should promote cooperative learning as opposed to teacher-based lecturing.  Working with both University as well as High School students in the marginalized rural setting of Ambo, Ethiopia, Mr. Negeri leads a variety of different classes of different skill sets through interactive and engaging activities which promote authentic learning, not simply rote memorization.

Students pairing for dialogue presentations.jpg
Dawit leading Group Work – Student Talk

Recently I had the opportunity to revisit Ambo University (where I taught last year), meeting with Dawit to share with him the completed version of the magazine that has his article inside.  Needless to say, he was thrilled to see his story in print – shared on an international scale – a first for not only him but for Ambo University as a whole.  Not taking the occasion for granted, I conducted some interviews with both Dawit and his students, as well as filmed a short lesson he led within his classroom.  My goal was to share through a visual medium what was transcribed in the article, putting faces and voices to names and ideas.

“English Teaching Forum” Vol. 53, #4

I hope that you are able to not only enjoy the video but the article as well; both of which were linked above (and below).  I will be visiting Ambo University again in February, continuing to follow up with Mr. Negeri to see the progress made from both his end as well as his students’.  To be able to work in conjunction with motivated teachers such as Dawit is a pleasure and I look forward to hopefully meeting a few more who match his caliber this current academic year as I transition from Ambo to Dire Dawa University.  Until then though, please feel free to comment on either platform as it pertains to the words or the video…



Ethiopian International Film Festival

Matthew, Galen and Phil

Last week I had the opportunity to work with two young American Filmmakers who were in Addis as part of the Ethiopian International Film Festival.  Working on behalf of the Public Affairs Section, I welcomed Producer Phil Hessler and Director Galen Knowles who spent the week in Ethiopia conducting workshops, leading discussions and hosting screenings of their film, “Far From Home” which deals with the complexities associated in an East African context through the story of a Ugandan Snowboarder!  They were here supported by a grant from the State Department in partnership with USC as part of the American Film Showcase which builds upon “smart power diplomacy” and the mission of people to people engagement through film.

Part of the aim through our work with PAS at the Embassy was to encourage Ethiopian youth to share their stories through film, promoting conversation outside of the prescribed narratives associated within an Ethiopian (or even East African) framework.  Clearly film (and in particular, Documentaries) is a powerful medium, yet one which has not yet fully been grasped here on the Horn of Africa.  We want to encourage youth to share their stories which in turn helps to bring people of different cultures together through a common interest in cinematography and the power it holds.  Original stories which each of us have are an influential tool to not only share our differences but to celebrate our commonalities.

Addis Ababa University Film School

Over the course of the week, I was able to work with Phil and Galen on two different occasions, once on Monday at the Addis Ababa University Film School and once again on Saturday at the Film Festival itself.  Through each platform we were able to interact with Ethiopian youth who likewise view film as a means of expression, telling their personal stories within the context of the larger realm of their region, their country and their continent.

The AAU Film School is the only one in Ethiopia(!) and is a Graduate-level program as there is no Undergraduate education offered which addresses student interest in movie-making.  Regardless though, there were numerous people in attendance, each with a clear vision and understanding of film and the important role which they play in sharing it with others.  Phil and Galen hosted a screening of their movie before leading a discussion, ranging from the beginning concept to the ongoing funding to the final production.  For those who were able to make it, the day provided insight otherwise unknown, with information directly from two filmmakers who were themselves living the experience in real time, happy to share their knowledge with others.

Oromia Cultural Center Presentation

For Friday’s events we moved to the Oromia Cultural Center where the Festival was being held throughout the week, with other countries screening their works for inclusion as well.  Sitting on a panel with Phil and Galen were respective Ethiopian filmmakers who addressed the issues from different viewpoints as it related to the country and the obstacles incurred within.  Questions and concerns were raised by the audience pertaining to issues associated with the dichotomies between the U.S. and Ethiopia and the variances in realities regarding filmmaking.  The underlying theme however of sharing your story, regardless of the circumstances, remained strong with the panelists and their message of encouragement.

Film, like music, eclipses boundaries which oftentimes language has a difficult time approaching.  It speaks to larger audiences through a wider array of tools, enabling everyone involved a much deeper level of understanding than sight or sound alone can accomplish.  In particular, Documentaries allow for a story-telling technique which gives unlimited credence to the subject while also encouraging knowledge and inspiration for those who are viewing it, recognizing the importance of the story while simultaneously fostering ideas of ownership over one’s own tale.

To play a small part in the Ethiopian International Film Festival was an honor for me, as it provided opportunities to see the power of educational and cultural exchange outside of the classroom, taking place on the larger canvas of society.  It gave me motivation to continue to use film as a means of expression with my students, encouraging them to  share their stories of challenge and success for others to see and hear, gaining strength through sharing and esteem in relating…

“Far From Home” can be rented or downloaded here:

All proceeds will be matched to help support Brolin become the first African Snowboarder to compete in the Winter Olympics!

Nike Ethiopian Women’s Football Project

This past Summer while I was home for break, I had the opportunity to give a presentation on behalf of the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon.  Last year I wrote a proposal to support Gender Empowerment Through Football (Soccer) wanting to show the female youth of Ethiopia that they could find success through various avenues, including sports.  I reached out to two very good friends of mine who work at Nike – Dong Guk at Nike Korea and Jack at Nike America – both of whom not only understand the global sports market, but likewise the reach that can extend from positive initiatives.  Both DG and Jack responded in kind, setting up a meeting to take place at the main campus located in Oregon with other colleagues who likewise found an interest in this project.
              Dong Guk, Matthew and Jack

With Dong Guk flying in from Seoul and myself flying in from Los Angeles, we met Jack who had organized the meeting, including participants from Footwear Development, Global Sales, Community Impact, and Business Planning.  I gave a presentation highlighting the sports initiatives that had been done in Ethiopia already, including a NBA Basketball Clinic, as well as other Football outreach programs in rural areas, each used as a mechanism for positive change outside the classroom that in turn goes to create empowered youth on a local and national scale.  More of a brainstorming session as opposed to a speech though, everyone in attendance discussed possibilities as it related to Ethiopia, including working with The Nike Foundation on an array of projects which would go to support our cause.

Just Do It!
                           Just Did It!

From Nike Korea’s end, Dong Guk returned to Seoul with a plan, implementing an endowment strategy with the Global Football Team there for a donation package of $30,000(!!!) worth of equipment, including balls, cleats, shin guards, socks, and jerseys which would go to support 11 youth teams or about 130 players!  Although this was clearly more than generous, I am still in talks with both DG and his team in Seoul to make this an ongoing practice where we could continue some sort of donation over the course of upcoming years, either in Ethiopia or following myself to new countries wherever this global English teaching path takes me.  With two boxes already arrived in Addis, we are in the process of shipping the rest over, also aiming to include partnerships with our neighbors to the North, Djibouti, for outreach there as well through a local NGO, GirlsRun2.

                    Nike Korea Donation

I am grateful for the generosity of Nike and my dear friends who helped to facilitate, as they too share a vision of empowerment through sports, understanding that learning does not only take place within the classroom, but that it can be found on fields across the world where players themselves are lifelong students.  Through a collaborative effort with our Public Affairs Section at the Embassy in Addis I have no doubt that we will be able to utilize this partnership to the fullest, benefiting countless female youth Football players across the Ethiopian landscape.  When I initially wrote this proposal with the hopes of getting some positive feedback, never in my wildest dreams did I think it would take on a life of its own, creating countless opportunities for everyone involved.  For this, I am grateful, and I look forward to how the Nike Ethiopian Women’s Football Project turns out…

U.S. Embassy Newsletter: “The Cross-Cultural Dynamics of Ethiopia in Los Angeles”

While I was home in California during my Summer Break, I had the opportunity to meet with an Ethiopian who used to work in the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa.  Connected through mutual friends, I was invited over to her house where I met her husband and son, each of us sharing stories of both the U.S. and Ethiopia, enjoying each other’s company over a delicious dinner.

To share this connection once I returned to the Embassy here in Addis, I wrote an article for the bi-weekly newsletter within the Embassy community, The Lion, in which I address the cross-cultural dynamics of these two countries from the perspective of both Americans and Ethiopians.

I hope you can enjoy the following words as they pertain to my experiences sharing a little bit of Ethiopia in California during my recent Summer Vacation…

“The Cross-Cultural Dynamics of Ethiopia in the United States”

True realization of culture stretches across oceans, not left in one land to be silenced in another.  As a university teacher in Ethiopia, I share with students not only my experiences from teaching in the U.S., but similarly, those educational encounters which have shaped me from Europe to Asia, the individual pieces making up the collective knowledge.  For the Ethiopian Diaspora living in the States, they bring with them both a shared and individual history of their homeland, expressed through different avenues within the enclaves of Washington, D.C., Minnesota, and Los Angeles.

During my recent Summer vacation, I was able to meet with a former Public Affairs employee from the Embassy who now lives with her family in Southern California. Yeru is an educated and cultured individual who speaks highly of both her respective homes, from Addis to L.A., cognizant of the differences but understanding of the similarities.  With a husband and son living with her in California and a daughter who still lives in Ethiopia, it was a pleasure to share stories from both countries, highlighting the cross-cultural commonalities which make up this dynamic global relationship.

The Lion Newsletter
                The Lion Newsletter

On my own accord though, I took the opportunity one day to visit Little Ethiopia, a city block in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles which is more akin to Bole than to Beverly Hills.  With cafes and shops next to restaurants and galleries, there is Amharic which lines the street, interrupted only by banners which espouse the cultural virtues to those who speak English.  I stopped for a customary cup of Buna as well as taking some time to explore an art gallery.  Speaking of the peculiarities of Arat Kilo while only a few miles away from Hollywood Boulevard was a bit surreal, yet the locals I visited with have respect for both entities, honored to be from Ethiopia but happy to call L.A. home.

Yeru’s husband and son have learned to combine one love which both countries respect, beer, starting an Ethiopian Craft Brewery, “Addis Brew”, in Southern California.  With more Hops than its East African counterpart, St. George, yet still remaining true to the roots of Habisha taste, it was a treat to sample, reminding me of highlands of Ambo while at the same time able to visualize the setting Sun over the Pacific.  Food and drink are perhaps the perfect representation of culture, and both Ethiopian and American flavors are captured in each bottle, a testament to the historic and global significance which can be shared around a table irrespective of location. 


On the other end side of the world is the daughter, Christine, who chooses to support Ethiopia through her own personal involvement.  Heavily immersed in both the art and poetry scene in Addis, she has ambitions to help the cultural aspects of visual representation and spoken word be paths of change within an East African context.  Understanding the global power of art, she helps to foster ideas through innovative methods, moving past parameters set by others, instead focusing on empowerment through words.

Within Los Angeles, Little Ethiopia is a single vibrant ingredient that adds to the multicultural flavors which make up the city.  A place which fosters constructive discourse between people with vested interests in the direction of both Ethiopia and the U.S., it is a critical space which increases, never subtracting, from the metropolis in which it is situated.  Personally, to be able to have a catalogue of experiences which adds context to cross-cultural understanding, I was grateful for the opportunity to see a little bit of Ethiopia in my hometown, and in turn, honored to be able to share my own culture through education back here in Addis…

English Language Programs and USC Rossier School of Education

About a week into my return to The Continent, I couldn’t think of a better segue between the two global realms which make up my current set of circumstances than to combine my educational experiences from back home in California with those I am practicing here in Ethiopia.  Working in conjunction with my Master’s Degree Program from the USC Rossier School of Education and my current position as a Fellow within the State Department’s English Language Programs, I was invited to participate in an online Webinar where I spoke to the power of each and how my education coupled with experience has provided unparalleled opportunities both as a student and as a teacher.

A colleague of mine from the EL Program side, Danielle Yates, organized the online meeting with the assistance of a Professor of mine from USC, Dr. Emmy Min, hosting about 15 current M.A. TESOL students for an hour-long session about the relationship between English language teaching and the employment prospects abroad.  For my part, I was able to speak at length about my experiences over the course of the past (as well as upcoming) year living and teaching in Ethiopia and how my education at USC prepared me both academically and culturally for this placement; one which undoubtedly has the most difficult of challenges but at the same time, elevated peaks which allow for viewing the most beautiful of Sunsets.

                  ELP/USC Flyer

The success I have found teaching abroad are a testament to the rigorous classes which I took as a student at USC and the continuous support I receive from those involved with the English Language Program.  To be able to share those stories with current M.A. students is a wonderful opportunity, and something which I admittedly would have only dreamed of while I was enrolled in the TESOL Program myself.  Yet from those days in Korea to these days now in Ethiopia, the path of global education has taken me to places which I only read about in books or heard about in song, only now understanding the tears of defeat and the echoes of victory of which are spoken. Life here in Africa is by far the most difficult undertaking I have ever done, yet I remain confident in my educational and experiential background, formed through the combination of the University of Southern California and the English Language Fellowship.  And while the journey is far from over, with many more paths and unforeseen bends in the road, I am excited as to where it leads and grateful for the continuous support of those I meet along the way…