Alumni News | Keith and Michelle Ray: teaching English from Hong Kong, to Hanoi, to Brasilia
Editor's Note: The Happy Beginnings series features recent College of Arts and Sciences graduates who are getting started in careers, graduate school, and service.
Ohio University alumni Keith and Elizabeth Michelle Ray have spent the past decade teaching English around the globe.
The Rays graduated from Ohio University in 2012, each earning a B.A. in Linguistics from the College of Arts and Sciences. They moved to Hong Kong where they taught English as a foreign language (EFL) at a language school for children.
They returned to Athens in 2013, each adding a M.A. in Applied Linguistics in 2015. After that, they worked at the American School in Hanoi, Vietnam, for three years.
Since 2018 they have been working and living in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Both are professors at Escola das Nações School of Nations International School. Keith is the elementary school principal and just started working as an online adjunct professor for the University at Buffalo. Michelle teaches middle school English language arts and trains teachers on using the WIDA (language development resources) for language assessment. They recently decided to extend their time in Brazil for at least another three years.
"Brasilia is a great place to live. We joke that it's a warmer Athens because the city is designed similar to a college campus with 'blocos' of apartments, restaurants, and supermarkets. It's clean, safe, and green," Michelle said. "We are really into running, and prior to COVID, we were able to run a race every weekend in the city. Outside of Brasilia, there are many places to hike and see waterfalls. Since the pandemic, we have been very limited on what we can do in and around the city. We moved outside of the city center to a more scenic area with toucans and macaws, which makes morning runs even better."
International teaching has opened a lot of different opportunities for the couple, both professionally and personally.
"We have been able to travel to many places, save money as most schools offer nice packages (salary, housing, etc.), and make friends all over the world," Michelle said. "Professionally, we have been able to expand our knowledge on reading and writing practices, STEM, and tech tools."
Both have led teacher training workshops in technology and ESL (English as a second language) education and completed service projects with local teachers. Michelle also participated in the Linguistics Department's 50th Anniversary Colloquium Series in November.
"In Vietnam, we held a workshop on STEM for public school teachers, and in Brasilia I held workshops for EFL teachers in the satellite cities,” Michelle said. “These were some of the most rewarding experiences that I have had as a professional. While we are currently going to school in masks with very few students in the room and the desks separated, I really long for the days when I can have all 25 of my very chatty Brazilian students in class, hugging me, and laughing at my heavily accented Portuguese."
In addition to their linguistics degrees, the Rays added TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) and CALL (computer-aided language learning) certificates from OHIO. Additionally, both earned teaching licenses through an alternative program at the University of West Florida and completed M.Sc in International Education degrees at Buffalo. Keith also completed his principal licensure program with the University of Cincinnati.
Q&A with Michelle Ray
Q: Who were your favorite professors and how did they make an impact on your life?
A: We both believe that the professors in the Linguistics Department all had an impact on our lives. Since the department is so small, you really get to bond and form relationships with the professors. As undergraduates, we both looked to Dr. Ludmila Marchenkova for advice since she taught the TEFL courses. She really helped us craft our teaching styles and encouraged us to go abroad. As graduate students, we became close to Dr. Scott Jarvis as he was my thesis adviser and Keith's teaching mentor for his assistantship.
Q: Do you still keep in touch with any of your faculty?
A: Yes! We actually saw Dr. Dawn Bikowski (now an associate professor at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif.) when she was in Vietnam and we were living there as well. Keith has kept in touch with Dr. Greg Kessler and I speak to Dr. Jarvis (now chair of the Linguistics Department at the University of Utah) every few months.
Q: What was the hardest hill you had to climb (not counting Jeff Hill) at OHIO? And how did you overcome challenges or obstacles in your path? What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”?
A: The last semester of graduate school was a very stressful time. We were both finishing our theses. We were newly married, living off of graduate stipends, and trying to plan for the future. When we both finally defended our theses, it was a huge relief and we knew things would get better! I think the best advice for anyone feeling the pressure of graduate school is to just take one day at a time. We really wanted to move back to Hong Kong and teach at a university after graduate school. That did not happen! But I think the ups and downs led us to a better path of working in international schools. It has opened up more doors and opportunities for us.
Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?
A: Athens is a huge part of our life stories. I grew up near Athens and has many childhood memories on campus. Athens is also the place we met, married and started our lives together. We made lifelong friends in Athens, and it seems everywhere we go, we run into a Bobcat.
Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?
A: Some of our favorite things to do in Athens are hockey games, running on the bike path, and the International Street Fair.