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Featured Fellow Adrienne Seo Connects English and Culture through Clubs, Camps, and Festivals in Uzbekistan

Making her daily commute to her host institution in the heart of Samarkand, Adrienne Seo delights in her view along the Silk Road. “Everyday I get to see the best landmarks in Uzbekistan: Registan, Bibi-Khanym Mosque, and the Amir Temur Mausoleum,” she stated. Since starting her fellowship in 2021, Seo has been teaching pre-service teachers at Samarkand State Institute of Foreign Languages. As all of her students are studying to become English as a Foreign Language educators, classes focus on teaching methodologies. Seo believes her project has a direct impact on English education in Uzbekistan as she works with future teachers. “My favorite part of teaching is when we transition teaching methods to practical activities,” shared Seo. Her students eagerly and actively participate in the activities and the reflection discussions.

Promoting English Through Clubs

Seo’s secondary duties include organizing and teaching English clubs at the Institute. Clubs are open to any teachers and students interested in attending, so Seo looked for creative ways to promote English. The first club developed was an English Movie Club. Seo carefully chose movies and television series that were based on books. After watching short scenes, students focused on vocabulary, analyzing colloquial English and summarizing, while teachers focused on symbolism, themes, and culture. “The goal of this project was to provide speaking practice while encouraging participants to read novels” explained Seo. Some movies and television series covered were Anne of Green Gables/Anne With an E, City of Ember, and Wonder. Seo noted that Wonder by R. J. Palacio was their favorite. 

This year, Seo is using games like Bananagrams and Apples to Apples to have fun with students in a Game Club, where they can practice and build vocabulary while feeling relaxed in a casual atmosphere. 

Aiming to offer a club for deeper, more critical English practice, Seo has most recently started a book club for teachers. Seo chose New Kid by Jerry Craft as the first book; the group read the book over two months and met three times. Twenty teachers have joined the club so far, and Seo was able purchase copies of the book for the club with her project activities allowance. Seo shared, “The teachers loved this graphic novel because they learned about American culture, felt relaxed reading it with the aid of illustrations, and learned new English expressions.” 

Summer Camp and Shakespeare

What do tie-dye, ultimate-frisbee, and talent shows have in common? These are all part of a traditional summer camp in the U.S. – and now in Uzbekistan, too! At the end of her first year as a Fellow, Seo helped coordinate a month-long overnight camp for 150 high school students from all around the country. Focusing on an immersive English language experience, local teachers, as well as Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, Seo, and other Uzbekistan English Language Fellows led classes and activities. “Campers said the best part of the camp was becoming confident speaking English, making friends, and developing their own identities.”

As if organizing a huge summer camp wasn’t exciting enough, Seo teamed up with English Language Fellow alum Robert Dunn (Turkmenistan, 2016-2017), who was also living in Samarkand, to start a Shakespeare group and festival at the Institute. The troupe began with 15 students who had never acted nor read Shakespeare. Although overwhelmed by the difficulty of the English in the plays, the students were dedicated to developing both their English skills and acting abilities. In front of a packed house, students performed scenes from A Midsummer NIght’s Dream and Romeo & Juliet. “After a standing ovation, the students were amazed at their accomplishment in not just understanding Shakespearean English, but in having confidence to perform on a stage,” said Seo proudly. 

Cultural Exchange and Daily Life in Samarkand

Seo thanks her host institution for a great welcoming experience and for helping her and her husband learn about their community. “I have an amazing department at my host institution. When I arrived, the teachers and I set a plan to try all the traditional foods of Uzbekistan and take trips around the city to learn the deep history. We’ve had so much fun together,” said Seo. 

Seo and her husband start the day at a local gym. Staying active and weight-lifting has led to great friendships with local gym-goers and staff. They are also very active around the city with hiking and participating in a local marathon.  

When not running around Samarkand, they are proud regulars at the local cafes, providing a space to work and experience local culture. “This program has been wonderful for my family. My husband has equally enjoyed the cultural exchange and gained experience to help his career as a writer.” 

Professional Growth

Seo’s fellowship has allowed her to develop her skills as a teacher trainer and she is excited to continue her fellowship through this academic year. “I have experienced the positive impact training teachers can make in the global TESOL community. Working as a Fellow has given me the experience to continue in this career to help other teachers.”

Adrienne Seo has been working as an EFL/ESL teacher for 12 years. She started her career working in public secondary schools in France, and then in primary and secondary schools in South Korea. Upon completing her MA TESOL, Seo returned to South Korea to work as a teacher trainer to in-service teachers. Throughout her career, she’s been active presenting at conferences and staying involved in TESOL organizations in Michigan, South Korea, and Uzbekistan. Seo has presented at international conferences in Qatar and Nepal. Her areas of specialization include teaching reading strategies, utilizing graphic novels and multicultural children’s literature, and using games to promote vocabulary growth and conversations. During the pandemic, Seo worked as a teacher trainer for the Ministry of Education in South Korea. Seo is currently an English Language Fellow in Uzbekistan.

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