Tales from the Middle East

My name is Tara Ballard, and I’m a UH Hilo alumna. Raised in Alaska, I never thought it was possible to go to college in a location as beautiful and diverse as the Big Island. My original plan was to graduate from my local university, but after two years of Arctic attendance, curiosity got the best of me. I started researching the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and soon learned that their English Department offered exactly what I wanted. 

The following semester, I moved to Hilo. Within a few months of study, I realized that their English program provided not only what I wanted—but also what I needed. There were so many benefits to being part of the English Department that I now find it difficult to articulate. Class sizes were small, and professors were focused on guiding students beyond levels of proficiency into that of passion and academic excellence. Learning was as exciting as it was relevant. I was challenged, encouraged, and pushed forward. The courses offered a range of subject matter and focuses, addressing the literary canon as well as texts from various cultures around the world. Writing courses on poetry, fiction, and nonfiction were my personal favorites.

As I was nearing the end of my B.A. in English: Rhetoric, Composition, and Creative Writing, my professors introduced me to the Department’s T.E.S.O.L. Certificate Program. The three-semester study was incredibly productive and helpful, teaching me about our English language, cultural linguistics, and becoming quality educators. The program’s classes and semester-long practicum helped prepare my then fiancé (now husband) and me to teach both in-country and overseas. The certificate, in combination with the degree, opened doors into career opportunities almost immediately; in fact, we were offered teaching positions before our final semester at UH Hilo even came to a close.

In the six years since our graduation from UH Hilo, my husband and I have taught in four different countries in the Middle East and West Africa, completed our M.F.A.s in Creative Writing and the Literary Arts, and traveled to over nineteen nations on four different continents. When it comes to success, credit must be given to the Hilo English Department. The professors and classes prepared me for more than I ever thought possible, and I am beyond grateful for the opportunity I had to study at UH Hilo.

Would I recommend it to anyone? Without a doubt.

Contact Information for TESOL

“Bela” Conley-Ramsay
Director of TESOL Certificate Program
Email: bela[at]hawaii.edu
Phone: (808) 932-7243


200 W. Kāwili St.
Hilo, HI 96720 USA