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Featured Fellow Camille Williams Empowers Underrepresented across Vietnam in ‘BeENG Awesome!’ Project

“If by chance you meet one of my students, you may hear them greet the group with a “Hey Y’all!”. They giggle when they hear my accent emerge.”

When Featured Fellow Camille Williams (2022-2024) wrapped up her second year in Vietnam, she had a long list of accomplishments. Undergraduate courses taught included Listening and Speaking to English language majors, and Business English and English for Business Purposes to business majors at the University of Economics, Ho Chi Minh City (UEH) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Williams also facilitated themed Coffee Talks with faculty and administrators, co-hosted a Christmas fair and party, and assisted the Department of Foreign Languages with ESP curriculum revisions. Her work with the ESP courses was especially significant due to increased international corporate investment in Vietnam, requiring employees with higher English language proficiency in various industries. With student enrollment increasing, her host institution created new ESP courses to address these needs. 

Williams also conducted a 14-week “English Communication for Government Officials” evening course for current and future Vietnamese governmental leaders at the Academy of Politics Region II. While her weekly schedule kept her busy, she always had time to enjoy the sites and the local culture of the city going between different university campuses or workshops.

BeEng Awesome! 

The list of additional projects Williams helped with is long, but of all the projects, a favorite was launching the BeEng Awesome! English Language Improvement Project in Ba Vi, a mountainous area northwest of Hanoi. 

“BeEng Awesome! was created when the people in Ba Vi captured my heart last year. The rural region has lower English language proficiency and has historically lacked resources and teacher training,” explained Williams. The project was a collaboration with the University of Languages and International Studies, Vietnam National University (ULIS), the Ba Vi Board of Education, and English Language Fellows Michael Alpaugh and Andrew Langley. The three-phase project was piloted at two secondary schools with the goal of motivating students to improve their English: ten winning students from each school were  awarded a trip to Hanoi City with a visit to the Temple of Literature, Pizza Hut, and a celebration at the American Center. Over three visits to the schools, the Fellows hosted many games, activities, video contests, and workshops. Over 400 secondary school students participated and engaged in the project. The Fellows also returned to Ba Vi for a teacher training of 90 primary and secondary school teachers. The project and partnership opened a door to a region with underrepresented populations needing support. Williams hopes “that our positive outcome has made enough impact with the local government so that we can continue to help the teachers and students in the region. It cannot end here.” 

Reaching underrepresented areas became a focus for Williams. She conducted several student and teacher workshops at UEH’s satellite campus in the Mekong Delta, but wanted to do more. She co-organized a conference, “Bridging Horizons: Empowering English Language Teaching and Learning,” with the university coordinator and English Language Fellows Carla Bailey and Jon Nichols. Over 350 students and 150 teachers attended. The Fellows were graciously welcomed with local cuisine and a sunset cruise along the Mekong Delta.

Culture & Self-Confidence: 

Williams jumped into Vietnamese culture and filled her weekend with sightseeing and delicious meals – and on occasion, indulged at Maison Marou, Vietnam’s chocolaterie. “There is always something new to see that I missed the time before. One of my favorite weekend activities is people watching and hanging out on Nguyen Hue Walking Street at night. What I love about Vietnam is that no matter where you go or what you do, you will always find someone that engages you in a friendly conversation. It reminds me so much of home in the southern US where you never meet a stranger.”

Sharing about American culture was always important to Williams, and students loved talking about the differences between the North and South of Vietnam. She found this as a great segue into the differences between the North and South in the United States. She would share her perspective and colloquialisms as a Nashvillian. For many of her students, their interactions were their very first ones with a foreigner. She created a safe place for asking questions and forming relationships. “Many times, they have questions about my hair or about the racial issues and violence in the US. I share my American story which is not the stereotypical one they may see or hear about. They usually find we have a lot in common. It is a mutual exchange because I learn so much from each encounter. I am grateful for their openness and willingness to share their stories with me.”

A significant hospitalization in 2010 affected Williams’s short-term memory and her ability to process information as she did previously. In 2011, Williams returned to graduate school to change careers which was a challenge that brought anxiety and insecurity.  “I never felt like I was enough. My fellowship has given me my confidence back. I am now more comfortable with speaking at conferences, workshops, and in classes.” 

Williams recently finished her fellowship, reaching over 3000 participants through courses and programs. “My fellowship has given me the space to be myself in how I approach outreach and how I express love and support to others, particularly, the underrepresented. It has reminded me that what I offer as a professional and as a human being has value.”

Camille Williams has a BS in Computer Information Systems from Hampton University, an MBA and MA in International Management Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas, and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Georgia State University. From childhood, she always wanted to travel abroad and make a global impact. After years of working for various corporate jobs, she decided to change careers. The plan was to teach after retiring, but the call to something greater redirected her path. She has taught in the USA, Ecuador, China, Brazil and Vietnam. Her higher education experience includes English language instruction, materials/course development, teacher training, and program management. Her interests include English for Specific Purposes, EMI, intercultural communication, leadership, program management, emotional intelligence, social responsibility, and fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration to equip learners with the practical skills they need for success.

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