Honors Alumna, International Teacher Gives Back to EWU on Giving Joy Day

April 3, 2020 By Leilah Langley
Ciara Johnson (2018)

Nearly 20 years after graduating from Eastern Washington University and traveling the world as an international educator, Ciara Johnson ’02 is ready to begin giving back to the university that means so much to her. Johnson hopes to leave a legacy of giving at Eastern—starting with a Giving Joy Day gift of $500 to the EWU Honors Program.

“I want to earmark the money specifically for the Honors Program because of the impact that it had on me as a student at Eastern,” says Johnson.

A first-generation university student, Johnson grew up just down the road from the Cheney campus in the Four Lakes area. After graduating from Medical Lake High School, she credits her admission to the Honors Program at EWU as helping her make a seamless transition into college life. “I think going from a small, local high school where I was one person in a very tiny pool, to such a big place like Eastern, being part of the small Honors family made a difference,” she says.

Johnson also met her husband while studying at Eastern, or more specifically, while caffeinating at Thomas Hammer Coffee. Adam Harris ’01 was a biology major and senior at Eastern when the two met. Johnson says Harris had to work hard to earn some of her valuable time.

“It took him six months before I agreed to go on a date with him because I was just so focused and driven,” says Johnson. “I said, ‘I don’t have time for this! I’m working three jobs and I’m doing 18 credits every quarter to get done, please just leave me alone.’ But he didn’t.”

Johnson ’02 and Adam Harris ’01 on their wedding day. (2008)

The two started dating in 2001 and married in 2008. By then they were both working in Portland, Oregon, Harris as a research biologist and Johnson as a high school English teacher. But when the economic downturn happened in 2008, Johnson was laid off.

“I had wanted to be an international teacher since I was 16, and so I asked Adam, ‘If I can find a job where I can cover all of our responsibilities and we can live comfortably, are you willing to come with me?’” Johnson remembers. “Thankfully he said yes. He wasn’t willing to stand in the way of my dream of traveling internationally and being an international teacher.”

Johnson says the two of them then started what would become a whole new life together. They moved to Turkey, where over the course of several years, Johnson worked as a teacher and transitioned into administration. Once they both determined the lifestyle suited them, Harris earned teaching credentials of his own and they started pursuing their next move.

“After six years we decided it was time to move on,” says Johnson. “The Arab Spring had happened, and Turkey had a little more unrest than we were comfortable with—we were hearing machine gun fire in the neighborhood adjacent to where we lived on a daily basis. So, it was just time to go.”

They would both take positions in Vietnam for two years, before moving to Saudi Arabia where they live and work now. For Johnson, her dream of a life filled with international adventure came true.

“I grew up in Medical Lake, Washington. I had never traveled internationally farther than Banff, Canada, which is literally a day’s drive from Spokane. Travel was just this thing that seemed so big and so exotic,” she says. “When I took the job in Turkey, I got to see all of the places that I had read about and learned about, all of the stories and tales I had devoured in school.”

Johnson gets used to the scooter traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (2016)
Johnson celebrates the Lunar New Year at the American International School in Vietnam. (2017)
Johnson testing the fire extinguishers at her school in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. (2019)
Johnson and Harris visit the Nine Arch Bridge near Ella, Sri Lanka. (2018)

Now, Johnson says she wants to help current EWU Honors students—students who are reading those same poems, novels and history lessons she did—forge their own adventures in life.

“I had a scholarship to go to Eastern, and through the Honors Program had enough money to stay there,” says Johnson. “I worked three jobs every year I was in school to make it happen. School is intense, I don’t know that you can work as many hours as you need to, to pay tuition. It’s hard. It’s really hard.”

Johnson’s donation of $500 to the Honors Program will help deserving students complete their degrees and advance to become leaders in their communities. Johnson is also exploring options to start a scholarship endowment at EWU in the future, which will help even more students.

If Ciara Johnson’s story inspired you to give to the EWU Honors Program, you can find donation information here. If you would like to explore other areas to help EWU students succeed, please visit our website.