Jimalee Sowell, a doctoral candidate in Composition and Applied Linguistics at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is an Alumni Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State English Language Program. As an English Language Fellow in the Ivory Coast, 2016-2017, Sowell led a wide range of English language programming events and activities at the American Corner in Abidjan. “By embracing new challenges during my fellowship, I learned a lot about what I can do and how to make things work even at times when they might have seemed very difficult, or even impossible.”
At her host institution, the American Corner, Sowell’s primary projects included facilitating teacher training workshops, conversations clubs, MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) Camps, and creating and hosting various other programs, such as spelling bees and singing competitions. For her secondary projects, she tutored students on academic writing skills through EducationUSA and led storytime for kids in the American Library at the U.S. Embassy. “I enjoyed the flexibility and leadership I was given in creating new English language programs and events,” Sowell reflects. “As I started to coordinate more events, I could see that each one would bring in a diversity of new participants. This inspired me to be creative with the topics and activities we could provide, in an effort to continue to reach new people. For example, based on the enthusiastic response to practicing English through songs, I launched the American Corner Idol singing competition, which proved to be a rousing crowd-pleaser! Our participants wowed us with their musical chops.”
Sowell’s work during her fellowship cemented her career interests in teaching writing in ESL/EFL contexts. “As a Fellow I was often asked to give teacher trainings on teaching writing,” she explains. “I realized that in order for me to give my colleagues relevant and effective techniques, it was essential for me to know how they were currently teaching writing in their classes, as well as what kinds of challenges they were facing.” This spurred Sowell to do a great deal of research and conduct many classroom observations, which in turn led her to publish a few articles s, including Using Models in the Second-Language Writing Classroom and Beyond the Plagiarism Checker: Helping Nonnative English Speakers (NNESs) Avoid Plagiarism in English Teaching Forum. Sowell states, “The impassioned dialogues and debates I was having with my Ivorian colleagues during this process ultimately came to shape my PhD dissertation topic, which relates to teaching writing in large, multi-level EFL contexts.
Like many Fellows, Sowell experienced fresh challenges during her fellowship. “I had a lot of tasks and projects that were entirely new to me,” Sowell explains. “Initially, this was quite daunting, but once I learned how to embrace these new challenges I learned a lot about what I can do and how to make things work even at times when they might have seemed very difficult, or even impossible.”
Living in Abidjan, Sowell grew quite fond of her neighborhood’s unique ambience, which included friendly crowds, singing and goats! “My apartment was next to a church, and the area was a very lively community center with crowds of well-dressed people gathering and chatting outside morning, noon, and night. I would often hear their lovely gospel singing from my windows,” Sowell states. She also enjoyed seeing her favorite goat each day on her walk to work, a stylish creature with a perfect two-tone color palette of dark brown and off-white.
Sowell expressed gratitude for her time living and working in the Ivory Coast. “I still have contact with many of the people I met during my fellowship, both former colleagues and other exchange program participants, as well as friends that I met outside of teaching. I’m very grateful for my time as a Fellow and for the wonderful glimpse I had into the culture of the Ivory Coast. In fact, the only bad part of my fellowship was that it ended.”
Jimalee Sowell was an English Language Fellow in Bangladesh, 2012-2014; in the Ivory Coast, 2016-2017; and an English Language Specialist in Vietnam, 2018. She is a PhD candidate in Composition and Applied Linguistics at Indiana University in Pennsylvania. Her research interests include teaching writing, teacher education, and disability studies.