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Alumni Ambassador Andrea Lypka Combined her Teaching and Journalism Backgrounds for her Virtual Educator Project in Guinea-Bissau

When Alumni Ambassador Dr. Andrea Lypka was matched with a Virtual English Language Educator project in Guinea-Bissau in 2022-2023 working with journalists, she was thrilled to have her two passions of teaching and journalism come together in a new context. “This project was a dream come true for me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do before but never had the chance,” Lypka said, adding that she discussed her prior experience as a journalist and a photojournalism instructor in her Virtual Educator application. Lypka’s excitement for this “perfect project,” which was also her first time teaching an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) course, spurred her research and preparation on how to best implement English language learning objectives with the principles of journalism. 

The strong camaraderie and shared sense of journalistic purpose that emerged for Lypka and her participants proved transformative. “My Virtual Educator project provided me with invaluable experiences in building relationships with journalists from diverse backgrounds in Guinea-Bissau, fostering cross-cultural understanding, shaping my teaching methodologies, and strengthening my commitment to promoting professional development opportunities for journalists worldwide,” Lypka said.

Since her project, Lypka has taken on roles as an ESL instructor at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of West Florida, and Hult Business School. Additionally, she served as chair of the Intercultural Interest Section for TESOL International and president Sunshine State TESOL. She now serves as the publications chair of the Florida Educational Research Association. “My time as a Virtual Educator enabled me to take on a more active leadership role in TESOL International and my local TESOL affiliate, a prospect I had previously found intimidating,” Lypka reflected. As an Alumni Ambassador, she has continued her professional development and networking, fostering new collaborations.

Lypka’s participants in her English for Journalism course met for fifteen sessions in three months at the American Corner in Guinea-Bissau (left); one of her participating journalists receiving the Certificate of Completion at the end of the course (right)

As a Virtual Educator in Guinea-Bissau, Lypka led two-hour classes weekly for three months for twenty-seven journalists through the American Corner in Guinea-Bissau. She designed and delivered professional development for the journalists by creating accessible learning materials, assessing local news reports, providing English language instruction, and collaborating with her students on videos documenting their work. With discussion topics focused on journalism ethics, media bias, fact-checking, and researching stories, the overarching goal of the project was to elevate the journalists’ reporting standards and expand their social media reach. “It was enlightening to engage with fellow journalists and learn from their unique experiences reporting on different industries,” Lypka said. “Every weekend training we had was a pleasure and brought out more energy and passion in me.” 

Key to the project’s success, Lypka facilitated interactions with guest speakers from prominent media outlets worldwide. These guest speakers included reporters, editors, and video journalists from the Tampa Bay Times, Reporters Without Borders, the Poynter Institute, Global Press Journal, the International Journalists’​ Network, Romanian National Television, The Echo Newspaper, WUSF Public Media, the Global Investigative Journalism Network, and more. When reaching out to guest speakers who could provide the most value based on her students’ needs and interests, Lypka shared her students’ introduction video to demonstrate their high level of commitment and skill in their reporting. “I loved being able to connect my students with professional journalists and news outlets as resources,” Lypka said. “We all learned a lot from the discussions that followed.” 

Their work together culminated in a multimedia project in which Lypka’s students researched, wrote, and shared stories relevant to an international English-speaking audience. Through her students’ news stories and presentations, Lypka both witnessed the professional growth of her students and gained insights into the rich cultural tapestry of Guinea-Bissau. Highlights included learning about the Bijagós Archipelago, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, renowned for its unique biodiversity and traditional Bijagó culture, and traditional dance and music styles such as gumbe, kussundé, and djambadon. “I’m very grateful for all of the journalists’ positivity and professionalism, and for challenging me to learn and grow along the way,” Lypka said. “I’m so proud of them for completing our training, and I can’t wait to see what they will accomplish in the field!”

Lypka enjoys staying in touch with the journalists from her project, several of whom joined her TESOL Intercultural Communication Interest Section class for a virtual Winter Solstice Celebration, where they shared stories, poems, and songs about winter celebrations. She collaborated with several more of the journalists for an interview with a Portuguese language channel for a grant-writing project.

At the 2023 TESOL International Convention and Language Expo in Portland, Oregon, Lypka collaborated with five colleagues on the presentation ‘Open Windows to the World: Developing Intercultural Understanding Through Reading.’

Following her project, Lypka has been actively involved in TESOL conferences throughout the U.S. At the 2023 TESOL International Convention and Language Expo in Portland, Oregon, Lypka collaborated with five colleagues on the presentation ‘Open Windows to the World: Developing Intercultural Understanding Through Reading.’ “This session was impactful because the attendees also shared their experiences, as well as methods and tools for teachers to implement in their classrooms to foster appreciation for diverse peoples, languages, and cultures,” Lypka said. At the 2024 TESOL Convention in Tampa, Florida, Lypka presented on her experience as a Virtual Educator in a session titled ‘Creating Cultural Connections in the Virtual Classroom.’ “It was great working with several other Virtual Educators in this session and exchanging our experiences, which were each so different that we were able to learn a lot from one another,” Lypka said.

At the 2024 TESOL International Convention and Language Expo in Tampa, Florida, Lypka presented her experience as a Virtual English Language Educator in a session titled ‘Creating Cultural Connections in the Virtual Classroom.’

A former president of Sunshine State TESOL, Lypka has hosted webinars for regional teachers in the organization, sharing her Virtual Educator experiences with colleagues interested in new opportunities. Through hosting another series of webinars about teaching English in Ukraine, Lypka has developed a related book project. For this project, she invited ESL teachers including English Language Programs alumni to submit contributions, and then mentored them on writing and publishing their research and reflections. Her book, Voices of Courage and Vulnerability: Stories about Teaching English in a Society at War,’ co-edited with Roxanna Senyshyn, will be published this year. The book was a “collaborative passion project” for Lypka, who is originally from Romania and has family ties in Ukraine. “Altogether, these new roles and projects have developed my confidence to be an active participant in the global English language teaching community of practice,” Lypka said.

Lypka (second from right) with her cohort of 2023-2024 English Language Programs Alumni Ambassadors at the TESOL International Convention in Tampa, Florida, where they received an award for their outstanding work as Alumni Ambassadors from Susan T. Bell (far right), Director of the Office of English Language Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the U.S. Department of State

In her current roles as an ESL instructor and teacher trainer, Lypka has continued her work in research and curriculum development for ESP courses and journalism training. She has also been utilizing her expertise as a social media analyst to incorporate innovative technology-enhanced learning strategies into her teaching practices.

As an Alumni Ambassador, Lypka thrives on cultivating rapport with her cohort as they work together promoting international collaboration and professional development opportunities for English language educators. “There’s been so much support from this alumni community. We’re always bouncing ideas off each other and looking for new ways to collaborate,” Lypka said. “I’m excited about what’s yet to come.”

Stay tuned for our next featured Alumni Ambassador story with Summer Peixoto.

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This is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Georgetown University, Center for Intercultural Education and Development.

All decisions related to participant terms (including candidate review, selection, funding, suspension, revocation, and termination) and all criteria related thereto are made and established by the U.S. Department of State.