Staff Spotlight: Kristen Moreland
Interviewed by Danielle Valenti
Kristen Moreland joined ISB in Fall 2018 as the Enrichment and Summer Programs Coordinator. Did you know that she speaks more than four languages? I sat down with Kristen to learn more about her personal experience with language immersion and her passion for cross-cultural education.
I’ve recently spotted you reading an Elena Ferrante novel in Italian. What other languages do you speak?
I feel very comfortable in Italian and Russian, and I speak conversational Azerbaijani. I studied French in high school and I would love to get back into that now that I’m at ISB. My passive understanding of French and Spanish has really improved since working here!
Tell me more about your journey learning these languages.
When I was in high school, I was an exchange student in Sardinia. I arrived not knowing any Italian. On my first night there, my host mom, who spoke English fluently, asked if I wanted her to speak to me in Italian or in English. I chose for her to only speak in Italian to me, and I am so glad I made that decision. During that year, I learned a lot about myself but also about forming connections with people in a different part of the world. This was a really formative experience that put me on the path that I’m on. When I got to college, I ended up majoring in Russian.
Why did you choose to study Russian after returning from your dolce vita in Italy?
Since my undergraduate university didn’t offer Italian, I wanted to study a language that was supposed to be one of the more difficult ones to learn. Since Arabic didn’t fit in my schedule, I chose to study Russian, and I ended up falling in love with the language, the culture, and the department. After I graduated, I received a Fulbright scholarship to go to Tomsk in Russia for a year, where I taught English at a university. This was an amazing experience; Siberia was very cold but also very beautiful. After that, I came to New York and began working on educational programs at the Russian American Foundation. One of the programs that I oversaw sent a group of high school students to study Russian in Moscow every summer. I am a big believer in international exchange at a young age, from my own experience as an exchange student, which stays very close to my heart. I really enjoyed this work and especially liked getting to use my Russian every day, but I missed interacting with students and wanted to get back in the classroom.
How did you eventually return to the classroom?
I returned to the classroom as a Pre-K teacher and spent my summers leading the Russian American Foundation’s trip to Moscow, which I had previously worked on from the program administration side. It was so rewarding to experience this journey and time of discovery with the students. On their first day in Moscow, they didn’t know any Russian and they would have no idea what’s going on, and by the last day of their trip, they didn’t want to leave.
On the ice on Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake, outside Listvyanka, Russia
What came next?
At a certain point, I decided that I wanted to get my master’s degree in International Education with a focus in youth exchange and language learning. As part of that, I did an internship in South Africa, and I also spent a summer in Azerbaijan as part of my language program. This reenergized me on the importance of cross-cultural exchange and language learning. ISB is a great fit for me because it combines my experiences with language education and background in program administration and teaching, and I love getting to interact with the students every day.
In the mountains outside Xinaliq, Azerbaijan
In front of Nizami Literature Museum in Baku, Azerbaijan
Outside St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square in Moscow, Russia
What draws you to education?
I always enjoyed school growing up but never thought that I wanted to be a teacher. I first realized that I wanted to work in education when I had to write a cover letter. As I was writing about my experience, I realized that I had been involved in education in some capacity for years, whether it was working with alumni from exchange programs, visiting different high schools to encourage youth exchange, teaching Italian to American students who were going to study abroad, or teaching English to international exchange students. Initially, I was mostly interested in language education, but after more experience in the classroom, I realized that there were many other aspects of education which interested me as well, such as emotional development and behavior management.
What is something that informs your philosophy on education?
Something that I’ve learned from language immersion, in particular from my first experience in Italy when I didn’t know Italian, is that when you’re in a new environment you have to be okay with making mistakes. I think it’s really important to model that for the students. When I speak French with the French Kindergarten students, my French isn’t perfect and I make mistakes, but I want them to see that making mistakes is okay and that we are all trying to learn, even adults! When I was a Pre-K teacher and a student would ask me a question that I didn’t know the answer to, I would respond “I don’t know the answer but that’s a good question. How do you think we can find the answer?” I want to show them it’s okay not to know the answer, and that it is good to be curious about the world.
Kristen leading a workshop for Preschool students on Russian folktales and dolls
What’s your favorite thing about working in ISB’s multilingual environment?
What’s so interesting about this multilingual environment in particular is that not everyone speaks all three languages, but it still feels very comfortable and welcoming even when there are language differences. What I like about ISB is that you hear the three languages all the time. I especially enjoy hearing the students switch back and forth between languages.