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…

International TESOL Convention 2016: Proposal Acceptance!

Working in conjunction with my colleagues from Tanzania and the Congo (Democratic Republic), we designed a Colloquium Session titled, “The English Language Club Movement: Transforming Lives Across Africa“, in which we aimed to present on aspects from our three different countries as they apply individually to the work we are doing in our respective locations.  Submitting the Proposal for inclusion at TESOL 2016, we just received word of acceptance, and will be presenting in early April at the International Convention in Baltimore!

Congo and Ethiopia
                   Congo and Ethiopia

Approaching the topic from distinct platforms, we will be looking at the roles of English Clubs as they pertain to issues associated with gender equality, LGBT rights, Refugee programs that promote Democracy, as well as various other youth movements which are sustained by these dynamic marginalized learning opportunities created across Africa.  The functions of these clubs are an integral part of learning and community engagement about issues ranging from English language attainment to conflict resolution, and their significance cannot be overstated.  With the four of us presenting over the course of a two-hour session, we will also have students from our respective countries in attendance as well, offering personal views and experiences on how their lives have truly been transformed.

From my particular end, I will be speaking about the Women’s English Club I began last year in Ethiopia, and will be continuing upon my return next week.  Creating an outlet at my University where female students can address issues regarding the obvious gender inequality taking place not only in education but across the social, professional and political landscape, our collective experiences have been a rewarding challenge while generating empowerment through a number of different means.  Learning in a traditional setting certainly has its advantages, but education which takes place outside the realm of the classroom can oftentimes have a longer-lasting impact.

TESOL 2016: Baltimore
             TESOL 2016: Baltimore

To work with such esteemed colleagues such as my Boss, Scott (Tanzania), Senior Fellow, Bryce (DRC), and Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Kathy, is an honor for me, and something which I know I will learn from for my future endeavors, wherever they may be.  Clearly we are excited about our acceptance but at the same time understand that this opportunity to present is not about us but rather it is about those students we are able to reach, from the Highlands of Ethiopia to the shores of Zanzibar to the Jungles of the Congo; helping to provide others with learning opportunities where indeed, The World is Our Classroom!

TESOL 2016 is the largest International Convention of its type within the field of ESL in which I teach, and something which is an honor to be selected for.  Our particular presentaion will be held on Thursday, April 7th from 3 – 5pm in Room 350 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown (Ethiopia)”: Sunday 9pm ET/PT on CNN

Perhaps nothing describes culture better than food.  We are introduced to our respective diets the world over from the time we are infants, and if there were ever such thing as a “last supper”, undoubtedly it would be based on our cultural preferences (Chicken Enchiladas for me).  Just like language, food influences, opens avenues otherwise unexpected, and furthermore allows insights into who we are and where we come from.

A few months ago I was in the capital, Addis Ababa, for some Embassy meetings when I heard a rumor that CNN was in town as well, on location for the filming of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown”Pictures were popping up on the Interwebs from the famous spice markets of the city, with particular attention paid to Berbere, a key ingredient in Ethiopian cuisine.  But the spice markets here are endless, like the challenges, with seemingly no beginning and no end, proving that the show and it’s star may in fact be in the country, but leaving little hints as to where.

With more important things on my agenda at the time such as educational-related meetings with work and with the Ethiopian Press Agency, I didn’t pay too much heed to the show, figuring that based on past experiences, they were probably in some cave eating newborn Walia while washing it down with some local Tej.  You can imagine my surprise then when on a Sunday afternoon for lunch, I visited my favorite Hamburger joint in the country, only to walk in on a camera crew surrounding a table of three Ethiopians and one Ferengi!

Sishu is more than a “Hamburger Joint” and in fact is actually a model for Ethiopian businesses, with high wages, local ingredients, and overall sustainable practices.  It turns out that Anthony Bourdain was interested in the exercises taking root here, meeting with the owners for a roundtable discussion on the Ethiopian Diaspora, where the idea for the restaurant itself actually came from.  Seated smack-dab in the middle of the venue (which is actually a warehouse), he sat and talked while cameramen worked their angles and producers whispered into their earpieces.  As the mid-day lunch crown ushered itself in, still they discussed and ate, interested in the food yes, but more so in the combining of two cultures which resonate at Sishu.

Sishu Burger
               Sishu Burger

Lunch was burgers with sweet-toasted buns, seasoned organic beef, locally-raised bacon, imported Gouda cheese, and tangy sauces which combine to form what many here call the best in Addis, let alone the country.  Yet Parts Unknown can probably get a burger wherever they go, instead emphasizing the conceptualization of the restaurant as the main focal point, and something that is hoped to be replicated within the emerging market of one of Africa’s fastest growing economies.  Mr. Bourdain’s main interest may be food, but even he understands the collective practices which go into making it available to others.

As I sat around and enjoyed lunch while watching the filming, I approached the producer to see if I could have a word with Anthony after the formalities were done.  I wanted to express my personal food interests to him as an American living in Ethiopia, and how that has gone to shape the way I view the correlation of culture and diet.  Afterwards then I had an audience with him, explaining my situation while both asking and answering questions about my realities as they pertained to food in East Africa.  It was ironic that the discussion was happening at a hamburger restaurant in Addis Ababa, but I think we both understood that there was more to the menu than burgers and fries.

Mr. Bourdain with Local Children
Mr. Bourdain with Local Children

While that was probably the only American meal he had during his trip, I am sure that he took with him lessons learned about cultural practices and how they can go to shape ideas in the most distant of lands.  Here it wasn’t necessarily about the food, but about the notions behind the kitchen which can go to influence others to find better ways of doing things, irrespective of where we may find ourselves on this great big earth of ours…

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (Ethiopia) will air on Sunday, October 18th on CNN!  Check your local listings…

U.S. Embassy Article: “A Little Bit of Ethiopia in Los Angeles”

Art Gallery
                   Art Gallery

“A Little Bit of Ethiopia in Los Angeles”

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.

Coffee Shop
            Coffee Shop

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.

Street Sign
                 Street Sign

Matthew Jellick is an English Language Fellow who will be teaching at Dire Dawa University during the upcoming academic year…