Mother-Daughter Team Teaches English Worldwide

Mother daughter linguistics majors
Carol and Kate Burrell
Mom and daughter pic
At her UC Davis graduation in 1985, Carol Burrill holds baby Kate.

In 1985 Carol Burrill held her baby girl, Kate Burrill, in her arms as she posed for a graduation photo next to the ARC Pavilion. She had just earned her master’s degree in linguistics. Twenty-two years later, Kate stood in the same spot for a photo the day she graduated in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in the same field.

After graduation, Kate continued to follow in her mother’s footsteps, pursuing a career teaching English to international students. But they recently had a unique opportunity neither one expected – to teach together.

For two weeks this year, the mother-daughter duo traveled to Indonesia for the 50th anniversary of the U.S. State Department of English Language Fellow Program. The international exchange program brings experienced American English teachers abroad to enhance the way English is taught through projects developed by U.S. embassies in more than 80 countries.

Long teaching career

Carol has been teaching English for 40 years and has worked at colleges, universities, private language institutes and adult schools in California, Washington, Micronesia and Japan. Grateful for her career in teaching, Carol and her husband make a charitable gift every year to UC Davis.

“The training I received at UC Davis is the reason I’m employed today,” Carol said. “It’s important for me to give back to my alma mater because it’s the reason I’m a teacher and that I’m confident in my field.”

Kate credits her mother’s teaching career with influencing her own studies and decision to attend UC Davis.

“I lived abroad as a child and traveled to Japan when I was two, eight and 16 years old – that made a huge impression on me and I wanted to keep traveling my whole life,” Kate said. “Teaching English allows me to travel anywhere in the world.”

Kate currently teaches at the International Academy at the University of Southern California, but in 2012, she was an English Language Fellow at the State Department and worked with universities in Indonesia for 10 months. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the fellows program, Kate was invited to go back to Indonesia for two weeks, but this time, with Carol. 

A bonding international experience

“I was absolutely thrilled when Kate asked me to join her to teach in Indonesia,” Carol said. “It was my greatest dream, as a mother, to be able to work with my daughter in another country.”

Carol and Kate conducted workshops in Java, Bali and Ambon at three universities where they taught other teachers – training Indonesian English-language instructors in the fundamentals of academic writing. Through these trainings, the instructors help students fulfill their graduation requirements.

“This trip was my first experience being in a Muslim environment and I learned so much,” Carol said. “We would stop to respect the Muezzin call to prayer during class, which was all very new to me.”

A kind of diplomatic mission

Kate also said the cultural differences were interesting because most people in the cities they visited had never met an American before.

“I felt like I had to be a diplomat and present Americans in the best possible light,” Kate said. “It was a unique experience to have that type of interaction.”

The mother-daughter team taught all day and graded papers every evening, which could have been stressful. But Carol said everything went better than expected – including all that together time.

“We were already pretty close to start off, but if anything, this trip made us understand that we can spend more time together,” Kate said.

— Ashley Han (B.A., science and technology studies, political science minor, ’19), is a communications specialist in UC Davis Development and Alumni Relations and wrote this story for the One Aggie Network.