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Alumni Ambassador Lina Jurkunas’s English Language Fellowship Led to Leadership Roles and the Cultivation of New Skill Sets

As an English Language Fellow in Turkiye in 2019-2021, Alumni Ambassador Lina Jurkunas embraced challenges that helped transform her career. Having taught new courses, managed professional development events, and honed curriculum design skills, Jurkunas went on to positions as a program director, educational consultant, and instructional designer. “My fellowship experience really stretched my skills and abilities,” Jurkunas said. “The adaptability and resourcefulness I gained as a Fellow also gave me the confidence to shift to a new industry.” 

Jurkunas recently started a new role as Project Analyst on a government operations team for the City and County of San Francisco, in which she joined a team dedicated to making City hiring, contracting, and financial operations more effective, efficient, and equitable. “This role is a big jump for me, but I see it as a chance to use the multi-modality communication skills I’ve developed as an educator in a new realm of public service,” Jurkunas said.

Jurkunas’s Drama for Language Teaching class enjoyed both indoor and outdoor learning activities

Jurkunas’s primary duties as a Fellow were teaching university courses to pre-service English teachers in the ELT Department of her host institution, Suleyman Demirel University. Her courses included Oral Communication Skills, Drama for Language Teaching, and World Englishes. Jurkunas found a special joy in her Drama for Language Teaching course. “We had a large group compared to what I was used to, and we barely fit inside the classroom. So when the weather was warm enough, I took our class outside,” Jurkunas said. “I greatly enjoyed seeing my students interacting with each other in creative ways as they learned and applied drama techniques.” 

As with most fellowships, Jurkunas encountered new professional challenges that, while daunting at first, ultimately led to some of her most formative experiences and important takeaways. For example, teaching a course on World Englishes was a first for her. “I had studied a bit about the theories and concepts behind World Englishes in grad school, but by no means did I feel ready to teach a course on the topic,” Jurkunas said. To prepare, she dove into research and engaged her colleagues in discussions on the topic. “My colleagues were helpful in sharing their insights and pointing me to resources,” Jurkunas said. “In the end, I learned a lot about the topic itself, and also about the process of curriculum design.”

Jurkunas received an English Language Programs conference grant to give a poster presentation at TESOL 2022 in Pittsburgh on the work she did as Fellow

With the transition to virtual learning brought on by the pandemic, Jurkunas focused on creating a virtual Book and Conversation Club to help her students in Turkiye stay inspired and productive in a time of isolation. She developed a poetry unit where students experimented with writing poetry, and together as a class they joined a virtual poetry showcase hosted by a group in the U.K. “At the wrap-up of my project, my students commented how the Book and Conversation Club was one thing that ‘kept them going’ during the pandemic,” Jurkunas said. When her presentation proposal about the club was accepted by the TESOL 2022 Convention in Pittsburgh, Jurkunas was delighted by her students’ “tangible enthusiasm” about the prospect of having their poems included in her session. “I’m so honored to have such brave students willing to share their poetry, and their voices, and to get the opportunity to share their work with English educators from around the globe,” Jurkunas said.

Jurkunas celebrating Halloween and Christmas with her Turkish colleagues

Building lasting relationships was a hallmark of Jurkunas’s fellowship. From celebrating holidays together, to planning professional development events, she bonded with local colleagues and regional Fellows alike. “I had very welcoming colleagues at my host university who took me under their wing and helped me navigate university life as a visiting instructor. They helped me feel at home and even surprised me with a cake on my birthday,” Jurkunas said. When she organized a two-day workshop on Critical and Creative Thinking with the support of her host institution, she invited four Fellows also based in Turkiye to lead workshops at the event. “I feel fortunate to be part of what became a tight-knit group of regional Fellows,” Jurkunas said. “We bonded at the Fellow Pre-departure Orientation before we set off for our in-country assignments, and then we continued to collaborate once we were in person.”

Jurkunas reconnected with colleagues and friends from her fellowship at the Fellow Pre-Departure Orientation and Alumni Ambassador Kick Off event in Washington, D.C.

Strolling through the weekly farmer’s market, browsing the local bazaars, and delving into the art scene were some of Jurkunas’s favorite activities in her host city of Isparta, Turkiye. On one of her outings, she noticed a small space in her neighborhood that looked like an art studio. When she popped in to see what it was all about, the artists working there quickly invited her to join them for a pottery lesson – conducted all in Turkish. “It was a really endearing experience. The artists made me feel welcome and more connected to the community when I was still new, and it was helpful just to laugh with new friends!” Jurkunas reflected. “Taking a pottery class in a new language reminded me of the value of being brave to put yourself in new positions and trusting yourself to figure it out.”

Jurkunas taking a pottery class in Turkish in her neighborhood in Isparta, Turkiye

Following her fellowship, Jurkunas took on a new role as Academic Director of an IEP in San Francisco, where she managed a team of fifteen ESL faculty and oversaw academic advising for over one hundred international students. Additionally, she supervised the recruitment of new faculty, professional development, program outreach, new student orientation, accreditation reporting and compliance, and the development of marketing materials. “One of my biggest accomplishments in that role was transitioning our organization back to 100% in-person instruction during a period of high inflation,” Jurkunas said. Another significant—and unique—achievement for Jurkunas were the contributions she made to renovating the interior of a historical San Francisco Victorian building for her IEP’s headquarters. “Ultimately, our school shut down due to the changing landscape of IEPs, but I learned so much about leadership and running a program from this experience that I will carry on to my next roles,” Jurkunas said. 

Transitioning into work as a freelance educational consultant and instructional designer, Jurkunas earned a certificate in Learning Design from IDOL (Instructional Design and Online Learning) Courses Academy in April 2022. “In this role, I enjoy advising my clients to help them best connect with their audiences,” Jurkunas said.

Jurkunas at CATESOL in Alameda, California: working at the booth and giving a recruitment presentation

Jurkunas said it was her positive experiences as a Fellow and a program alum and her joy of connecting with new teachers that made her want to apply to become an Alumni Ambassador. “I like to encourage people who are interested to push their boundaries, and I like to promote the professional and personal impacts of international exchange,” Jurkunas said, noting that she first heard about the program from a Fellow alum. “One of the things that I love most about the program is what happens when you become an alumni, where you have such a rich network of colleagues who can inspire you,” Jurkunas said. “And I love to keep in touch with everyone and learn from them.”

Stay tuned for our next featured Alumni Ambassador story with Mayonne Granzo.

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