Stephanie Hanson was an English Language Fellow in Indonesia and Ecuador. Her time as a Fellow helped shape her into who she is today, both professionally and personally. In Indonesia, Hanson’s primary project was teaching English as a Foreign Language courses to university students majoring in English. While in Ecuador, she focused on leading teacher training classes and workshops for pre-service and in-service English teachers.
In both Indonesia and Ecuador, Hanson integrated communicative teaching methods and student-centered methodology into her courses and workshops. Her fellowship in Ecuador culminated in a three-day training of trainers event. Throughout her time in Ecuador, Hanson had the opportunity to travel to meet and work with English teachers from many different regions. As Hanson facilitated teacher training workshops across the country, she took note of teachers who distinguished themselves as regional leaders. “Every workshop I gave or session I gave, there would always be one or two teachers that stood out,” Hanson said. For the training of trainers event, she invited 22 of these top teachers to encourage them to share their work with the larger TESOL community in Ecuador. Each teacher in attendance had the opportunity to lead a session, attend sessions, give feedback on other teachers’ work, and connect with other leaders in the field. This event had lasting impact on both Hanson and this group of teacher trainers.
One of Hanson’s favorite aspects of being an English Language Fellow was that she had the freedom to shape her projects to fit her own areas of expertise as well as the needs of her host institutions and communities. The fellowships “struck a really good balance of giving me support, but also autonomy,” said Hanson. “There was also a lot of variety in the work. I really liked that there was a general project or goal, but I could make it happen in a way that I felt that I could really play to my strengths.” The flexibility of the projects allowed Hanson to build upon as well as expand her areas of professional strength.
There were challenges that came along with living and teaching abroad in new environments as well. Hanson learned to accept a higher degree of ambiguity in her daily life as she navigated through new languages and cultures. Although Hanson had studied Indonesian and Spanish before her fellowship and was conversational in both languages, she learned to ask more questions and to be comfortable not always understanding everything that people said or did. Hanson said the experience living and working in an unfamiliar culture has made her a more understanding teacher at the University of Minnesota’s Intensive English Program. “For my community now coming back to the U.S., I think it’s made me definitely more empathetic for my international students,” Hanson stated. “Sometimes when my students are confused about academic policies or expectations in universities in the U.S., I understand their confusion better because I was working in universities in other countries and was confused by their policies.”
While working with new languages and cultures while living abroad presented challenges for Hanson, and it also led to lifelong connections. “My language skills really improved, I made a lot of friends from different cultures, I learned a lot about Islam,” said Hanson. In addition, living and working in Ecuador also fueled what grew into one of Hanson’s greatest passions: salsa dancing. “It was great for my language, it was great for my health, it was great for my social life. I learned a lot more about the culture,” said Hanson. When she moved back to the U.S. and to a new city and position, salsa dancing was again the connection that led her to make new friends in a new community.
Today, as a Teaching Specialist at the University of Minnesota’s Intensive English Program, Hanson continues to expand upon the professional experiences she had as a Fellow. She teaches at the Intensive English Program and the English for Academic Purposes Program and draws from her experiences as a Fellow regularly. Hanson’s advice for someone considering the program: apply. “I have really great things to say about the program because I had a great experience, so much so, that I came back and did it a second time. … I loved it.” From Indonesia, to Ecuador, to Minnesota, Hanson’s fellowships have had lasting impact on her home and host communities.