John Kotnarowski graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2007 with BA degrees in History and Philosophy. Additionally, he is a May 2014 graduate of the MATESL program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he taught academic writing courses to undergraduate and graduate international students and served as a Head Teaching Assistant. As a first year EL Fellow, his host institution is the National University of Science and Technology (NUST MISiS) in Moscow, Russia. Within the greater fields of ESL/EFL and applied linguistics, his primary areas of interest include CALL, EAP/ESP writing, classroom language assessment and exploring the role of motivation in language learning.
Why have you decided to come to Russia?
I originally decided to study for an MA in TESOL to comply with one of primary requirements for becoming an EL Fellow, the program that has brought me to NUST MISiS and Russia in general. The EL Fellows program is a U.S. Department of State public diplomacy initiative that sends qualified U.S. TESOL professionals to work at academic institutions around the world. More information about the program can be found here: http://elprograms.org/
As a Fellow, I will lead and facilitate a variety of English language initiatives at NUST MISiS. I will also work closely with the English Language Office at the U.S. Embassy here in Moscow. The ELO, currently headed by Regional English Language Officer Jerry Frank, works very closely with teachers’ associations, universities, schools and English language teaching (ELT) professionals on a variety of educational and cultural exchange programs and projects in order to enhance mutual understanding between the peoples of the Russian Federation and the United States.
All in all, the opportunity to participate in the EL Fellows program represents an excellent opportunity for personal growth and professional development. Additionally, it provides me with an opportunity to gain more experience working in the EFL context and continue to foster a greater sense of cultural awareness and sensitivity. And I couldn’t pass up the chance to live and work in one of the great capital cities of the world and experience all the wonderful culture, history and linguistic richness that come part and parcel with such an experience.
Have you already worked in any universities outside the United States?
From 2008-2012, I worked in a variety of capacities, including EFL instructor and program sub-coordinator, for el Centro de Educación Continua de la Escuela Politécnica Nacional (CEC-EPN), a university language program in Quito, Ecuador. Our main goal was to serve students of the university achieve their English sufficiency requirement but the program also offered specialized classes for students from ages 15 and up, including a public speaking course, a creative writing course, various conversation clubs and a series of academic level courses designed to help prepare students to take the TOEFL exam.
What are your first impressions of MISiS?
Thanks to a strong web presence, I was able to get acquainted with the university, its mission and vision and various English language programs well ahead of my arrival here in Moscow. Everyone I have interacted with his been incredibly helpful and demonstrates a strong commitment to providing excellent English language education tailored to the needs of the student population here at MISiS. While I have yet to begin teaching, I am excited to begin and look forward to a mutually beneficial partnership over the coming academic year.
What do you see as your greatest challenge this academic year?
I am dedicated to promoting mutual understanding through a free and open exchange of ideas in English. Ideally, I would like every project I work on to advocate for the view that language is a powerful tool for self-expression, interpersonal communication and the exchange of ideas. It helps us better understand ourselves and others. By learning a new language, we begin to acquire a better understanding of the culture from which it emanates and this process fosters in us a more balanced understanding of the way world the world actually works and helps dispel divisive stereotyping and cultural myopia. It helps promote greater unity through understanding and bridges gaps between people and cultures by underscoring similarities and understanding/embracing differences. While teaching grammar, academic writing or proper pronunciation are challenging pursuits in their own right, I strive to go the extra mile and contextualize the focus on form(s) within greater, ongoing (inter-)cultural dialogues.
What are your plans for future?
First, I want to have a productive and mutually beneficial fellowship year. As a recent graduate, I am excited to put into practice all the theory imparted to me by all my wonderful professors and colleagues at the University of Illinois. I’m also excited to continue developing my love for English language literature and culture into my EFL/ESL materials. Materials development, in general, is one aspect of teaching English as a foreign and/or second language which I greatly enjoy. From creating lesson plans, to developing presentations and experimenting with new, communicative activities, I enjoy preparing, presenting and reflecting. In the future, I’ll look for ways to continue doing this. It would also be nice to continue working with dedicated students and EL professionals from a wide variety of experience levels and cultural backgrounds.