April 5, 2016

Employee Spotlight: Nioucha Banna, College Advance Lead Instructor


Nioucha Banna, College Advance Lead Instructor, is a certified TEFL teacher who who holds a Master’s in Critical Studies in Media and Communication from the European Graduate School in Switzerland. Her 12 years of experience in the US and abroad includes tutoring students for language exams such as IELTS, TOEFL and PET. Nioucha also works as the ESL teacher at St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon. 

As the Lead Teacher for College Advance, Nioucha will interact regularly with students through online sessions, providing feedback on assignments and guidance throughout the program. She witnesses firsthand the many academic and practical skills students have gained.

1. What is your name and job title?

My name is Nioucha Banna and I am the head teacher and academic program developer for our online college prep course, College Advance.

2. When did you start working at Cambridge?

I was hired in April 2013 and initially worked for both Cambridge and Gphomestay as an after-school teacher and a residential coordinator at Saint Mary’s Academy in Portland, OR. I was later offered an additional role as an instructor for College Advance because of my extensive experience in online learning both as a teacher and a student.

3. Where have you traveled to outside of the United States?

I have lived in Italy, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and was briefly in the Middle East, as a child. I have travelled extensively throughout all of Europe as well as to Mexico and Canada.

4. What other languages do you speak?

I speak Italian, German and French. I can also read and understand Spanish fairly easily.

5. Why do you like working with international students?

As a former international student and a “global nomad,” I know firsthand some of the challenges that come with adapting to a new culture, language and lifestyle. I really enjoy guiding students in exploring news ways of thinking and approaching their studies, especially as they prepare themselves in this major transition from high school to college. It is also really rewarding to see their progress and growth both academically and personally.

6. Please describe a time when you experienced culture shock in a funny way

When I went back to live in Europe as an adult, I remember having to quickly overcome the supermarket culture shock. First, I couldn’t get a shopping cart because I didn’t have a coin token or euro coin with me and you need this in order to get one. Once inside the supermarket, I made the terrible faux-pas of touching fresh produce with my bare hands. After receiving several sideways glances from other customers, an elderly gentleman lead me to a glove dispenser and politely explained that, for hygiene reasons, customers may not touch produce with their bare hands. I also had to weigh my produce and attach the price onto these items before going to the cashier. Finally, I had completely forgotten that you need to bag your own groceries at the till, something I managed to make a mess of the first time around. Needless to say, I quickly learned and adapted to the “do’s and don’ts” of supermarket shopping in Europe.

7. What’s something about American culture that you have found others outside of America find weird?

Europeans don’t understand why Americans insist on calling a sport “football” when one’s feet are basically never used to kick the ball. Cheerleading and the whole Super Bowl event is another thing they find odd. Alas, I couldn’t provide any insight since I never really follow sports.

8. What’s the most important lesson in the College Advance program you impart to your students?

It’s not so much a lesson, rather developing and advancing their critical thinking, research and writing skills. Students are constantly asked to be reflective of the content they read, watch and write about. This course leads them to ask themselves deeper and more pertinent questions on a variety of topics. Developing an informed, discerning opinion, supporting ideas with credible sources and becoming more self-aware individuals, these are key components to critical thinking and good writing. These skills will not just help them be more successful in their college applications, but establishes an absolutely essential academic and personal skill-set once they begin college.

9. Is there anything that your College Advance students have taught you this past year, either about Chinese culture or about life in general?

College Advance is demanding course and it requires a considerable amount of self-discipline and motivation. With my Chinese students, I have come to realize that once they trust me and realize the insight and information I am giving can really help them throughout the college prep process, then they become really committed to me, but more importantly, to themselves. That kind of perseverance and dedication should never be undervalued. When I see my students’ diligence and efforts pay off, I always acknowledge this. I never realized how positively reinforcing this would be for them in the long term.

10. Tell us a recent story of working with a Cambridge student that was meaningful?

One of my returning College Advance students has always had difficulty writing more in-depth essays, especially when detailing experiences. Although diligent and attentive, he was always struggling to express and expand his ideas in essay writing. He knows how important this skill is for higher education. This year in College Advance Seniors, almost 5 months into his second year of the program, I finally saw an amazing breakthrough when he wrote a really engaging, descriptive and well-detailed essay about a tech app that he and two other teachers invented. It was as if he was finally able to open that door within himself and really express his ideas in a way I knew he was always capable of.

11. What do you think is the biggest benefit for international students studying at US High Schools?

Not only do students expand their English language proficiency skills, but studying at U.S. high schools gives them the academic leverage, cultural preparation and insight needed to be more ready and realistic about the US college experience. That being said, students must realize that they need to be proactive participants in their academic development and personal objectives. Nothing comes without effort.

12. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

It would have to be the complete works of Shakespeare. Technically it is bound in one book, so that would count, right?

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