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June Alum of the Month: Santiago, DR Study Abroad Alum Publishes Book on Language Learning

CIEE alum Armen Kassabian is utilizing his experience from his time abroad – from his semester in Santiago (Dominican Republic) with CIEE, to a Fulbright scholarship in Brazil – to innovate within the field of language learning. His recently published book, Beyond the ‘To Be’ Syndrome: An Alternative Method to Teaching Language, explores teaching language in a more creative, interactive way. Armen co-authored the book during his Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) position in Brazil in 2014. His book will be utilized as a resource by the U.S. State Department for future English teachers going abroad. 

10665266_848559537936_7297247770960664829_nArmen in Lagoinha De Baixo, Mato Grosso, a Quilomboa Afro-Brazilian Community. 

With six languages (and counting) in his repertoire – including Spanish, Creole, Armenian, French, Portuguese, and American Sign Language – his approach has proven to be quite effective. Throughout his Fulbright year, he focused on interactive, unique ways of learning, such as a pen pal program between American and Brazilian students and class discussions relating to students’ interests. “The main aim is to democratize the way teaching happens so that the teachers are more facilitators of students building their identity and finding themselves in English,” explains Armen. “You need to find yourself when you speak a new language, and figure out how you’re going to express yourself in this language.” 

“I really believe that taking away the hard part about [language learning], and the ‘oh, I’m learning a language’, and making it more about ‘I’m learning to relate to someone in a new way using different words, sounds and ways of expressing myself’ takes a lot of pressure off of the students; they’re just learning how to express themselves in writing and speaking, and then they’re able to improve and improvise better based on what they want express.”

10710991_866751755586_9097234627619359641_nArmen (third from left) teaching middle school English with university students. 

Armen’s passion for Creole language and culture began during his semester abroad in Santiago, Dominican Republic in 2008 with CIEE. As a double-major in International Development and Contemplative Practices in Education at Clark University, the CIEE Service Learning program in Santiago aligned well with his academic goals. Armen describes his CIEE experience as ‘challenging and rewarding’, and says that he grew personally and professionally during his time abroad.

Prior to his Fulbright program, Armen taught English in Martinique (in the French Caribbean Islands), as well as in New York City Public Schools. Today, he is continuing his education with a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) at Long Island University and a Master’s degree in Bilingual Childhood Education at Hunter College, and is working as an elementary school teaching assistant in New York. 

10676212_864119690266_123389472206815991_nLogos Gospel Capoeira, Cuiaba, Mato Grosso

In the future, Armen plans to continue working internationally with English-language programs, for the American State Department or for an International High School in New York City. During his Fulbright program, Armen began teaching English for the Deaf, and is interested in opening up higher education opportunities for students who are deaf. His other interests include teaching tai chi, improvisation/theater, poetry, studying new languages, marathon running, capoeira, and ultimate frisbee. Regardless of his next career move, he says that his main goal is to continue his work with students from different cultures. 

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