Rai's Story


Hamjambo! In the spirit of humanizing education, I wanted to introduce myself to you so that you have a sense of who I am -- within and beyond my role as a TESOL professor. 

I was raised in South Carolina and studied for two years at the University of South Carolina (the other USC). I transferred to the University of Utah during my Junior year. I completed all of my degrees at the University of Utah - a BA in Spanish, an MA in Linguistics with a TESOL Certificate, and a PhD in Linguistics with an emphasis on Second Language Acquisition (SLA) Theory and TESOL Teacher Education. My particular areas of interest within SLA and TESOL include reflective practice among teachers, literacy development among adult emergent readers, teaching refugee-background students, and curriculum design. 

During my studies at the U, I taught academic writing and pronunciation in our Academic English Program (AEP) for international students - mostly from Japan, China, Korea, and Saudi Arabia. During my doctoral studies, I began to teach English to adult men and women with refugee experience from various countries, including Burundi, Somalia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Cuba. This experience changed my life in many ways. Among them, I developed a professional focus on preparing teachers for work with refugee-background adults. This led to several conference presentations, publications and even a course (that I hope to offer here at CU someday!). 

Here are some of my publications on these areas of interest:

My interests have led me into valuable leadership positions with professional organizations. I proudly serve on the board of directors (2022-2025) for the TESOL International Organization. I am the former chair of the Refugee Concerns Interest Section (RCIS) of TESOL and the former Communications Director of LESLLA - Literacy Education and Second Language Learning for Adults. 

One significant offshoot of my work with a group of Burundi women in Utah, was that it led me to Tanzania in 2008 to volunteer with a nonprofit. My main goal was to visit the refugee camps where my students had lived for over 20 years before being resettled in the U.S. On that trip, I forged many important relationships - the most important of which brought me back to Tanzania in 2009. My kaka (brotherLucas. and I founded a nonprofit organization at that time - Project Wezesha. We responded to the request of a village leader to help build a secondary school in Mgaraganza Village, which we did over the next few years. We also started several other projects, including a scholarship program. Around the same time, I joined the board of directors for Girls Education International, for which I served as Executive Director from 2016-2019, and as a board member for almost 13 years, supporting girls going to school in Tanzania and Pakistan. 

While pursuing my nonprofit hobby, I also launched my career. I started as a Higher Education Instructional Consultant in the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at the Univ. of Utah. Then I moved to Armenia and was an assistant professor at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan (2013-2015). That amazing experience is coming full circle as I just recently proposed a Global Seminar to Armenia which I am leading next summer through the CU Education Abroad office! 

I left Armenia after 2 years and took a position as an assistant professor in the MA TESOL Program at St. Michael's College in Vermont (2015-2019) and then in August 2019 I moved here for my current position at CU Boulder. 

What I know -- I love teaching! I love building community and relationships with and among students in my classes, whether they be graduate or undergraduate TESOL courses or English language classes with immigrant, refugee-background, or international students. Teaching is the ultimate learning profession and I'm immensely grateful to my students for how much they teach me daily. 

Yuka's Story

Here's a message sent from Yuka Vogenthaler, a graduate in LING and TESOL, after she moved to Japan to teach with the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Program: 

Greetings from Japan! I hope this email finds you well. My new life in Japan has been such a grand adventure since moving here in November. 

I got placed at a Senior High School (grades 10th-12th) in the Ota-ward of Tokyo, and I decided to live just outside the border of Tokyo to get a bigger space for less, about a 30-minute train commute from work across the river. My school was once an all-boys school until about a decade ago it became co-ed, but that legacy still carries on as the student body is still a 90% boys population. My students are a riot and they make everyday fun and interesting. The school is also a technical-focused school, so it has a lot of electrical, business, and IT students, so I've been able to make my English lessons more interesting by teaching useful things relevant to their fields. 

I definitely arrived at a random part of the school term so I didn't get too much training off the bat, but I learned to be proactive and got the hang of things pretty quickly. I did some traveling over winter break and went to snow country in Japan! I got to have a white Christmas in Nagano and saw some snow monkeys bathing in the hot springs. It was such a magical experience! I'm now planning my next adventure for some cherry-blossom viewing in Saitama during spring break. 

Just last week, I watched the seniors I've gotten to bond with graduate and it was so bittersweet watching them leave already but also really exciting to see them move on to their next chapter. It felt really special to be on the other side of seeing my students graduate - it gave me a new appreciation for what educators do. I'm really looking forward to seeing the start of the new school year here in April. 

Thank you for all of your support that helped bring me to this path today. I couldn't be more grateful for these experiences. Thinking of you and hoping the spring term has also been going well for you too.

Many students who have completed courses within the TESOL Program have gone on to teach English as an additional language nationally and abroad.

Visit this Padlet to see a snapshot of where several folks have landed after graduation!