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For alumna Loren Lee Chiesi, who received a State Department
fellowship to teach English in Albania, language is a chance to spread
“American culture and values.”
The kids carried machetes.
It was all perfectly normal for this junior high school, where
students provided daily gardening help and often brought their equipment
to class. But it was not normal for Loren Lee Chiesi, a newly minted
Peace Corps member teaching English in the West African country of
Benin. The 2008 University of Delaware alumna approached the school’s
vice principal to voice her concerns. “I’m a little scared,” she said.
“All of these kids have giant knives.”
“Why are you nervous?” he said.
“Well, what if they attack me?” Chiesi said.
He began to laugh and said, “Why would you think they’d attack you?”
“You know, in America, sometimes kids bring guns to school, and they hurt people,” Chiesi said.
“You’re not in America anymore,” he replied. “You’re here, and it’s going to be fine.”
More than 13 years later, Chiesi still thinks of that moment.
“It was such an interesting perspective switch,” she said. “Here’s
something so normal for them that I had never thought about. Meanwhile,
my fear was unbelievable to him.”
Such cultural exchanges are the inevitable result of engaging
students across the globe. For more than a decade, Chiesi has taught
English as a second language to speakers in Turkey, Morocco and Myanmar.
She has lived in Albania since 2020 and will spend the next 10 months
there training aspiring instructors and teaching English through the
prestigious English Language Fellow Program.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and awarded to only 200
people each year, the fellowship aims to enact meaningful and
sustainable changes in the way that English is taught abroad. For
Chiesi, it’s also a chance to spread American culture and values through
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Loren Lee Chiesi (back row) leads an English teacher training in Namangan, Uzbekistan during the pandemic.
Lately, she has spent a lot of time thinking about this topic. As
America gains worldwide infamy for mass shootings, political division
and one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls of a developed nation, she
has questioned what exactly her country represents on the world stage.
“There are very specific things I’m angry about,” she said. “So I’ve
spent time reflecting on what it is I appreciate about my country that I
can impart in my classroom.”
Chiesi said she likes that Americans have opinions and aren’t afraid
to share them. That we have a culture of discourse and dialogue. That we
value creativity and ingenuity.
“Those are things you can share and put into your curriculum: Think
outside the box. Be creative. Come up with an idea and express your
opinion,” she said.
It’s a pleasant source of optimism. And one she credits UD with helping her develop.
“I love being a teacher and helping people learn and doing it through
language,” she said. “I’m not sure I would have had this journey
without UD. Studying with international students and teachers there
really helped inspire me.”
French instructor Flora Poindexter was particularly influential.
“She loved French and made language learning low-stress, engaging and
fun,” said Chiesi, who works to infuse those very qualities in her own
Since graduation, Chiesi has become fluent in English and French and
conversant in Italian, Arabic, Turkish and Spanish. But she will always
be an English major at heart.
English is genderless and “not desperately polite,” she said. It is
the language of the internet and international commerce. And as the
language gains even greater global footing, it holds the potential to
build tolerance and create richer cultural exchanges.
“A lot of misunderstanding comes from living in isolated contexts
without access to other ideas and opinions,” Chiesi said. “The more we
can understand each other and talk things out, discuss, debate and not
go straight to violence, the better.”
Article by Artika Casini
, photo by Evan Krape and courtesy of Loren Lee Chiesi
Originally published September 21, 2022