When Alumni Ambassador Farrah Littlepage attended a presentation by English Language Programs at the TESOL International conference in New Orleans in 2011, she saw an unprecedented vision of her potential future. “I left that session with stars in my eyes,” Littlepage recalled. “I wanted to travel to another part of the world, go on adventures, and have a positive impact. However, it was difficult for me to imagine myself doing this since I was a single mother, and living abroad for an entire year or two wasn’t an opportunity that many of us who grew up with limited means were ever able to experience.” Over the next several years, Littlepage was steadfast in her commitment to the field of TESOL, gaining invaluable experience as an educator in her home state of Missouri, and ultimately applying to become an English Language Fellow.
As a Fellow in Laos, 2018-2020, Littlepage’s experience proved to be as rewarding and transformative as she had dreamed it would be, one chock-full of professional breakthroughs, cultural festivals, and extensive travel to temples and World Heritage Sites. Now, as an Alumni Ambassador, she is sharing those experiences with other dedicated educators, showing them some of the exciting options they have. “I hope that I can inspire talented teachers to take a leap and believe in this, so that they can have a life-changing experience, too,” Littlepage said.
Through her host institution in Laos, the Ministry of Education and Sports, Littlepage’s primary duty was to provide support to all of the Teacher Training Colleges around the country. In this role, she led teacher training workshops, observed lessons and gave feedback, and wrote and administered an English proficiency test. Her secondary duties included co-teaching with local teachers, giving test prep classes, participating in Fulbright interviews, and judging a number of English speaking competitions. She also provided teacher training courses through American Center That Dam.
One of Littlepage’s most intriguing projects was facilitating a Medical English workshop for doctors preparing to teach pre-med undergraduate students. Without a medical background, Littlepage prepared by suiting up in a doctor’s coat and going on morning rounds with the doctors, observing their methods and interactions with patients, and interviewing them on how they used English at work on a daily basis. Her learning here went beyond grammar needs. “This was an incredible experience that gave me a deep appreciation for the surgical talent of doctors attempting new, difficult techniques,” Littlepage said. “I witnessed firsthand the need for comprehensive medical care for people from rural areas, many of whom travel to the city hospital due to a lack of accessible health care in their region.”
Through her research and field work, Littlepage developed two workshops for the doctors focused on active listening skills, strategies for eliciting information from patients, consultation requests, and international standards for communication in the medical setting. “Debriefing with the doctors after the workshops, they expressed gratitude for the authentic teaching materials I provided and my emphasis on soft skills, and said that my workshop will aid them in revising the English curriculum for medical students,” Littlepage said.
Littlepage joined a team of doctors on their morning rounds to observe their English language needs in preparation for her Medical English workshops
The prominence of rice in Laos enticed Littlepage to pursue the crop’s harvest with her new community. As she heard her Lao friends and colleagues talk wistfully about spending time in tranquil rice fields during the harvest season, her interest in the subject—along with her “sticky rice addiction”—grew. While Littlepage’s busy schedule had prevented her from visiting her friends for the rice harvest in their villages, her moment finally arrived on a trip to Luang Nam Tha Teacher Training College. After completing her workshop, she joined the head of the college to harvest rice on his farm with all of his students. “When I arrived, I donned a conical straw hat and shoved rice plants into a mill, filled bags with rice, and loaded bags of rice onto trucks,” Littlepage shared. “By dusk, the harvest was completely finished, which made the day momentous and required celebration. There was a large spread of delicious food that we ate communally on the floor of a woven bamboo Tai Dam house, sharing hours of hilarity and dancing.”
Littlepage’s harvesting companions were surprised and delighted to hear of the commonality between their seasonal harvest and Littlepage’s experiences growing up in rural Missouri, working on a friend’s farm at harvest time and “ending the day with a jovial dinner.” Littlepage’s passion for rice remains. “Today, I own a steaming pot and a bamboo basket for making sticky rice, and enjoy sharing the joys of mango sticky rice with Americans,” she reported.
Littlepage’s colleagues on the faculty of engineering at the National University of Loas gifted her this elephant blanket at the end her fellowship
In learning about Lao culture, Littlepage acquired a new appreciation for the personal and professional relationships in her life. During her in-country orientation, embassy colleagues explained that education professionals in Laos would want to socialize with her first, before beginning to work together. “This was frustrating initially, since I was ready to get started with my work,” Littlepage said. “But ultimately, their approach helped me come to appreciate a more relaxed, connected, and joyful approach to life and work. I now put more effort into building relationships with parents and teachers, as both are important sources of useful information in a school district. I value them as primary emotional and academic support for our students.” In the classroom, Littlepage also started investing more time in facilitating positive relationships between students to enhance cooperative learning.
Littlepage’s time in Laos deepened her appreciation of U.S. culture, too. As her Laotian friends and colleagues began to note the plurality of American people, Littlepage engaged them in discussions of American cultural diversity and regional variety. “I was able to share some of my ancestors’ culture when I led a West African Dance class during Black History Month,” Littlepage stated. “I started the class with a slideshow about how drumming and dance in West Africa traveled with enslaved peoples to the Americas, where it evolved into many modern types of music, including hip hop.”
Just as Littlepage experienced the value of facilitating intercultural connections and dialogues as a Fellow, she has enjoyed continuing this effort in her home region in the U.S. “Sharing my heritage as a Fellow moved me to organize a Black History Month talent show and a Spanish language club at a school in our district,” she said. For her part, Littlepage played the piano in the talent show, while students performed song and dance routines, martial arts, and gymnastics.
Attending the Alumni Ambassador Kick Off Event and Fellow Pre-departure Orientation in Washington, D.C.; Littlepage with her cohort of Alumni Ambassadors (left); and with current English Language Fellows (right)
Currently, Littlepage is an English Language Development Facilitator in the Grandview C-4 School District in Kansas City. This role includes being an instructional coach and supervisor of the EL program, acting as a community liaison, piloting a Newcomer Program, and leading curriculum development and performing administrative duties. After her first year as a teacher in the school district, Littlepage was selected for the newly created role to lead the program. “I was informed that I was selected because of my prior leadership experience, much of which came through being a Fellow,” Littlepage noted. “Professional experiences such as organizing teaching training workshops and helping to organize the LaoTESOL conference gave me work experience that hadn’t been available to me in the U.S.”
Littlepage met with a legislative correspondent for a congressional representative from Missouri on her visit to the U.S. Capitol to share her experiences as an English language educator
These leadership experiences have also prepared Littlepage for a new overarching goal in her career: improving English language education in her community and beyond. As part of this mission, she took time to visit two congressional representatives during a trip to Washington D.C., describing her work as an English language teacher in Missouri. “In regard to my role as a supervisor in our school district, I shared the importance of hiring qualified teachers with leadership skills, experience living abroad, and competence in intercultural communication,” Littlepage said. “During one visit, I had time to share some pictures and highlights from my fellowship in Laos, emphasizing the professional opportunities available to Missouri educators.”
Littlepage also explained how the intercultural communication skills she’s developed have been important when advocating for the families of English language learners. “I’m happy to use the diplomatic skills I’ve gained from my fellowship and teaching experience to help create positive change for families of ELLs,” Littlepage said. “Building compassion and understanding for students’ families can also be an important way to improve K-12 ELL education.”
Farrah Littlepage was an English Language Fellow in Laos, 2018-2020, where she facilitated teacher training at universities, colleges, and secondary schools. She has fourteen years of experience in the TESOL field, and twenty years of experience in education. Littlepage currently supervises the ELD program in the Grandview C-4 School District in the Kansas City metro area. She is committed to supporting K-12 teachers through engaging and relevant professional development. Her bilingualism and enthusiasm for connecting across cultures aids her in facilitating ELL parental involvement and motivating teachers to promote positive cultural identity.
Stay tuned for our next featured Alumni Ambassador story with Chloe Bellows.