Longley Elementary School teacher Amy Quirion poses with students Aisha Ibrahim, left, and Muno Hussein, right, on the last day of school June 22 in Lewiston. Quirion has won a Fulbright scholarship to teach in Indonesia; she leaves next week.

LEWISTON — Longley Elementary School teacher Amy Quirion credits her students with opening her eyes to the larger world.

Now, Quirion is about to experience more of the world.

Next week, Quirion, 27, of Auburn will take off for Indonesia where she’ll teach high school students.

Last year, while a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine, Quirion applied for and won a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarship to teach English in Indonesia, a country of islands in the South China Sea.

Quirion said she was inspired to apply because of her students who are learning to speak English.

“They’re the reason I applied for this grant,” Quirion said. “They’ve opened my eyes to what a great opportunity, and how important it is, to learn a language.”

Some of her students learning English already know several languages, including Swahili, Arabic, Portuguese, French and Somali.

And Quirion knows what it’s like to go to an English school not knowing what everyone is saying.

She’s the daughter of a Quebec couple. Growing up in Connecticut, only French was spoken in their home.

“I went to school not speaking English,” she said. 

By the third grade she was fluent in French and English.

But on her first day of pre-school, “That was scary. I didn’t know any words in English. Plus, I was younger than most kids. Everyone else was speaking a language I didn’t know. It doesn’t make you feel that good.”

She was shy. Not confident.

There were no ELL (English Language Learners) programs available to students, but she did get tutors to help her.

Not knowing the language holds a student back, she said. “I was low in reading skills.”

By the third grade she had a teacher she connected with. She flourished. That experience fed her desire to teach ELL students, Quirion said.

“It’s my goal for my students that I’ve had, and will have in the future, to know it’s OK to not be able to be fully proficient in English.”

She appreciates what her students have gone through. “They’ve seen many things, unpleasant things,” some in refugee camps in Kenya.

Then they come to a country with a different culture, and attend school not knowing the language.

“It’s amazing that some of them know two or three languages,” she said. “It’s a blessing to know multiple languages.”

Now she’s glad she grew up speaking French and can speak two languages.

“It truly is a gift,” she said.

Students learning to speak English are not a burden, she said. “They’ll get there with time” as they build confidence and learn from caring teachers.

She chose Indonesia because it’s a different culture than those she’s experienced. “The reason I wanted high school students is that I’ve been working with elementary students,” she said. “Young children learn a second language so fast because of how their brains are developing. I want to see the difference with teenagers.”

Getting approved was a long process that involved the University of Southern Maine, the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the U.S. State Department, the Indonesian embassy, plus security and medical clearances.

The public high school she’s assigned to is on the island of Sumatra, with a small community of Muslims. The language spoken is Bahasa. The climate is hot with two seasons, dry and wet.

“I’m not nervous at all,” Quirion said. “I’m excited to see the similarities or differences.”

She is planning to return to Longley after one year away, but she acknowledges other opportunities may pop up.

Her goal is to become a better teacher, “to bring back what I’ve taught, to connect everything I’ve learned,” she said. 

Longley Elementary School teacher Amy Quirion has won a Fulbright scholarship and will teach this fall in Indonesia.

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