Monday, December 12, 2011

Tourist or Guest?

By Kurt Griesemer
It has been 25 years since I boarded a plane out of New York headed for Frankfurt, Germany. At the time I was 18 years old, a raw recruit in the US Army, with one semester of high school German under my belt and an urge to see the world, albeit from the back of an army truck.
What I learned, quite early, was that to truly experience the world, you had to get out of the insular cocoon that is an army base. It’s too easy to be surrounded at all times by all things American when you are a soldier overseas. There are clubs and gymnasiums, ball games and shopping centers, banks and post offices, and quite literally everything you need, right on post. It took some effort to actually get out and experience life off-post, but I found it to be incredibly worthwhile.
I lived in Heidelberg, (West) Germany, for just under two and a half years. During that time, my fiancée came to visit me twice, I spent time with married friends that lived off-post, took in the sights and sounds of a wonderful city, and tried to find ways to blend in whenever I could (which, despite the short haircut, wasn’t too difficult for a 5’7” blond kid from the heartland). I traveled to Switzerland and Italy, spent time in castles and cafes, and lived, really, a life I had never dreamed of growing up in a small town in Wisconsin. In doing so, I tried to live as a guest rather than a tourist, someone who respects and gets to know their host rather than breezing through and snapping pictures.
The army provided some very necessary, basic things. In the Headstart program, we learned a few German phrases, how to address seniors (politely), when to avoid going to rallies (always), and how to finish meals (tidily). These non-language components were just as important as learning where the train station was or how to ask for it. Armed with just this basic knowledge, I was able to go out and about in a foreign country, on my own, at an age when many people are still finishing high school. I can’t count the number of times I would start speaking in German, apologize that I wasn’t a better speaker, and right away the German would begin speaking their best English to me. In this way my future wife and I traveled the countryside of southern Germany and around the entire nation of Switzerland.
It mattered to the people I met that I attempted to take up a conversation with them in their language, even if I sounded like a toddler when it came to syntax and grammar. It mattered that I knew the difference between “How are you?” and “How are you Sir?” In fact, it was exceedingly rare for anyone to be rude to me, an American that was trying his best to engage in the language and customs of the place he lived.
There were several takeaways from this experience. One, I learned that the simple act of speaking to someone in their language softens every image of “the tourist” to “the guest.” Two, knowing just the slightest bit about customs and cultural norms provides the grease to the wheels of social interactions, and three, my time in Germany changed my life in ways that are overwhelmingly positive and ongoing.
In Global Wisconsin we feature many examples of people living as guests in our country and abroad, and to a person they tell us of the kindness and compassion they experience, and how it has changed their lives.
You can be a tourist, and return with pictures of your experience, or you can be a guest, and have the experience of a lifetime.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Study Abroad as Dropout Prevention?

By Marta Bechtol

Due to her father’s transient profession, Mary attended eight different schools in six states before she reached high school.  She developed an impressive social awareness and adeptness at integrating herself into new environments and local cultures. She learned to work with teachers and navigate school curriculum, maintaining honor student status everywhere she went.  By the time she reached 8th grade, she’d had exposure to French, Spanish, German, and Japanese classes and had discovered that she possesses a natural ear for languages.

Mary began 8th grade as a new student in a middle school serving grades 6-8. She wished to continue her French studies but was informed by the counselor that because she had not attended that school for grades 6 and 7, she would not be admitted into the middle school language program. The district politely informed her that she could begin language instruction at Level 1 when she reached high school. There was no mechanism for language proficiency assessment other than completion of the district’s prescribed curriculum.

Realizing that she would be starting over (again), Mary scrutinized the high school language programs and settled on German because she’d learned that the teacher was a native speaker of the language. Mary excelled in the class and also enjoyed AP offerings in World and European History.  However, the lock-step of the school’s general graduation requirements along with her perceived intrusion on the permanent and tightly knit student body left her feeling out of touch with the world she knew beyond Wisconsin.  Although she’d never been a slacker, Mary found herself disengaged during the school day and ended up making some of what are politely described as “poor choices.”

After several trips to the guidance counselor, Mary went home and announced that she was through with school. How could this be? She had always been such a brilliant student and under such extraordinary circumstances year after year! What could be done?  Mary determined that she would only stay in school if she could move. Her father had recently retired though; that easy window had closed. She went to see her counselor again regarding study abroad programs. Unfortunately, the counselor was a new educator with limited knowledge of these opportunities.  She was unaware of anything outside of Rotary International, an option that was out of range of the family budget.

Mary learned about the Department of Public Instruction’s Hessen exchange through a parental connection; no student from her high school had participated in the program before.  She connected deeply with new German friends and continued to explore additional study abroad options on her own. While waiting to board the plane for Frankfurt, Mary completed an online application for the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). She was on a plane to Shanghai the week following her return from Germany.

Mary completed her basic graduation requirements and left high school at age 16. She is currently a junior in college majoring in both Mandarin and International Studies with a minor in German. She is enrolled this academic year at Peking University in Beijing, China. Had she not been able to identify study abroad programs that her family could afford, Mary would have simply wrapped up her secondary education as a drop-out statistic.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Make International Education Week Matter

Tom Lehrer’s 1967 song National Brotherhood Week was a skillful satire of the many days and weeks in honor of worthy causes. “It’s only for a week, so have no fear. Be grateful that it doesn’t last all year,” sings Lehrer.

It is up to us, to everyone in the classrooms, in school board rooms and in local, state, and federal administration, to make International Education Week matter. Let us not just pay lip service to the value of educating globally competent students, let us actually do something about it.

It is in this spirit that we join both Secretary Arne Duncan of the Department of Education and Secretary Hillary Clinton of the Department of State in celebrating International Education Week this year, November 14 – 18.

“[And] with the world’s economies and societies becoming more and more interdependent, it is almost impossible to distinguish between domestic and international issues,” says Duncan. “Therefore, we must work together to give all of our students an outstanding education, which includes learning about our global partners – their cultures, histories, languages, values, and viewpoints. We must focus on integrating international perspectives into our classrooms. It is through education and exchange that we become better collaborators, competitors and compassionate neighbors in this global society.”

Gilles Bousquet, Dean of International Studies and Vice Provost for Globalization at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, emphasizes that “we must recognize international education not as an “extra” in our schools, but as a critical component throughout K-16 education. For the future of our young people, our employers, our state and nation, the stakes have never been higher.”

Global Wisconsin demonstrates that educating for global competence is not lip service in many of our schools. From the youngest of elementary students to college graduates, these documentaries make a convincing case that international education is both essential to students and easily integrated with what they are learning every day.  The task at hand is to bring these wonderful local school programs to scale in all 425 Wisconsin school districts. School budgets are tighter than ever, and at this point we cannot be certain that global education and world language education programs will receive minimally adequate funding in the next federal budget.

Teachers are ready to meet the challenge of educating globally competent students as described by Arnie Duncan, Hillary Clinton, and Gilles Bousquet. The question is whether or not the spirit of International Education Week will generate sustainable efforts.

“We need students who are knowledgeable about the world and who have an understanding of how other cultures work and how other people think,” concludes Wisconsin’s State Superintendent Tony Evers.

Let’s make sure that International Education Week is “not only for a week.” Together, we will make it last all year every year.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

World Language Teachers Gather at Fall Conference

The annual fall conference of the Wisconsin Association for Language Teachers (WAFLT) is a vibrant gathering of some of the most dedicated teachers in the state. They meet for workshops and sessions on the first November weekend every year. About 1000 participants are expected at the Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton for WAFLT 2011. This is arguably the strongest teacher professional development conference in Wisconsin. The inspiring enthusiasm of attendees brings back new and seasoned teachers every year for meetings even on Friday evening and all day Saturday.

This is a true Wisconsin conference. Very few presenters come from other parts of the country, yet presentations are top notch and are often repeated at the regional and national levels. Wisconsin’s world language teachers take pride in sharing their teaching strategies and projects with others. This creates community, and it creates a solid foundation of professionalism.

World language teachers are often isolated in their school districts. Many schools are too small to employ several teachers for different languages which makes professional interaction and sharing difficult. They need the companionship and friendship of their peers.

This is a time to celebrate the success of Wisconsin world language teachers. Enrollment numbers are high at 54% of the student population. Teachers work hard at motivating and encouraging all students to study world languages and to study them for as long as possible. They know that a sequence of only two years of a world language cannot really achieve the proficiency levels that we associate with fluency in another language. Wisconsin’s world language teachers know that speaking another language is the key to understanding other cultures, that citizenship and employment opportunities are increasingly linked go global competence and proficiency in languages other than English. World language teachers go well beyond the call of duty to give their students opportunities of a lifetime: They take them abroad on student exchange programs, and they host students from other countries to bring the world to their often isolated school districts. They do this on weekends and evenings without additional pay or time off. And they do this during summer break: Not only do they give several weeks of their time, in most cases not only without pay but often even without the security of district liability insurance. If this sounds incredible to you, well, it is. It is incredible that Wisconsin’s world language teachers are that committed to the ultimate goal of educating globally competent students: to make this world a better place. It is also incredible that support for their dedicated work is not as strong as it should be.

Therefore, this week’s post on the Global Wisconsin blog is a big thank-you to all world language teachers in Wisconsin. You know where you can find them this weekend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Do Deaf students participate in foreign exchange programs?

Of course they do! Deaf schools have participated in exchanges for over 25 years, beginning with the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut. More recently, a non-profit program run by Rebecca Epple was implemented in 2011, called the Deaf Wisconsin French Exchange, which takes students to France: Paris, Lyon and La Balme. The criteria for Wisconsin student participation include courses in: Deaf Studies, American Sign Language (ASL), as well as written French and French Sign Language (LSF-Langue des Signes Française).

The purpose of this exchange is two-fold: Students apply their Deaf Studies curriculum knowledge while on this Deaf-heritage tour.  They explore the hometown and Deaf school of Laurent Clerc, a Deaf Frenchman, who later sailed to the United States with Thomas H.Gallaudet, and established America's first Deaf school.~ The second purpose of the trip is to utilize LSF skills while interacting with the French students and staff, as well as the Deaf French tour guides. 

Epple stated, “After our tour in France in the spring of 2011, we were delighted to see that the French Deaf schools, guides and associations were very welcoming! It was an opportunity of a life-time for all involved. I was amazed at my students’ abilities to communicate in French Sign Language and thoroughly enjoy themselves!” ~On how they raised money, Epple shared, “Our biggest 2 challenges were our budget and creating an itinerary from scratch. Students fundraised and used their own personal money from summer jobs to pay for the trip, in addition to donations from various sponsors. Designing the itinerary was accomplished by hundreds of hours researching on the internet, video-phone conferences, and networking with the Deaf community both state-side and abroad.”

        In 2012, the Parisian Deaf students will visit the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delavan, Wisconsin for their portion of the exchange program.

Post submitted by  Rebecca Epple, teacher, Wisconsin School for the Deaf, Delavan, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Creating a Good Society – The Other Reason for Global Education

The need to educate globally competent students for better employment opportunities and the needs of the global economy are not at all at odds with the “other” argument for providing students with the opportunity to learn about a world much larger than their own state or country. Indeed, when corporate leaders talk about their need for a globally educated work force, they emphasize foundational skills. They want their employees to be interested in other cultures, understand different points of view, and be able to communicate in at least one language other than English. I have argued elsewhere that a reduction of the goals for global education to a mere jobs argument may be short-sighted and overly narrow, and it seems that I am not at all at odds with the views of Wisconsin’s corporate leaders.

Howard Gardner of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education argues in his preface to Educating for Global Competence that “what is needed more than ever is a laser-like focus on the kinds of human beings that we are raising and the kinds of societies – indeed, in a global era, the kind of world society – that we are fashioning.” “Young people,” Gardner writes, “need to understand the worldwide circulation of ideas, products, fashions, media, ideologies, and human beings.”

Gardner’s rationale, it seems to me, is highly compatible with what employers identify as needs for their prospective employees. Therefore, schools should create the broadest global education programs possible. Those programs should educate our students to be globally competent in all content areas and give them the opportunity to investigate the world, to recognize different perspectives, to communicate ideas (in as many languages as possible), and to take action to create a better world. Educating for Global Competence shows how that can be done.

The Global Wisconsin videos provide good examples of how Wisconsin schools give their students the opportunity to “do good,” as Howard Gardner puts it. Students, he says, “want to do the right thing.” Take another look at Connecting with Cuba and listen to what the fourth graders are telling us: “We know that our countries do not get along that well, and we want to change that.” It takes children to express in very simple terms what adults struggle with. But our children are our hope. Let’s give them the opportunity to create a world worth living in. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“And I thought it was all about the science…”

Tom Guerin holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and is vice president of research and development at Kerry Ingredients & Flavours. Kerry is an Irish global company with locations in many countries on every continent. Tom himself has worked and lived in Ireland (his home country), Brazil, Malaysia, Canada, Germany, and now the U.S. The scientists who work for him in the Beloit R&D unit come from every part of the world and bring with them different cultures, languages, and different ways to approach and solve problems. “When I interview candidates for positions as scientists at Kerry,” Guerin says, “I look for the ability to see different sides of a problem, and I look for people who are still grounded in their culture of origin. I am not that interested in assimilation to an Anglo-Saxon lifestyle or point of view.” He feels strongly that diversity of viewpoints strengthens the work in R&D, especially when a global corporation like Kerry places products in markets worldwide. “If you insist on assimilation among your employees, you are bound for failure. If, on the other hand, you encourage diversity of  opinion and approaches to solutions, you will succeed,” Guerin says. “When I started out in this line of work 13 years ago, I thought it was all about the science. I found out that it’s not. Much of my work has to do with being able to communicate effectively with people from very diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.”

Tom Guerin does not stand alone with this experience working for a global company. Johnson Controls, headquartered in Milwaukee, has about 137,000 people working in 150 countries. “We are looking for candidates with cultural flexibility,” says Kimberly Bors, VP for global resources. And Tim Sullivan, CEO of Bucyrus International (now Caterpillar) adds: “We are a very domestic-centric country. So we need to start exposing kids in our schools to world languages, which is a hook that gets them interested in another culture. And then we have to teach them about other cultures beside our own.”

These voices from major global corporations in Wisconsin speak to the need for a solid global and world language education in our schools. They are asking for the very skills that all world language teachers and global educators talk about: Cultural insights and sensitivity, knowledge of the world, flexibility and openness to other cultures. For so many reasons, speaking English only and approaching world issues simply from the narrow perspective of the American point of view is no longer good enough. As Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association for School District Administrators, puts it: “If we as leaders in American public education can’t be aware of the importance of intercultural relations and intercultural knowledge, we are failing our students.”

Take another look at the videos in Global Wisconsin. Those programs provide precisely the kind of global education that Tom Guerin, Kimberly Bors, and Tim Sullivan are talking about. Many other schools do the same thing, all of them with very little funding but plenty of enthusiasm and leadership. Eventually, though, funding will be needed to sustain these essential programs for a 21st Century education. I hope we will find the support of local school boards and business leaders to deliver opportunities for global education in all of our school districts for all our students.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Welcome to Global Wisconsin!

I cannot imagine a better way to showcase the many excellent international education programs in Wisconsin's schools than to tell their stories. That is what Global Wisconsin does: It tells nine different stories, ranging from year-long student exchange programs to a powerful one-week speakers' festival, from connecting elementary students in Wisconsin and Cuba through art and nature to a well-designed K-12 world language program and infusing cultural learning in the elementary curriculum. These are programs led by dedicated teachers and supported by strong administrators and school board members. The benefits for their students are documented in Global Wisconsin, and the joy of learning about the world with people from different cultural backgrounds is visible and contagious.

Many other schools in Wisconsin offer similar programs, and we understand that each story in Global Wisconsin stands for them. We will find ways to showcase as many of those programs as possible because we strongly believe in the power of good and positive examples. These stories are meant to encourage others who are interested in creating similar programs and to offer their students global learning opportunities. Global education builds the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in a globally competitive job market, and it ultimately leads to a more peaceful and interesting world.

Invited contributors will post discussions of various aspects of global education at regular intervals. Discussions will range from infusing global content into the curriculum to student exchange programs, from getting students, teachers, administrators, and community members involved in building global education programs in all schools to building strong world language programs from kindergarten to high school and college.

Please join this conversation by following this blog, posting frequent comments, and by sharing your insights with everyone in your community. Watch the inspiring videos in Global Wisconsin and don't hesitate to get in touch with the contacts listed for each program.

Again, welcome to Global Wisconsin!