Mina Gavell was an English Language Fellow in Uzbekistan from 2018-2020. Her project consisted of teaching lesson planning and assessment to fourth-year pre-service teachers and reading and writing to undergraduates. When she wasn’t teaching at the university, she was working with students in the English Access Microscholarship Program (Access) or traveling to different parts of South and Central Asia delivering workshops on a myriad of topics including student-centered teaching, objectives-based lesson planning, and interactive reading and writing strategies. Most of this was done with her husband and 6 lb. Pomeranian in tow.
After prematurely returning to the U.S. due to the pandemic, Gavell was able to continue engaging with her students and colleagues online as a Virtual English Language Fellow. Through online platforms, she has continued to conduct professional development workshops, teach lesson planning to pre-service English teachers at the university level, hold a weekly international conversation club, and lead an English for STEM conference for over 200 participants.
She was also able to continue her involvement with Access by serving as the guest STEM expert on the Facebook Access Teachers’ Corner in November 2020.
The World is Your Classroom
“The traveling I did during my fellowship was unforgettable,” Gavell states. In her first year as a Fellow, she was posted in the western part of Uzbekistan – a 30-minute taxi ride away from Khiva, a Silk Road city and World Heritage site full of mosques, madrassas, and minarets dating back to the 10th century AD. She recalls taking a weekend trip north to see the ship graveyard that remains in what was once the world’s fourth-largest lake – the Aral Sea.
The following year, Gavell was posted in Bukhara, an ancient city that has been inhabited for over 5,000 years with a multicultural history. As a secondary project, Gavell traveled to Termez on the southern border with Afghanistan, the site of Buddhist temples and an old stomping ground of Alexander the Great. There she led workshops and shared teaching strategies with local educators. For other projects, she traveled to Kathmandu, New Delhi, Almaty, and Nur-Sultan, collaborating with other Fellows and delivering workshops and presentations.
Being the First American Contact
“I can sum up my contributions as a Fellow by saying I served as a window,” Gavell explains. During the first year of her fellowship, she was often the first American anyone in her community had met. “Just by going to the market or walking in my neighborhood, with my American clothing and broken Uzbek/Russian, I gave people a glimpse of something that they’d never seen before,” she shares. “And in turn, they shared so many new wonderful things with me too.”
In the classroom, through her lessons, activities, and general demeanor, Gavell provided her students with a deeper understanding of what can be done with English, how other cultures live and think, and how a classroom can be a place for fun, learning, and collaboration all at the same time. She provided her fellow teachers with a means to see that there were other ways of teaching that didn’t rely on didactic concepts and helped them understand how and why interaction is a crucial part of the learning process. Thus, she was able to connect them with resources and opportunities that encouraged and empowered them to become the professionals they aspired to be.
Discovering New Skills and Strengths
“My professional growth as an English Language Fellow has been exponential,” Gavell states. In the classroom, she gained more experience developing her own curriculum and materials. Moreover, being an English Language Fellow helped her discover new skills and strengths as a teacher trainer. “Putting together a quality presentation or workshop at a moment’s notice and delivering it while shivering in a winter coat or to 100 more people than expected are things I can now do without breaking a sweat,” she explains.
Prior to her fellowship, Gavell had only presented at two conferences and a handful of workshops, which she describes as “panic-stricken, stress-inducing events.” During her fellowship, Mina presented weekly to either her colleagues, other teachers in her city, or at regional, national, or international conferences. “I have overcome 98% of my fear of public speaking because of my fellowship,” she states. “I am not the same person I was when I began my fellowship in 2018. In terms of experience in the world, in the classroom, dealing with adversity, rising to challenges of every nature, I found skills and strengths I hadn’t known were in me.”
Mina Gavell began teaching English in South Korea exclusively as a means to travel abroad. To her surprise, she fell in love with teaching and set out on a career path. After teaching in an intensive English program for eight years in the United States and obtaining her MATESOL, she became an English Language Fellow in Uzbekistan from 2018-2020. With a newfound passion for teacher training, Mina returned to Uzbekistan in January 2021 as a Coach for the English Speaking Nation project which seeks to provide thousands of secondary school teachers with high-quality training and experience in student-centered methods. While Mina has published her research on corpus linguistics and her travel writing, she is looking forward to the publication of her article on task-based reading activities in the spring edition of English Teaching Forum.