“Experiencing an entirely new culture and language and getting to present the diversity of the current American demography as a South-Asian American have been the most impactful aspects of my fellowship experience,” Naila Islam states. Based in Korkshetau, Kazakhstan, Islam uses student-centered pedagogy to teach listening and speaking skills to students and faculty members at Ualikhanov University. From leading teacher training workshops to starting an English Club, Islam has grown both professionally and personally as a Fellow.
Outside of the classroom, Islam and her husband are enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors of Kazakhstan. One of their favorite experiences has been visiting the Burabai Mountains with a local teacher. “We learned about the myths and legends surrounding the majestic peaks, caves, and rock formations,” she notes. Islam’s favorite part of the trip was visiting the reservation of the “Botai,” a nomadic people who mastered the art of building underground dwellings to ward off the brutal cold of the Great Steppes.
To deepen her connection with the local community, Islam is learning Russian. Through her studies, she has recognized how Indo-European languages share a common heritage, which is evident in the many cognates that exist in Russian and Bengali, her primary language. “As a linguist, I never cease to be amazed at the trajectory that these Central Asian languages have travelled,” she explains.
Immersion into the richness of Kazakh culture is something that Islam will forever treasure. She sings praises of the local music and is learning to play the Dombra, a traditional Kazakh instrument.
A first-generation immigrant of South-Asian descent, Islam has BA and MA degrees in Public Administration. She worked as a civil servant for the Bangladesh Civil Service for five years before she immigrated to the USA in 1995 and settled in Texas. She was a recipient of the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship in 1993-94, a Fulbright fellowship awarded to mid-career professionals from developing countries.
Islam has taught extensively at U.S. public schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade. After getting a second Master’s degree in TESOL in 2015, she started teaching at community colleges in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, teaching listening, speaking, reading, and writing to international students, as well as communicative English to adults of all ages in the Adult Literacy Program.
She is trained in Indian classical music and loves to sing and cook fusion dishes, never missing an opportunity to throw parties to share her Asian-American heritage.