I believe participants enjoy being cultural ambassadors for their country as I do for the U.S.
From her first project in El Salvador to her current project in Turkiye, Laura Leslie has enhanced her English teaching and teacher training skills in a variety of contexts and experienced many moments of two-way–if virtual–cultural exchange. “Hearing participants describe their surroundings, culture, and work–especially in the case of my project with entrepreneurs–has broadened my views,” Leslie reflects. Now on a hybrid general English and business ESP project with the gaming industry in Turkiye, she is equally excited for these cross-cultural conversations to develop.
Stepping in to the Virtual Void
Her experience as a lead teacher provided a solid foundation as she prepared to teach pre-service teachers for the first time. Although now on her third virtual project, it was only a short time ago when online teaching was less familiar to Leslie and outside of her comfort zone. The pre-project orientation offered through the English Language Programs online platform served as a guide during these early days and set the tone for implementing best practices in online teaching and cultural exchange. Connecting online with other Virtual Educators and program participants around the globe has been a highlight of her experience.
It is exciting to build one’s network with talented and passionate individuals, and I have been able to make personal connections with other Virtual Educators.
Navigating Unfamiliar Territory
When she was first invited to teach professionals in the gaming industry in Turkiye, Leslie was just a little apprehensive before forging ahead with the opportunity. Having learned so much throughout her previous projects, she wasn’t overly concerned with her lack of experience in gaming, knowing she just needed to follow best practices in ESP design. And she rightly presumed that this group of students would be particularly savvy at navigating a digital-learning environment.
In collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Leslie is teaching English at the intermediate level to two cohorts of game developers, university students and young professionals, who are based in Istanbul and several other cities throughout Turkiye. The objective of the course is to facilitate entrance to the Turkish IT job market by enhancing the students’ English language skills. On bridging the gap between the general English and ESP components of the course, Leslie explains how she incorporates presentations and builds on speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills with a structure that “will make the transition to the professional English sessions easier.”
Students do not always seek clarification for their doubts. Using polls and other interactive features has made it easier for me to know that students are paying attention and get confirmation that they feel comfortable with the content I introduce.
Building Confidence through Professional Growth
Virtual Educator projects have presented a variety of opportunities for Leslie to grow professionally. To get started, she leveraged her prior experience as a classroom teacher and then gradually incorporated resources available on the Community of Practice, the in-house networking platform available to all program participants. She was thrilled to ultimately receive strong post-presentation feedback on a training webinar held with teachers in Ecuador. This success led to an invitation to give a professional development presentation to other Virtual Educators on best practices in social and emotional learning in the online classroom. Leslie uses interactive edtech tools to enhance the learner experience, allowing students to engage with the content presented and seek clarification in a low-pressure environment. As a teacher, she finds great satisfaction in helping others find their own professional success. “One of my passions is helping people improve their livelihoods, so working with people who are using, or will soon use, English for work purposes is extra rewarding,” Leslie says.
Laura Leslie first entered the world of TESOL by serving as a conversation partner for international students, while completing her undergraduate studies in Business Administration. The experience ignited an interest in language acquisition, so she earned her 120-hour TESOL certificate. In the following years, Leslie taught ESL/EFL to adults in her home state of California, to university students in China and Saudi Arabia, and to high schoolers in various summer programs.
After completing an M.A. in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management from SIT Graduate Institute, Leslie oversaw the Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) and other ESOL programs at a non-profit that provided community support to families of refugees and low-income immigrants. From 2020 to 2022, she served as a Virtual English Language Fellow. First, she worked with pre-service teachers and teenage English Access Microscholarship students in El Salvador, and then she led conversation clubs for entrepreneurs in the Caribbean. Currently, Leslie teaches EFL at a Language School in Bilbao, Spain, and is a Virtual Educator for game developers in Turkiye.