Building Bridges not Walls

Last week I had the great pleasure to participate in a workshop on LCTL distance language education: Workshop on Sustainable Partnerships for Latin American LCTLs through Distance Learning. I was invited to speak to the group about pedagogical considerations for distance language education. Before attending the workshop I knew very little about the work of Centers for Latin American Studies, the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, or Latin American LCTLs and I had never been to Nashville. Naturally I was excited to be offered the opportunity to meet people outside of my field, share my expertise, experience a new town, and learn from the workshop participants and presenters.

As I prepared for the workshop I was focused on the mutual interests and what I assumed to be mutual knowledge. As soon as the first few presenters started talking, I realized that our experiences were different, our jargon was different, our expertise was different, our contexts were different, our languages were different, our learners were different, etc. And yet we all have the same goal: bringing quality language education to as many people as possible and improving multilingual communicative competence. As I was listening I changed several of my slides to better fit the audience and explain what different words mean in the context in which I teach and in which I conduct my research. Hopefully the information helped the participants better position themselves for the tasks ahead. My colleagues Dave Malinowski (Yale) and Steve Welsh (Columbia) presented the technological possibilities to support the pedagogical goals and needs, which should help programs move instruction online or in a different distance learning format. The workshop website will soon include several of those resources.

For  1.5 days I learned about new languages, new constraints, new models of language education, new people, new cultures, and new solutions. What I appreciated most about being part of the workshop was the opportunity to communicate across disciplinary boundaries and to build bridges not walls; to not hide in my own discipline, but look to the neighbor, learn from them, and open the door for more collaboration. Thank you to Becky Horn and Avery Dickins de Giron for organizing such a wonderful workshop. Thank you to all participants for being so open to new ideas and sharing so willingly their own knowledge, experience, and concerns.

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New colleagues, new topics

We have been very fortunate to not only be able to hire new faculty members, but to recruit a set of fabulous new members of our team. Johanna Schuster-Craig, one of those amazing people, brings to our program expertise on migration, especially contemporary issues surrounding the refugee crisis in Europe. Inequality and discrimination of foreigners living in Germany and Germans with a migration background has been a topic dear to my heart almost since birth. From shortly after I was born until I moved out of my parents’ house  my mother worked in an after-school program in a low-income neighborhood with a high percentage of people with migration background. During my teenage years I spent 1-2 afternoons per week at the after-school program and those experiences have shaped my life.

Discrimination and migration are of course not topics unique to Germany, but the German situation due to its history and its current position makes it different from other contexts. I am so glad that my colleague is putting time and effort into debating and sharing these issues. In her blog, New Europe: Europe and Migration, she discusses migration issues combining both American and European perspectives. If you are interested in this topic, have limited knowledge of German, but would like to learn more about German discussions about Europe and migration, you should read her blog. If you are within driving distance of East Lansing or have some unused frequent flyer miles, you should come to the Refugee Symposium, which Johanna is organizing. It is promising to be an excellent interdisciplinary discussion about refugee issues. I am so grateful for the creativity, hard work, and expertise that Johanna is bringing to our program and this event. I hope to see you there!

SLAT Roundtable – A Homecoming

At the end of last month I had the great honor and pleasure to serve as the plenary speaker at the SLAT Roundtable in Arizona and give an additional presentation for the German Studies Colloquium. It was wonderful to be back at my Alma Mater and see/hear all the amazing work that is being done there. The breadth of topics is inspiring and I realized, how much I have missed it. Thank you to SLATSA (especially Tanya Tercero) for all of the hard work that goes into organizing such a well-run conference and to SLATSA and German Studies for inviting me.

It was wonderful to reconnect with all the great people in Arizona, who have shaped my scholarly and professional identity. Thank you to all of them!