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Featured Fellow Jen Noone Builds Connections and Challenges Cultural Misconceptions in Comoros

“Comoros is a very small country, and it’s very easy to make connections and build relationships. As an Asian-American, I presented a different perspective and representation of the United States. Hopefully, this experience helped shed light on the diversity of people and cultures within America.”

When English Language Fellow Jen Noone (2022-2024) arrived on Comoros, the largest island in the Union of Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean, she found the island’s beautiful views juxtaposed with the realities of living in a remote location. Although the community lacks modern conveniences such as commercial entertainment, stable power, or sanitation infrastructure, Noone notes the people are incredibly friendly and willing to help – which allowed her to form many personal and professional connections. 

At her host institution, the University of Comoros, Noone teaches undergraduate courses such as Writing and Grammar, and an English Literature class which focuses on Shakespeare and poetry. She also recently completed a needs assessment project aligning course syllabi and content with student needs and the aims of the community stakeholders. “Ideally, the research report will serve as a catalyst to change the current syllabus to one better suited for the students” says Noone. 

Cultural “Open Talk” and Misconceptions 

Noone can also be found conducting cultural events, workshops, and weekly English speaking clubs at the American Corner located on the university campus. Often asked about the United States and American culture, Noone created and facilitated a session for an “American Corner Open Talk”, a monthly event at the center. The session addressed misconceptions of American people and lifestyles. “While I can only share insights from my personal experiences, I thought this event might help paint a bigger picture of the U.S.” The event included a trivia game that segued into a deeper conversation on demographics, education, cuisine, employment, and gender roles. Noone found it fascinating “to witness the immense impact of television and the media and how it shapes global perceptions, further emphasizing the need for authentic conversations to break down stereotypes.”

Activating Student-Centered Learning

“During my fellowship, through networking or random interactions, I had the opportunity to meet several Comorian English teachers who wanted to improve their teaching skills and others who just wanted to improve their English.” Noone collaborated with a Comorian English teacher and the American Corner coordinator to organize a full-day teacher training workshop for English teachers in the community. Trainers used many activities from the American English Activate resource pack and modeled integrating activities into different stages of lessons and language development. Each attendee was given a resource packet for their own classrooms. “We had been planning to deliver this event for months. So when the day finally arrived, I was really excited to see so many attendees. In fact, a few people came unexpectedly, but we managed to make room! Throughout the workshop the students were engaged and actively asking questions, which was truly motivating for me.” 

With Comoros being 4 small islands, Noone has learned that the islands beyond Grande Comore (where Jen and the university are located) have limited resources. It is a goal of hers and the co-facilitators to develop workshops for the Anjouan and Moheli communities on other islands. 

Island Life

Life on a small island is relaxing and offers beautiful sites, but it also comes with some challenges. Noone’s daily commute is an easy five-minute walk, but heavy vehicle exhaust and inadequate sanitation are part of it as well as the tropical fauna. Although the island is limited in food options, her apartment is close to some supermarkets and the fish is abundant and fresh! While life on an island can be an isolating experience at times, Noone spends her off time with her husband and enjoys exercising on her balcony, cooking, and getting together with neighbors when possible. One memorable evening was being invited to join a neighbor at a national soccer match, cheering for the home team.

Weekends are for adventures outside of the city. The island offers remote, beautiful beaches. A favorite for Noone and her husband was a trip to Sada Beach. Driven by a friend to the north of the island, they found themselves on a beach of volcanic rock and fine, white sand looking out at crystal clear water.

Connections & Growth through Culture  

Attending Iftars (celebratory meals to break fast during Ramadan), graduations, and social gatherings has allowed Noone and her husband to engage with cuisines, families, and traditions. Most rewarding has been learning about Comoros through her students. “It has been a valuable learning experience, and what made it even more rewarding was the two-way exchange of information in the classroom – they really appreciated my efforts to learn about their culture and spend time with them.” 

Learning to adapt her lessons to the Comorian people and culture has been an invaluable experience both personally and professionally for Noone. As this was her first time living in a predominantly Muslim country, she was dedicated to learning about the religion and attended several religious events. 

Professionally, Noone notes that collaborating with Comorian teachers helped her better understand the teaching methodologies of the country, which, in turn, helped her tailor her training and classes to Comorian teachers and students. 

Before becoming an English language educator, Noone was first a social worker in New York City. After traveling through Asia, Noone decided to pursue certification in TESOL and became a teacher. Although she has spent numerous years teaching around the world, she shared that the “fellowship has broadened my range of skills and experience, providing me with more confidence in the classroom, with teacher training, and in my future job applications.” There were many firsts for Noone in Comoros: teaching literature classes at the university level, conducting research and working on syllabus design, and conducting teacher-training workshops. “The experience and skills I have acquired during my fellowship have been invaluable, and I hope to share this knowledge with future educators.” 

Jen Noone began her career as a social worker in New York City, but while traveling in Asia in 2008, she made a career change. Noone received her teaching certification and entered the TEFL/EFL field. She has since taught in Colombia, Vietnam, Tanzania, Myanmar, Ecuador, and is currently in Comoros. Noone is an English teacher at the University of Comoros conducting English courses, delivering teacher training workshops, working on syllabus design and facilitating activities at the American Corner in Moroni. Noone’s teaching expertise predominately lies in general English, ESP, and Exam Preparation Courses. In her free time, she enjoys running, yoga, watching cat videos, and attempting to learn the local language of the country in which she lives.

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