Crystal Bock Thiessen’s fellowship in Lugansk, Ukraine helped expand her global perspective as an English teacher and, more broadly, as a person. Crystal was an English Language Fellow from 2011-2012 at Volodymyr Dahl East Ukrainian National University.
At the university in Lugansk, Crystal taught English Conversation and American Culture courses to undergraduate and graduate students of Tourism and Management Departments. In addition to classroom teaching, she conducted seminars on American culture and language for young faculty members of the university. A highlight of her fellowship was setting up an English library with over four hundred English books and materials. “Seeing the look of joy on my colleagues’ faces upon its completion is something I’ll never forget,” Crystal said.
During Crystal’s fellowship, professional opportunities abounded. Her very first solo presentation experience was at TESOL-Ukraine, and since then, Crystal has presented at professional conferences many times. From her fellowship Crystal also gained invaluable teacher training experience, which she had not had the chance to do in the United States.
Crystal also worked with rural high school students through the English Access Microscholarship Program, a U.S. Department of State-funded program that provides two years of English schooling for economically disadvantaged youth. One of Crystal’s most unforgettable memories was accompanying the Access students on a trip to Crimea for summer camp, where the students saw the sea for the very first time.
Beyond professional growth, Crystal values the cultural immersion of her fellowship and everything she was able to learn about Ukraine and its unique customs. “Learning from people who actually lived through Soviet times and who are able to compare it to our modern days gave me perspectives I wouldn’t have otherwise. I now have a strong connection with not only Ukraine, but with its people and even the language. Now it feels like a second home to me. Most of all, serving as a Fellow has helped me shatter many of my preconceived notions and stereotypes, which is always an important part of personal change and growth,” she said.
Teaching as a Fellow requires flexibility, and living in a new country presents unique challenges. For Crystal, these challenges were not knowing the languages spoken in Ukraine and creating friendships in a new place. “To overcome both of these challenges, I found a couple of tutors to help me practice Russian, and I also started frequenting the English Club at the American Corner in the public library. There, I met many local Ukrainians studying English and Peace Corps volunteers with whom I made great friendships and lasting memories. If you’re flexible and adaptable, two very important requirements for this job, almost any challenge can be overcome, often enhancing the fellowship!”
Crystal’s fellowship was a very unique opportunity to gain both personal and professional experience while living abroad. “The connections I’ve made personally with staff and alumni of English Language Programs have exponentially expanded my professional circle,” Crystal said. The support Crystal received from Georgetown University, which administers the Fellow Program, the U.S. Department of State, and her host institution gave her the confidence, flexibility, and resources to pursue exciting ideas and projects, such as opening the library and working with the Access camp.
That confidence and her experiences as a Fellow have served her well post-fellowship. “This fellowship was a jumping point for me career-wise on so many levels. After returning to the States, I almost immediately was hired on at the University of Nebraska,” she said. Crystal currently works as an instructor in the Programs in English as a Second Language at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln teaching credit and IEP courses for international students.