Rows of elegant dancers wearing golden dresses with intricate black etchings strutted across the courtyard to the hypnotic sounds of tribal drum beats. One after another, members of the four major ethnic groups in Guinea—the Fulani, Mandinka, Susu, and Kissi—took turns dancing in the middle of the courtyard while judges assessed their fancy costumes and nimble footwork.
English Language Fellow Ollie Rashid sat watching these festivities at her host institution, Kofi Annan University (KAU), with a mix of awe and gratitude, savoring the moment. This unique cultural immersion experience featuring the distinct cuisines, traditional clothing, and dances of the four groups, was being held to honor the graduating class of students she’d been teaching for the two years of her fellowship in Guinea, from 2017 to 2019.
“It was a wonderful day because of the culture-meshing festivities, and also because it was an opportunity to bring families to campus to celebrate the students’ academic accomplishments,” recalled Rashid.
Annual Global Festival at Kofi Annan University in Conakry, Guinea, 2018
“Teaching for two years overseas certainly increased the probability of me landing my current role”
Three years have passed, and Rashid remembers her fellowship in Guinea vividly. And as one of ten 2022-2023 English Language Programs Alumni Ambassadors, she’ll have frequent opportunities to share those memories speaking at conferences and special events around the country.
After returning from her fellowship, Rashid found her current position as a full-time ESL instructor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) in Lexington, Kentucky. She also serves as a coordinator for the ESL program, recruiting and managing adjunct faculty, scheduling and assessing classes, and working to raise the visibility of English language learners in the community.
“Teaching for two years overseas certainly increased the probability of me landing my current role,” Rashid noted. “And because my teaching abilities and cultural intelligence expanded during my time in Guinea, I’m now able to form deeper connections with students and teachers from diverse backgrounds.”
Rashid with the Guinea English Language Teachers Association (GELTA) after conducting a workshop
Throughout her fellowship, Rashid found multiple opportunities for cultural and educational exchange, both for KAU students and faculty and for the larger Guinean community. For example, for her KAU seniors majoring in business and international relations, Rashid organized a GAP Semester Project, pairing the students with U.S. professionals working in those fields. “The Project initiated lasting mentor-mentee relationships,” Rashid said.
Rashid also developed workshops and conferences both for her colleagues at KAU and for regional high school teachers. “The mentor program and the professional development exchanges were significant because they allowed me to multiply the English language connections of my students and colleagues beyond our work in Guinea,” Rashid said. In particular, with Rashid’s recommendation, two of her colleagues at KAU were selected to attend professional development workshops in the U.S., including trips to TESOL Atlanta and the English Language Program’s 50th Year Anniversary Celebration in Washington, D.C.
Rashid, together with Dawn Dowling (on the left), the Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy Conakry, led the initiative to have 2,225 English language textbooks, children’s stories, and novels donated to Guinean K-12 schools, NGO’s, and the library of her host institution, KAU.
By any standard, Rashid’s accomplishments as a Fellow had a profound and far-reaching impact, not just on her Guinean students and colleagues, but on Rashid herself. Her experience broadened her sense of what she could contribute beyond the classroom. With a commitment to collaborating with community and professional organizations, she continues to enhance the equity and opportunity in underserved communities.
- Serving on the board of the Lexington League of Women Voters (LLWV), she works to ensure that everyone has equal access to the ballot, engaging in voter registration drives and candidate forums.
- Serving on the board of the International Book Project (IBP), she helps promote global literacy by shipping curated books to schools and NGOs around the world.
- Serving on the board of Kentucky TESOL (KYTESOL), she helps plan the annual conference and acts as the publisher’s liaison.
In other words, Rashid continues to model the kind of professional and personal engagement and growth that she nurtured in the students and teachers she spent two remarkable years with in Guinea.
Global Learning Festival at Bluegrass Community and Technical College
Ollie Rashid was an English Language Fellow in Conakry, Guinea, 2017-2019. She has ten years of TESOL experience, including teaching and teacher training in Africa, Spain, and the United States. Rashid is currently an assistant professor and coordinator of the ESL unit at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, Kentucky. She is an active board member of Kentucky TESOL where she serves as publisher liaison and helps to plan the annual state conference.
Stay tuned for our next featured Alumni Ambassador story with Nina Kang.