Storytelling in academia: An Ethiopian narrative journey into the expository text

Ilana Shiloh*, Monica Broido

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In two colossal operations, the State of Israel brought home the majority of the 100,000 Ethiopian Jews now living in the country. These new immigrants suffered a devastating and abrupt journey. Not only have they crossed an entire continent, they have shifted from one culture and time frame to another, from a rural setting and an oral culture, where more than 80% of the population is illiterate in their native Amharic, into a modern, urban, literate, rapidly evolving society. Those who came as children, scarred by their barefoot journey through the Sudan, are now entering Israeli universities, where they are required to master cognitive patterns that are foreign to them, as well as academic reading in yet another language: English. This academic requirement has become an insurmountable problem for many. Ethiopian culturally ingrained practices and conceptual paradigms of storytelling are radically different from the rhetorical conventions of the academic expository text. The hierarchic, linear and analytic structure of Western rhetoric is at odds with the practices of an oral culture, in which storytelling plays a central role, transmitting social, psychological, religious, and historical messages. In the College of Management in Rishon Lezion, we designed a reading comprehension course in English for Ethiopian students. Harnessing the students' cognitive and cultural familiarity with narrative, we created a program in which the young immigrants' personal displacement stories were employed as a springboard for the acquisition of academic cognitive and rhetorical skills. The characteristics of Ethiopian narrative, its social and cultural roles, and the implications of our course design for a cross-cultural academic curriculum are the focus of the present chapter.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStorying Humanity
Subtitle of host publicationNarratives of Culture and Society
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781848884403
ISBN (Print)9789004370623
StatePublished - 22 Jul 2019


  • Course design
  • Ethiopian
  • Expository
  • Israel
  • Narrative
  • Reading comprehension
  • Story


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