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Post I Was Recently Evacuated from Iraq; on Life as an ESL Instructor
Created by John Eipper on 05/27/19 3:58 AM

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I Was Recently Evacuated from Iraq; on Life as an ESL Instructor (Tamara Zuniga-Brown, USA, 05/27/19 3:58 am)

Musings from an "ESL instructor" on the decline of faculty tenure while evacuating from Iraq:

As a member of the lowest of the low on the "lowest rung on the faculty ladder," an MEd/MATESOL-wielding "ESL instructor," I echo Ray Domenico's sentiments. I have a particularly impassioned dog in this fight, too; especially, now that I am safely back in the US after being mercifully evacuated out of Iraq by the Chaldean Church where I was serving as missionary-teacher/educational consultant to Christian IDPs (Internally Displaced People) ranging from the first Catholic University in Erbil (CUE) to K-10th grade.

Believe me, I was counting my blessings on the 3:30 fight out of Erbil on my precipitous journey a week ago. As I traipsed around the beautiful new airport in Istanbul in the wee hours of the morning, I bemoaned leaving my students, colleagues, friends, and neighbors who were not so privileged. Yet, I somehow managed to find some lighthearted humor in my self-imposed category as an IDT (Internally Displaced Teacher)--yet again.

So, here's where I connect the dots in this dog fight. Some of my fellow WAISers may have read my posts and publications. Some of you may have even been in the audience at Stanford when I presented on raising awareness to the deplorable situation of ESL instructors at American institutions of higher learning and the direct impact this reality has had on the hundreds of thousands of Saudi students benefiting from the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, or KASP--an indisputable key group of future global stakeholders. (I'm not even going to get into the Chinese student demographic in this conundrum.)

Moreover, when the "adjunct faculty crisis" was in full swing a few years ago, I had the honor of working with Dr. Adrianna Kezar (Henry Levin's post, May 21) with respect to my expertise with international university ESL programs. All I can say is that Dr. Kezar has dedicated 20+ years of her research to mitigating this destructive trend and I hope the "Powers that Be" in Academia will one day soon choose to apply the viable solutions she and her data-driven research team have in place.

In a nutshell, even though the ESL profession places us directly in the unique position as critical first lines of linguistic and acculturation processes to international students paying double, or triple, tuition at American universities and colleges, we are categorized under the legal stratagem of "instructor" and placed under the umbrella of financially lucrative (but now predictably struggling) ESL Continuing Ed or Extension programs. As such, we were relegated to financial and social ranks well beneath the lowly adjunct.

Therefore, after 8 years, I finally decided to change the exhausting and precarious existence that accompanies being a member of the lowest of the low in academia working more than full-time and living below the poverty line. I decided to commit my passion for building socio-cultural bridges of peace and understanding through education, enlist my skills and professional expertise with my faith, and do missionary work to help make real change with people who need real help--not to help powerful people increase profits for a select few. So, I got on a plane as an IDT to serve Christian IDPs in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Now that life continues to gift me with interesting learning opportunities, I have had a little time to catch up with the last few WAIS discussions on the recurring theme of faculty tenure. To be perfectly honest, I have not kept up with the battles for a living wage in the hallowed halls of academia, but was not surprised by what I read.

Instead, I've been focused on training and connecting struggling Iraqi teachers and students with grade-appropriate public access to high-quality educational resources (PBS Learning, NatGeo, etc.), providing workshops on academic writing and avoiding plagiarism, and probably the most challenging of all--searching for critical resources to help non-specialty trained teachers help their special-needs students--all while keeping my eye on political rhetoric and military buildups.

All in all, it seems that now that the $30 billion international student business is predictably drying up (predominantly to Canada), business practices at institutions of higher learning have had to branch out to include a greater pool of educators in order to assuage the financial crunch looming over the proverbial bottom line. Sigh... now educators under "term contracts" and creative titles "faculty specialists" are beginning to experience the draconian conditions under which the lowly "ESL instructor" has been living.

Financial and political power struggles across the board go hand in hand. The old African saying, "When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers" is painfully appropriate. But, being an eternal optimist, I must end this on a positive note and declare that I think I managed to take "Distance Learning" to a whole new level!

Happy Memorial Day--I'm grateful to be back in the US!

For anyone interested in the voice of the Chaldean Church sheltering persecuted Christians as tension mounts in Iraq:


JE comments:  Your safety gives us much to be thankful for on this Memorial Day, Tamara.  So good to hear from you!  If I may pry, what was the "final straw" that led the Chaldean Church to evacuate its international faculty?  And how will CUE carry on?

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  • My Evacuation from Iraq (Tamara Zuniga-Brown, USA 05/30/19 11:54 PM)
    John E asked about my evacuation from Iraq, where I served on the faculty of the Catholic University in Erbil. I was grabbing something to eat after a long day of work when reports about the immediate evacuation of American non-essential government personnel had alarmed my loved ones enough to check in. Long story short, I had taken great care to enroll in the DOS STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) and had not received any notification, so I called to verify with the US Consulate and asked about my particular protocol. Needless to say, I was very surprised when I was informed evacuations had already taken place the day before, and ACS (American Citizens Services) was no longer available. Thank heavens, the Archbishop is always true to his word!

    As for CUE, they're still up and running! It's only in its third year of operation and there aren't many international Western faculty.

    I specifically didn't include this in my earlier public entry, because I felt it would further complicate an already interesting dynamic and might even be more detrimental to perceptions and assumptions--i.e., DOS, persecuted religious ethnic minorities, etc. However, I happily give you the back story.

    Enjoy Poland!

    JE comments:  Once again, so relieved that you're safe, Tamara!  What are the factors responsible for the worsening security situation in Iraq?  Does it primarily have to do with the showdown between neighboring Iran and the US?

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