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Hannah Murphy with a group of graduate students after a workshop on paraphrasing.
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Some of Murphy's students in their open-air classroom.
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Teaching English in Ethiopia: Alumna Serves as Fellow in Dept. of State Program

June 18, 2015

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It isn't unusual for Hannah Murphy to arrive at work and find that her classroom or work building has no power. While in some parts of the world this impediment might be an excuse to delay or cancel class, for Murphy—who is among the dedicated U.S. educators teaching abroad in the English Language (EL) Fellow Program funded by the U.S. Department of State—the English teaching experience, and her students are worth the uncertainties each day may bring.

"My Fellowship is in Mekelle, Ethiopia, one of the larger cities in the country, located about 500 miles north of the capital, Addis Ababa. I work in the English department at Mekelle University. Right now I have an incredible group of Year 1 students, who are always fun and ready to participate in classroom activities," Murphy explained. "While there are always surprises and new experiences, a typical workday involves a somewhat steady routine. I take the mini-bus taxi to work, greet the campus guards on my way in and come into my office that I share with two other professors from the English department. I then head to the classroom buildings where my courses are held, which are open air, providing a nice breeze in the afternoon heat. Students are often waiting just outside or in the classroom when I arrive, and we begin moving desks around, getting ready to start class."

Murphy—who earned her master's degree in educational and interdisciplinary studies (EIS) from Western in 2013 and her undergraduate degree from Loyola University Chicago in anthropology—first learned of the EL Fellow Program through her teaching assistantship at Western's English as a Second Language (WESL) Institute.

"I was originally encouraged to apply for the English Language Fellowship by David Bell, my then supervisor at WESL," she said. "I'm incredibly thankful each day he encouraged and supported me throughout the application, interview and acceptance process. After accepting the Fellowship offer, I received an incredible amount of support from David, as well as from Dr. Richard Carter, executive director the School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach, even though it meant I would be leaving my teaching position at WESL."

The EL Fellow Program is administered by Georgetown University and matches U.S. educators in the field of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) with host institutions throughout the world for 10-month fellowships. According to the U.S. Department of State's website, it "fosters mutual understanding, promotes English language learning and enhances English teaching capacity abroad. Through projects sponsored by U.S. embassies, EL Fellows share their professional expertise, hone their skills, gain international experience and learn about other cultures."

Since she has been in Mekelle, Murphy has kept in contact with three of her Western mentors from the educational studies department: Gloria Delany-Barmann, chair and professor; Joanne Sellen, associate professor; and Carla Paciotto, professor.

"Gloria was my thesis advisor and instructor; Joanne was my supervisor during my first semester as a teaching assistant at WESL and later my instructor; and Carla was my instructor during multiple semesters. All three were integral in the development of my skills as a teacher and a researcher. They continuously offered advice, shared their experiences and encouraged me to think critically about education and English as a Second Language (ESL). I still reach out to them with questions, and they are the ones I share my success in the classroom with," Murphy said.

Murphy also credited Anne Grauer, professor and chair of Loyola's anthropology department, as a mentor and someone who supported her adventurous spirit.

"Dr. Grauer was an inspiration for me, and her classes impacted my worldview," she said.

While her first 10-month Fellowship is coming to an end this summer, Murphy will continue to share her teaching talents in Ethiopia. She has officially accepted a renewal offer for a second 10-month Fellowship in Arba Minch, Ethiopia.

"As cheesy as it sounds, I immediately fell in love with Ethiopia. Everyone I met upon arrival was incredibly generous and wanted to make sure I felt safe and was happy in my new setting. Of course there was an adjustment period to my new life here: culturally, linguistically and professionally. I have local friends who helped me navigate cultural differences, as well as who taught me useful phrases in Tigrinya, the local language," she said. "It is an honor to be part of the university and wider community and to not only be a teacher of a global language who can provide people with new opportunities for economic mobility, but also to learn from my colleagues and students, growing both professionally and personally throughout the process."

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (
Office of University Relations