Preparing to study abroad is an intensive process. To make that process a little easier, Jeffrey White, Instructor of International Languages and Cultures, is teaching a new course this semester called “Maximizing Study Abroad.” As part of the course, White asks his students to contribute to a blog that covers cultural adjustment, language learning strategies, and many other aspects of studying abroad with the goal that students will see themselves as developing language learners in a learning community. While the students are overseas, they can continue to contribute to the blog as they go through the transformative process of studying in a new culture. Although White teaches German, any student who plans to study abroad can take the course.
“I really want students to be able to see cultural learning in its complexity but to do that we need to break it down,” White said. He wants students to be able to anticipate what’s likely to happen during the cultural adjustment process that typically starts off with a euphoria from being in a new place, followed by the punch of culture shock, and then adjustment and adaptation for those who stay long enough.
From Our Conversation:
Sam Williams: As a professor, compared to how you may have taught in the past, does the blog bring something extra to the teaching and learning, or do you find that it’s a little bit extra just busy work. What kind of value have you found with the blog?
Jeffery White: The value’s really in a learning community. That’s what I want every class to be. We’re not solo learners, we’re learning as a community. Especially with language. It’s a very social cultural process of learning, or can be, it can be made that way. With a blog you have a sense of community, you have a sense of something that has presence, that can be lasting, that can be returned to. MOODLE, for me, sometimes is kind of stagnant and boring, frankly, and it doesn’t have the pleasant interface and appearance that a WordPress blog can have. Then of course compared to years ago, just doing papers seems to be too much of a private affair, and this is much more within the classroom community at least, public.
Sam Williams: Do the students, when they’re blogging, do you ask them to blog both in German and in English or is it just more of the English with the reflection on the cultural aspects?
Jeffery White: It depends. Of course with the Maximizing Study Abroad, English is the language we’re using so that’s all in English, however, it just brings up a good point. I could actually have them do some blogging in the target language. Why not? Especially when we get to language learning strategies, so thank you for that tip. For German 302 it’s been in German thus far, and for this semester what we’ll be doing is continuing to post in German then, however, writing commentary about it in English sort of as a meta language as much as about their writing. Another thing that I am doing is what I call cultural reflections or structured reflections actually. Actually I don’t call it, it’s called this by some other researchers in the area, but structured reflections for transformational learning. That’s where we, in English actually, write about some aspect of cultural difference, cultural learning, what they’re actually learning or how they’re developing inter-culturally from their experience of language learning and dealing with different cultural artifacts in German. There we would, for example, we’ll be writing about stereotypes of panhandlers that we have in the United States and in Salzburg. What do we notice about differences. That will be one topic that we approach and another one would be how power seems to reveal itself in stories about migration in Austria and the media. Those are a couple of topics they’ll be writing about in English, and then I have a rubric that I use to evaluate those, actually every posting for the German class