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Otago alumnus selected for English language teaching fellowship in Azerbaijan

Tuesday 24 September 2019 10:45pm

Otago English graduate Richard Schlight tutoring students in the village of Koure in Niger, West Africa. He is now in Azerbaijan on a 10-month US Department of State English Language Fellowship Program.

Otago English graduate Richard Schlight has just arrived Azerbaijan on a 10-month fellowship to train teachers and teach English.

Richard is one of 200 US citizens who has been chosen for the 2019-2020 US Department of State English Language Fellowship Program.

He will be based at Azerbaijan State Pedagogical University in Baku, where he hopes to develop a more student-centred approach to English language teaching and teacher training.

“I’d like to introduce the teachers to methods, techniques and activities that include the students as much as possible,” says Mr Schlight, who arrived in Baku last week.

He will also hold workshops for the US Embassy and American Center in Baku for the encouragement of English language instruction.

The English Language Fellow Program began in 1969. Through projects developed by US embassies in more than 80 countries, fellows work directly with local teachers, students and educational professionals to improve the quality of English language instruction offered at universities and other academic institutions.

Mr Schlight says he attended Otago as a “mature” student in 2002, having spent 10 years running his family’s printing business in Boston. He first came to New Zealand a couple of years earlier when his best friend married a Kiwi, “but it didn’t feel like it was enough time”.

"The English department provided me with such a strong foundation, from the mechanics of writing to conducting scholarly research to understanding English morphosyntax."

“My friend hired a small plane to fly over the Southern Alps and I saw some climbers who looked like coloured dots from above making their way up Mt Cook and I thought to myself ‘I wanna do that!'"

After selling the family business in 2001 he says “it was time to get a BA and I couldn't think of a better country than NZ, and my friend's wife recommended Otago.”

He earned a University of Otago Scholarship in Arts and graduated with a BA in English in 2004.

He says many of his teachers at Otago influenced the path of his career, including Dr Paul Tankard, Honorary Associate Professor Greg Waite and Associate Professor Shef Rogers.

“The English department provided me with such a strong foundation, from the mechanics of writing to conducting scholarly research to understanding English morphosyntax.”

While at Otago, Mr Schlight was also involved with the tramping club, leading trips into Mt Aspiring National Park, and climbing to the summit of Mt Aspiring in December 2004.

After graduating, he went into the Peace Corps and worked as a natural resources adviser and taught English to villagers in Koure in Niger, West Africa.

“Otago had such an influence on my life. I doubt that I’d ever have signed up for the Peace Corps had I not studied international development under Dr Andrew McGregor.”

He earned a Master's in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2012 and went on to work at Woosong University in Daejeon, South Korea, teaching English and editing an English language news magazine.

From 2017-2019 Mr Schlight was Writing Center Director at Solbridge International School of Business in Daejeon and also undertook research examining the effectiveness of the writing workshop format for multilingual graduate students.

Apart from teaching English in Baku, his fellowship will include travelling to other parts of the country to troubleshoot English programmes and conduct teacher training workshops.

“In terms of recreation, I'd like to put some of the climbing skills I learned at OUTC to the test and, at the end of my fellowship, climb Azerbaijan's highest mountain, Mt Bazarduzu.”