This past September, Charles McKinney was among the first to be selected by the U.S. Department of State for the prestigious Virtual English Language Educator Program, a new program created for the 2022-2023 academic year. McKinney graduated from Immaculata University in 2009 with a degree in international business and foreign language with a minor in entrepreneurship and a certificate in theology, and now he is using knowledge gained at Immaculata to teach English internationally.
Through projects developed by U.S. Embassies in more than 80 countries, Virtual English Language Educator Program works with local teachers, students and educational professionals to improve the quality of English language instruction offered at prestigious universities, academic institutions and cultural centers. According to a news release from the U.S. Department of State, “These projects are challenging, and the teachers selected represent the best of the U.S. TESOL community.”
After successfully completing the interview process, McKinney was matched with a project in Ethiopia for which he is working four hours a week for 10 weeks with Ethiopian students and professionals via Zoom to teach speaking and writing skills. When his assignment in Ethiopia is finished, McKinney will have his assignment in Ethiopia extended or be considered for other projects in other countries.
For over a decade, McKinney has developed a career as a global English educator by working in eight countries (including South Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Rwanda). In addition to his role as a virtual educator, he lives in Baghdad, Iraq where he teaches English at the American University of Iraq, a start-up institution that launched in 2021. Over the years, he has learned to speak several languages, including Arabic and Macedonian, and he studied Spanish and Mandarin Chinese while at Immaculata.
McKinney received his first master’s degree in media communications from Webster University in Thailand in 2014 and earned his second master’s degree from the School of International Training (SIT) Graduate Institute in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) in 2022.
“Now that I finally finished my [second] master’s in TESOL, it kind of opened this new door for me to at least start at the virtual educator level,” McKinney stated. Next year, he plans to apply for the in-person fellowship and is interested in working in North Africa or the Middle East. One of the benefits of his job is traveling—getting to see the world and learning new languages and cultures. When he entered college as a freshman, he never envisioned himself being in Iraq. However, as a high school student, he coordinated the prayer request calendar for his church, and he remembers praying for Iraqi civilians during the Iraq War.
“When I finally came here to work, it was funny because I thought about that and I’m like, wow, I’m actually here and working with the generation that grew up or were still babies when that happened.” McKinney notes that some of his students have shared stories from that time, but McKinney emphasizes that there is no ill will or disrespect toward him, Americans, or the U.S. “They are grateful to have us here. It’s very humbling in that way,” he adds.
American Spaces in Ethiopia hosts the Virtual Educator Program, in partnership with the Office of English Language Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and administered through the Center for Intercultural Education and Development at Georgetown University. So far, his experience with the Ethiopian and Iraqi students has been positive and McKinney would love to continue doing similar work. He is considering pursuing a doctorate degree, perhaps in international education or applied linguistics.
“I love working with young people. It brings me so much joy and fulfillment. I really do believe I’ve found my vocation—this is my life’s work.