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Karissa Cuffy is a Virtual English Language Fellow who provides English education and workforce development support to Venezuelans in vulnerable conditions living in Trinidad and Tobago. In partnership with the Trinidad and Tobago-Venezuela Solidarity Network and the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago, Cuffy teaches English resume writing, interviewing, and customer service skills to adult learners. Many of the students are studying English for the first time and hold full-time jobs outside of class hours. While an in-person project would have likely limited instruction to students living in the capital city, virtual learning has allowed learners from all over Trinidad and Tobago to participate in classes. “Being a Virtual Fellow is definitely a new and exciting experience. There’s never a dull moment and there’s a multitude of ways to be creative with online educational tools,” Cuffy states. 

Caption: Karissa Cuffy teaching her students on Zoom

A Practical Approach to Online Learning 

When it comes to online learning, Cuffy supports her students through a creative, practical, and flexible approach. Since her students rarely have access to laptop or desktop computers, Karissa makes sure that all content is 100% accessible for learners joining from smartphones and tablets. “Since my students have different educational backgrounds and a spectrum of computer literacy skills, I like to use applications that they are already familiar with and can download in their native language. This makes the learning curve basically non-existent and students can focus more on their English studies rather than trying to learn how to use a new online tool,” Cuffy explains. Some of her favorite online applications for beginner-level students are Facebook, YouTube, Google Classroom, Padlet, and Zoom. 

Caption: Student work on Padlet

Being a Trinidadian-American Working in Trinidad and Tobago 

“Being a Trinidadian-American, my Virtual Fellow project is a dream come true. I never thought I would be giving back to my father’s country while serving and representing the United States at the same time,” Cuffy explains. The Virtual English Language Fellow Program has helped her experience Trinidadian culture from the unique perspective of Venezuelan students. Moreover, because Cuffy is familiar with Trinidadian semantics and pronunciation, she is able to teach both American English and the Trinidadian English equivalent, helping her students with everyday interactions. “With my students coming from Venezuela, I get to learn a lot about Venezuelan culture and their experiences living in a new and unfamiliar country. I feel grateful to help with their transition into their new lives,” she says. 

 Cuffy and her students having class on Zoom

Cuffy and her students having class on Zoom

Professional Growth and Lasting Connections 

“My virtual fellowship has allowed me to network and build relationships with individuals I never would have met or interacted with⁠—even more so than if my fellowship was in person!” Cuffy explains. She has especially enjoyed connecting with other Virtual Fellows and sharing teaching tools and tips. “I feel these interactions are vital during a time when many of us are feeling isolated from our colleagues and students,” she shares.

Cuffy has continued working a full-time job managing AmeriCorps projects while serving as a Virtual English Language Fellow. “This experience has made me a more flexible and adaptable professional,” she states. In terms of professional growth, Cuffy feels that being a Virtual Fellow has “deepened her love of teaching” and has “opened new doors into the world of online learning.” “The skills I’ve gained and the connections I’ve made through my virtual fellowship will help me continue part-time teaching online and supporting refugees in the future,” she reflects.

Bio 

Karissa Cuffy M.Ed. is a lifelong learner and adventurer. Karissa holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations and foreign diplomacy from the Ohio State University and a master’s in education with a focus in TESL from Framingham State University. Karissa has worked as an elementary school English teacher in South Korea and has a specialized focus in developing curriculum and teaching English to adult migrants and refugees. Her interests in the TESOL field include educational technologies, sociolinguistics, and serving vulnerable populations. Now residing in Austin, Texas, she manages AmeriCorps projects in the south-central region of the United States. Meanwhile, as a Virtual English Language Fellow (2020 – 2021), she spends her evenings teaching Venezuelan migrants in Trinidad and Tobago.

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