Virtual Conversations: How to Talk to Your Community Abroad About Black Lives Matter Protests

Virtual Conversations: How to Talk to Your Community Abroad About Black Lives Matter Protests

Students at SMA N 1 Sangatta Utara watch the Oscar Winning Short Film Hair Love as part of their lesson on narrative text

Since arriving back to the United States, most mornings I wake up to a flurry of WhatsApp messages from my students. Typically, these messages read “Miss what are you doing?” or “Miss how is the pandemic in America?” prompting casual updates on our shared experiences in quarantine. Recently, these messages have taken on a new urgency, with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests happening in more than 2,000 cities in the United States​. Worldwide people are demanding justice for the killings of Black Americans by white police officers. The killing of Black Americans is a systemic problem in the United States and requires action beyond police reform and prosecution.

These morning messages are now filled with voices of concern and confusion. Students are now asking “Miss why are people protesting in America?” Social media and the world wide web allows worry for my safety, and while I myself am not in any immediate danger, I struggle to put into words the long history of racism in the United States and what these protests mean beyond me as an individual.

The Indonesian ETAs host a virtual end of grant ceremony in place of their in person end of year conference in Jakarta

TikTok is a social media application that many Indonesian high schoolers rely on for global news and honest portrayal of experiences beyond their grasp. On such a platform, posts are spread at the swipe of a thumb, offering little pause for reflection and making misinformation rampant. The Black Lives Matter Protests in the United States of America have not been exempt from the consequences of fake news. For instance, a Tiktok of President Donald Trump supposedly mocking the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police has been circulating. The clip of President Donald Trump standing in front of a crowd exclaiming “I cant breath, I cant breath” was taken out of context. It was originally from a rally held in ​Colorado Springs where President Trump was referring not to George Floyd’s death, but to former democratic primary presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg, fumbling with his answers during a debate. Students were shocked by such a seemingly insensitive act on the matter of race in the United States.

How do you explain how such a video was taken out of context without denying the reality of which we currently exist over WhatsApp? How do you summarize the complexities of the history of race in the United States through language and cultural barriers? How do you explain the larger backdrop of a United States that still has confederate statues to a student who has never traveled beyond their hometown? To answer these questions, I turned to the support and creative brain power of my cohort. While social media platforms can accidentally cause students to promote misinformation, they can also be a teaching resource. Here are some suggestions I gained from the collective man power of my 2019-2020 Indonesian ETA cohort.

A student practices her English writing while learning about famous Black Americans

Use your social media platforms to share, repost and send information to your host community. Try to engage in the post before posting in order to make sure you yourself are not also spreading false information. When sharing posts, consider translating some of the information, making it even more accessible to your students. There are many social media accounts currently explaining the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in America. Reshare a post on your story or personal accounts that is visible to your students. Also, many social media accounts share free books and resources that you can also repost and share with your community abroad. Many social media platforms allow you to post polls or host a Q&A with your followers. Make the most of these functions by allowing your community to ask you questions and providing answers on your story. For members of your host community that may not be on social media, share articles and posts to any WhatsApp groups you are still a part of as well. This will broaden your reach of interaction with your host community to anyone who might be curious and not sure how to ask you.

Similar to when you were teaching grammar and vocabulary to your students and would have to review the material and create an age appropriate lesson, you can review the information about the Black Lives Matter movement and create a lesson plan to teach your students. Your lesson plan can include explaining the history of police brutality in America coupled with videos of people protesting and the reason why they are protesting. You could end the lesson with an activity where you ask students to create a poster they would carry to a Black Lives Matter protest. There are several online resources that also provide lesson plans to teach students about the Black Lives Matter movement that you can lean on. Take a look at the “For Children” tab on websites like,, for children’s books on race that may be more appropriate for students where English is their second, third, or even fourth language.

Another way you can approach conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States is through comparisons to your host country. An article posted in the Jakarta Post highlighted how systemic racism is not unique to the United States. While the history and cultural contexts differ greatly, ​this article​ discusses the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter, a spin off of #BlackLivesMatter trending in Indonesia, calling for Indonesians to reflect on their own history with racism and oppression. Papua is an eastern region of Indonesia notoriously exploited for its abundance of natural resources, while simultaneously being denied basic public amenities. This offers a starting point to both improve your understanding as an ETA of the political climate in your host country as well as have students draw their own parallels and make their own conclusions on the Black Lives Matter movement.

From this, I was able to meet my students on a common ground of understanding, allowing us to share about how racism persists in our respective countries and what we can do to combat it as individuals. Similarly to how the shared experience of social isolation once prompted conversations around COVID-19, recognition of racism across the world has facilitated meaningful WhatsApp conversations.

-Lucy Srour, 2019-2020 ETA to Indonesia

-Ammarah Rehman, 2019-2020 ETA to Indonesia

June 29, 2020 0

Alumni Profile: Jinan Banna

Alumni Profile: Jinan Banna

I visited Doka Estate with Professor Carmen Pinto from Universidad Veritas to learn about how coffee is cultivated and processed.

I spent a few days in Mexico for the Congreso Latinoamericano de Nutrición, hosted by the Sociedad Latinoamericana de Nutrición, and am pictured here with colleagues.

My research focuses on obesity prevention in underserved populations, particularly during critical periods in growth and development such as adolescence. In addition, as a large portion of my time is dedicated to instruction, I have also engaged in scholarly work related to development of effective instructional strategies. These areas of focus reflect the current needs in the state of Hawai‘i, as obesity remains a pressing problem. Further, there are higher rates of obesity and associated chronic conditions in underserved populations such as Filipinos. To address high rates of chronic disease and existing health disparities, it is crucial to provide high-quality training to budding nutrition professionals, which drives my research on instructional techniques. Health promotion for chronic disease prevention is a topic of great interest in the US and is a large component of the courses I teach at my institution. As obesity rates increase around the globe, examining strategies to encourage maintenance of healthy weight in diverse settings is of paramount importance.

My interest in serving as a Fulbright Specialist stemmed from an interest in applying the knowledge I have gained in performing studies in the US to other settings to address the needs of underserved populations exhibiting similar chronic health issues. The problems populations in the US face with regards to nutrition are similar to those many others around the globe are now facing, and the techniques I have used in performing research and teaching in the US may be applied to address these. I had an interest in working with other health professionals abroad to combat health disparities.

I met with Noel Payne at Universidad Veritas in September 2018 to discuss integration of information on nutrition into two of Noel’s courses: Sustainable Lifestyles and Sustainable Consumption and Production.

I engaged in a program to train faculty at Universidad Veritas in Costa Rica in course development. I taught a basic nutrition course for the faculty and met with faculty individually to assist them with incorporation of nutrition information into their courses. Universidad Veritas offers several courses in Health and Human Development within the sustainability focus at that institution, and faculty benefited from training in development of syllabi for additional courses to complement those existing.

The professors at Universidad Veritas kindly took me out to try local food, including to one of their favorite spots for frozen yogurt.

One of the photos captured my meeting with Noel Payne to discuss integration of information on nutrition into two of Noel’s courses: Sustainable Lifestyles and Sustainable Consumption and Production. I similarly worked with faculty to integrate resources related to nutrition into a number of different courses.

During my stay in Costa Rica, I also conducted a workshop related to conducting research in the nutrition field at the Universidad Ciencias Médicas in Costa Rica. This workshop provided faculty with tools to develop research projects and publish in the field.

I also took a few days to travel to Mexico to present my research at the Congreso latinoamericano de Nutrición (SLAN). At this meeting, I shared results of a trial seeking to promote healthy eating in underserved groups using text message.

I also had the opportunity to try a number of tasty local foods, such as pejivalle, as well as tour a coffee farm with one of the professors. In addition, I took several cooking classes to further familiarize myself with local cuisine.

Pejivalle, a very nutritious fruit often consumed with mayonnaise in Costa Rica

I continue to correspond with those with whom I connected while I was in Costa Rica, and engage in discussion on nutrition-related topics. The experience was very beneficial to me professionally, as I am able to incorporate relevant aspects of my experience into my teaching. I am able to draw parallels between the settings in which I work and others. I also gained familiarity with the structure and content of programs abroad to continue to improve the offerings for our students.

– Jinan Banna

Fulbright Specialist to Costa Rica 2018-2019

May 25, 2020 0

Alumni Profile: Addison Dlott

Alumni Profile: Addison Dlott

Teaching at SMK Padang Kala outside of Kota Bharu, Kelantan

One of the first things I remember from my English Teaching Assistantship in Malaysia was jotting down a phrase in my phone: We’re all living the same experiences, just different realities. Someone said it to me in passing, but I knew I had to remember it because I thought it so pointedly reflected what cross-cultural exchange was all about.

Meeting my mentor, Nazila, for the first time in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia

I felt the weight of that comment when I stepped into my community. I felt transported back to high school at the semi-rural school I taught at in the state of Kelantan. A group of girls welcomed me into their circle. We hung out after school and listened to music, spent weekend afternoons drinking teh tarik and evenings slurping tom yum in front of the TV. The discussions of boys, music, pop culture and
beauty felt oddly familiar.

“Who’s a better rapper, Cardi B or Nicki Minaj?”

“Is Jason Momoa your favorite actor?”

“What face cleanser are you using?”

“You must have a favorite BTS member!”

My mother, a high school teacher back in the United States, would text me and ask how I was fairing, how school was. I told her that my days mirrored hers, just 12 hours ahead. School began at 7:30 a.m. Ended at 2 p.m. Lunch for upperclassmen happened after lunch for lowerclassmen. The library served as a place for students to hang out. After school held opportunity for sports or other extracurriculars.

The relevance of the phrase was re-emphasized when a student who I connected with over American rock music WhatsApp messaged me to wish me a Happy Easter. Four weeks had passed since I left Malaysia at the urging of the State Department. I asked him how he was, what he was up to. He said he was just at home doing homework, but having a hard time focusing, given the global pandemic.

SMK Padang Kala’s netball team preparing for the championship

“I’m a bit frustrated, bcoz it’s too much.”

I found a moment of clarity after reading his message. My family in the United States and my family in Kelantan were experiencing a collective pain over the COVID-19 pandemic. Culture, values and private lives, of course, change the way we experience the world. But at the root of it, while my former student and I are on opposite sides of the world, we are feeling vastly similar emotions, just in different contexts.

Eating homecooked tom yum with students

Back in my childhood home, I’ve spent the last few weeks reflecting on my time in Malaysia and mapping my next steps. While I am unsure what the future holds for me, I will continue to pursue creative and personally fulfilling opportunities. And though my alumni status came earlier than I had hoped, I’m thankful for the short time I had to build these bridges of greater understanding. And I believe those bridges will continue to build, even amidst COVID-19, though it may look a bit different than what I initially expected. I messaged him back.

Meeting to say goodbye to students in the afternoon before flying back to the United States

“Same, honestly.”


At the end of the day, we’re all just living the same experiences, just different realities.


Addison Dlott
Fulbright ETA Malaysia 2020

May 18, 2020 0

Alumni Profile: Alia Flanigan

Alumni Profile: Alia Flanigan

After 3 days of creating a dance with these girls for Sports Day, we took a selfie!

My Fulbright experience is and will always be memorable. From getting that acceptance letter on March 22nd 2019 to coming home unexpectedly on March 18th 2020, I will never forget my time in Malaysia and all the new friends I made.

Moving to a small town called Kuala Krau in Temerloh,

Alia and her students from Form 2 (14 years old) Amanah (best class) on her first day of school! These students were filled with so much energy!

Pahang was very new and different. The first day of school I was excited to meet my students and fellow teachers at SMK Kuala Krau. I was greeted by huge smiles. I got to introduce myself to the students more times than I could count. Every classroom, every new group of students. My name is Alia Belle Flanigan. I am 22 years old, my birthday is April 5th, and I am from New Jersey. I have one sister, a mom, a dad and a cat.

My first time really bonding with students was creating a creative movement dance with 30 female students. The positivity and excitement I got from these girls allowed me to have more confidence about my placement at SMKKK. I was co-teaching 14 classes a week where I mostly played creative games with Forms 2 and 4, and helped prepare Forms 3 and 5 for their exams. I never taught before, as I majored in International Relations so it was something new and exciting. I eventually became a tutor for a group of Form 1 Setia students. My mentor Ruby said no students have asked for tutoring before. Tutoring became a daily activity.

Maddie and Alia met their mentors, Nani and Ruby in Kuala Terengganu! Ruby, Alia’s mentor took a selfie of the four!

My Speaking Workshops became more popular as the weeks went by. We did a scavenger hunt, board games, jeopardy, singing and crafts. These students were filled with energy and we had so much fun together. I wish I had said goodbye to them at our last workshop instead of ‘see you after break’.

Pahang ETAs went to Kuantan for a Pahang vs Selangor soccer game. We all bought Pahang t-shirts to cheer on our home state!!

On weekends, we stayed busy by going to different places around Malaysia. We went to Penang for Chinese New Years, the Cameron Highlands, Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, Kuantan, and explored our town. My roommate and I became really close as did the Pahang ETAs. I was placed in a lucky location: the center of Pahang. We were not far from everyone else (farthest drive was 2 hours). The town of Temerloh and Jerantut, both 30 minutes from us, provided us both with nice restaurants, grocery stores, and street/night markets.

I thought moving to a tiny rural town in Pahang, Malaysia would be a challenge at first but instead, we were welcome instantly and we started to thrive. We attended a Zumba dance class in Temerloh, ate roti canai with students, had custom-made baju kurungs made, and planned English Camps. Maddie and I submitted our proposal for the Elephant Sanctuary Camp in April the day before we got offered voluntary leave.

When the voluntary leave offer came out on Friday March 13, all Pahang ETAs decided to come together in Jerantut for one last big night together on Saturday. The next morning, while we were finishing up our roti breakfast, we were notified that airlines were closing flights in the near future. After everyone made calls to family members, almost all of us decided to go home.

Deciding it was time to go home was a really hard decision. I was not ready to say goodbye to a new world that I just said hello to. None of us were. Since it was break for the school, I was able to say goodbye to a few students that were in town and I saw my mentor the morning I was leaving. Maddie and I packed up everything, said goodbye to our mentors and drove to KL Tuesday to leave Wednesday morning.

Flying out that Wednesday still feels like a daze. Being at an airport around 4:30 am where there were no people, no lines, and everyone had gloves and a mask, it was scary thinking this will be the last memory of my experience. I had such a wonderful time over the 2.5 months, I decided to only think about the positive moments to keep it that way.

Even though my Fulbright experience was cut, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go. As the days go on, I think about what activities I had planned for my school and the goals the students and I had together. I hope Kuala Krau and all the families stay safe and healthy during this time.

Pahang ETAs head to KLIA at 4am to catch their 8am Tokyo flight!

I am grateful for Fulbright for getting me home during a world pandemic safely and quickly. With one layover in Tokyo, I was able to fly straight into Newark Liberty Airport where my parents were waiting for me to take me home. Now that I am home, I keep in touch with my mentor, students, and fellow ETAs through social media and Zoom calls. As everyone is unsure of next steps or looking for jobs, I was able to contact my grad school. I started my Masters in International Relations at Central European University in the fall of 2019 before Fulbright and I will be able to return in the fall of 2020. I am lucky to have a plan for the future.


I hope to return to Malaysia and Kuala Krau down the road and see those huge smiling faces again.

Alia Flanigan

Fulbright Malaysia ETA 2020

April 21, 2020 0

Alumni Profile: Laura Savage

Alumni Profile: Laura Savage

Students play a board game to practice English speaking in the classroom.

First day of school, SMA Mahmudiah in Kuala Berang, Terengganu.

My vision was fuzzy as I blinked my crusty eyes open. I couldn’t tell if I was still dreaming or if the sound was somebody buzzing to get into the room. I stumbled toward the living room of the hotel suite and realized that it was just the phone ringing. I picked it up.

“Hello?” I answered, trying not to sound like I had just woken up from an embarrassingly deep slumber.

“Hi, this is your representative from the US Embassy. The State Department has just issued a level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory, we are sending you back to the United States. I need to know your final destination.”

I stuttered out a location, before clarifying with the speaker on the other end what was actually happening. Part of me still felt like I was in a dream, though I knew that the sensation of the cold tile on my naked feet was far too real for it to be a dream.

Let’s rewind a little bit.

Two and a half months prior to that dizzying hotel room phone call, I started a Fulbright grant, working as an assistant English teacher in Malaysia.

Upon starting the grant, it had been more than a year since submitting the application, as the Fulbright program in Malaysia runs from January through the end of October. From the time I received the news about winning the grant to the time I departed, I had almost nine months to prepare and I was more than ready.

Though the arduous nearly 18-hour plane ride to get to Malaysia was brutal and, by far, the longest flight I had ever been on, I was brimming with excitement at the opportunity to participate in the Fulbright program and to live in such an extraordinary country like Malaysia. I met a number of other grant recipients on the plane, many of whom I would form close friendships with and end up working with on larger projects as the year got started.

Hanging out with students after school.

When I found out my placement, Terengganu, my heart pounded wildly, and thoughts raced through my mind. How will my community react to me? Would I find friends? Will my students like me?

The following week, I met my mentor: a young, modern, energetic, and endlessly optimistic woman named Mahira. She welcomed me with open arms, as well as an open mind. She assured me that students and other teachers would love having me and that I would thoroughly enjoy my time in Terengganu, a state located on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. The first day I met her, she invited me to her wedding the following month.

Dinner at the house of U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Lakhdhir, with other teaching assistants in Terengganu.

Though I was nervous in the beginning, my first day of teaching at school reminded me of my previous experiences teaching, which helped me to quickly settle in. School assembly, schedules, student speeches, announcements, eating in the kantin, maintaining class interest and control, the usual stuff, just as one would see in schools in the US and around the world.

I was there for the long haul, a whole year, potentially two or more, and I went in with the mindset of wanting to develop deep and meaningful relationships, have lasting and positive impacts that students could also take outside of the classroom, feeling connected above all else. Though at times, I undoubtedly felt like an outsider as a foreigner, with basic Malay skills, a different look, and a different religion, these differences proved no barrier to connecting with others.

The night before Mahira’s wedding, I went out with the other bridesmaids, her best friends. We talked, we gossiped, laughed, shared stories, and ate cake on the floor of the hotel room we were staying in. I didn’t feel different, I felt connected and that’s what humans crave, connection with other people.

Bridesmaids with Mahira on her wedding day.

Mahira, her husband, and I on her wedding day.

Bridesmaids on Mahira’s wedding day.


I began training for the Kuala Lumpur marathon and ran daily in the afternoons, despite the 90-degree temperatures. I formed regular routes and sometimes on days when I would mix up a route or take a rest, the neighbors would wonder where I was or why I wasn’t running. Two weeks before I got the call to be evacuated, I bought a bicycle with the intention of joining a bicycle troupe. My friend Fakhira, a fellow biker, drove me 40 minutes to pick up a bicycle and helped me select the perfect one. I went biking once with the group, we went out for food and tea afterwards, and I told them I would go biking with them weekly so I could berlatih Bahasa Melayu saya. After daily studying for a month and a half, I felt that I was really catching on to the local dialect and was determined to become conversational by the end of the year.

Eating with neighbors after going on a run.

It was heart-wrenching to call Mahira, Fakhira, students, and neighbors and tell them that I would not be returning back to Terengganu. It all happened so fast and few people saw it coming, we all thought there would be more time together. Once in a while, I think about the lesson plans waiting for me on my desk at school, the extracurriculars I was going to do with students, the field trips I had planned, the biking troupe I joined, my new, shiny, blue bicycle, my freshly painted bedroom, my Malay phrasebook, the neighbors who might wonder where I am.  It’s only natural.

The beauty of the modern-day is that even though I’m now on the opposite side of the world, I can still connect. I chat with students on Instagram, I send voice messages via WhatsApp to my friends, I still ask for recipes from teachers. I’m still here. We still exist. Those relationships transcend any program, those connections transcend any pandemic, those friendships have no borders and have no politics.  Though I might not be back to Malaysia as a Fulbright grantee, I know that I’ll be back one day and, perhaps, no longer as a foreigner but as a local who has some connections there.

Laura Savage

Fulbright Malaysia ETA 2020

April 20, 2020 0