Alumni Spotlight: Emily Jones, Teaching Fellow in Malaysia
“That itch to go abroad, it bit me.”
Emily Jones, a Teachers College alumna who graduated last Spring with an M.A. in TESOL, followed her graduation with a 10-month stint as a prestigious English Language Fellow (ELF) with the United States’ State Department in Malaysia.
Malaysia sits somewhere between boisterous full moon parties on the isles of Thailand and the tropical jungles of Sumatra. For Ms. Jones, who chose not to specify a particular region when submitting her application to the program, social atmosphere and geology played a minor role, if any, in the way of deciding to move abroad.
“You can pick a region or you could select an area, but I just said worldwide, because this is an opportunity I would never pass up. If they placed me in Siberia, I would go there,” Ms. Jones confessed.
The cheerful and much adored TC graduate lit up discussing her dearest past times when visiting a new country. “I love food,” she proclaimed excitedly. “The coolest thing about Malaysia is that there are three main groups here. You have the Malays who are Muslim, and then you have Indians and Chinese. And so you have all of these foods that kind of mix together and make up these delicious crazy things.”
For an easy five dollars, Ms. Jones and her colleagues recently dined on tandoori chicken, naan, watermelon juice, and orange juice for an after work supper. Her favorite drink, teh tarik, or “pulled tea” consists of black tea and condensed milk poured back and forth until it creates a sweet frothy concoction. “There’s very much a great culture around food and showing each other appreciation through food,” Ms. Jones said.
Although smaller pleasures bring out a lighthearted side in Ms. Jones, her passion for her new position runs deep. For her daily routine, Ms. Jones walks a short distance from her apartment, minding the intense traffic and lack of sidewalks, to the university where she teaches five classes. “On Tuesday, I don’t have class until the afternoon, so I go in at 8:30, we do lesson prep and then I teach my class, and then I go home. A lot of the interesting stuff happens on the weekends,” she says.
On weekends, you can find the Missouri native jetting off to opposite parts of the peninsula from Kuala Lumpur, providing teacher-training workshops or mingling with her contacts at the U.S. Embassy. During the last week of November, Ms. Jones had the opportunity to lead workshops in Borneo.
For a recent trip to Terrengganu, a coastal region on the north east side of the peninsula, Ms. Jones worked with 50 secondary school teachers to train them in different techniques on how to modify English-teaching materials and motivate students. “You get on the plane at 6 o’clock in the morning and you arrive at the airport, you get a taxi to your hotel, you prepare for your lessons, and you go and do this amazing workshop with these amazing secondary school teachers. When you come back at night, you fly back home and you start teaching again. That’s been great.”
Although her main objective as an ELF is to improve teacher-training and conversational skills of Malays, she also has the opportunity to work closely with the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, assuming the role of a mentor.
Ms. Jones is no stranger to new environments, (she spent four years in Seoul, South Korea teaching English before moving to New York and Malaysia), yet she admits to feeling uneasy at times. When it comes to teaching, however, she feels much more in her element. “I think that one of the best things is, I have such a firm theoretical background — a firm theoretical knowledge of what it means to learn a second language,” Ms. Jones said.
“It’s been rather difficult teaching here because the students here don’t really need English necessarily. Or at least I don’t think they feel that need of English like they have in the past. But one of the great things is at TC, I feel like we talked a lot about how every context is different. I know what my students need to learn and I know the best ways that they need to do it. I feel so confident knowing how to best serve my students in all of these different contexts,” she said.
Ms. Jones credits TESOL faculty and instructors like Dr. Zhaohong Han and Nancy Boblett with building her confidence as a teacher and as a teacher-trainer. “They were great models of what it meant to be able to share your knowledge with other people.
According to Ms. Jones, if Malaysian students don’t pass their final exams in university, they are not eligible to pass their classes, a troubling problem for her. After learning this, it seems Ms. Jones was bit by something different. Something that gave her an itch to see change in education policy.
“One thing that I’ve found very interesting being here, is I’m becoming more and more interested in policy,” Ms. Jones said. “I feel like teachers are always caught in the middle. I think that’s really unfortunate and I would really love to work in some kind of capacity where I can help empower teachers.”
After her contract in Malaysia ends, she hopes to return to New York to become involved in administration or educational language policy as an advocate who can attest to the teaching experience.
Nori Kato is a Staff Writer and Office Assistant for the Department of Arts and Humanities. She is also a second year M.A. student in the International Educational Development program at Teachers College.