This portfolio summarizes my work of the last two years as a graduate student in the Intercultural Communication’s (ICC) program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. I would describe the last couple of years as a journey of both personal and professional development. When I started the program I only had a passion for intercultural communication, but no idea how my professional future in this field would look like. At that point I had studied different languages, lived in different countries, and therefore knew that pursuing my master’s degree in a to me unfamiliar culture and using a foreign language would provide me with both, challenges and opportunities. Drawing on my experiences of living abroad in Japan, I knew that moving to a new country and meeting people from diverse backgrounds would help me to broaden my horizon and see the world from new, unfamiliar perspectives. Academically, I was excited to discover new ideas, learn about innovative theories, and get to know other people with a passion for intercultural communication and education.
Now approaching the end of the program and also my time in the United States, I can say that I not only grew personally through the experience of living in a foreign culture, but also professionally. While two years ago I would have described myself as someone passionate about ideas and concepts of intercultural communication, I am now confident enough to call myself an intercultural educator.
According to its website, the ICC program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate school of Education
“provides a solid foundation in linguistic and discursive approaches to the study of communication between members of different cultural groups (including linguistic, social, racial, ethnic, national, gender, and other groupings). The core courses examine linguistic and social practices that occur in face-to-face interaction, the cultural expectations and ideologies that inform communicative practices, the cultural dynamics of power and identity, and the practical application of these principles in a variety of work environments.”
The ICC program did not only introduce me to theories in linguistics and socio-linguistics which provide me with an essential foundation for my academic work, it also broadened my understanding of how culture can be defined in a variety of contexts.
This portfolio shows some of my work from the past two years that for me represents my academic and professional development as a graduate student in the ICC program best. Throughout my studies, two themes became increasingly important to me: projects related to the work with immigrant populations and the inclusion of diverse forms of art in the context of intercultural communication. While the first year of my studies in the ICC program were dominated by core classes that introduced me to the academic world of intercultural communication, the second year of my studies offered valuable opportunities to follow my interests and take classes that represent how I personally understand myself as an intercultural educator. In the following I will briefly describe the projects that I included in this portfolio, how they fit into the two main themes described above and in which way they influenced my development as an intercultural educator.
During the Spring 2016, the ICC core class Experiential Learning Design (ELD) introduced me to the concepts of experiential learning and workshop design. I started this class without knowing anything about experiential learning and only having participated in workshops in the role of a student and never as a facilitator. After this class, however, I had discovered the great opportunities that experiential learning offers in the context of intercultural understanding and education. The classwork gave me an opportunity to discover how experiential workshops could be of great use when working with immigrant and non-immigrant populations thinking about topics like integration and mutual understanding. In this portfolio I have included the documentation of a workshop I created with fellow students in the class Experiential Learning Design, as well as a video that shows the highlights of the workshop which we facilitated as a team at the end of the 2016 Spring term with fellow ICC students taking on the roles of our participants. This specific project provided me with the opportunity to gain skills in intercultural workshop design and to practice the facilitation of a 90-minutes training.
During the same spring term I had another opportunity to design a workshop concerning the education of immigrant populations. Inspired by what I had learned during my time in the ELD class, in this second workshop design I focused on the German education system after the European Refugee Crisis 2015, when many teachers were confronted with an increasing number of refugee and other immigrant children entering their classrooms with varying levels of German language proficiency. Therefore I designed a workshop for German teachers about how they could navigate a classroom with students coming from diverse cultural backgrounds and speaking other languages that German at home. I saw this project as a good opportunity to combine theories in sociolinguistics I had studied during my first year at GSE with experiential workshop design techniques.
My first year at GSE allowed me not only to get used to my new life in the United States, it also gave me a good overview of the Intercultural Communication program and academic life at Penn. Since the European Refugee Crisis 2015 guided both workshop designs during the spring term 2016 I described above, it seemed a logical consequence for me to go back home to Europe for my summer internship and observe some of the aspects I had included for my workshop design. While I was not able to conduct my internship in the education sector, I was, however, able to secure an internship with the Ministry for Employment, Integration, and Social Affairs North Rhine-Westphalia where I worked for the department “Dialogue with Islam” within the Division of Integration. This site offered great insights into policy making processes in North-Rhine Westphalia and different debates that take place in Germany during the aftermath of the Refugee Crisis 2015. In this portfolio, I included an internship narrative that analyses two aspects of my internship experience more closely – how the ministry itself functions as a complex organizational system within society and as a policy making institution and how Islam is perceived and represented within the ministry.
This internship experience did not only provide me with valuable insights into the work processes of the government in North Rhine-Westphalia, it also gave me the chance to reflect about who I am as an intercultural educator and who I would like to become after graduating from the ICC program. While my time at the ministry made me value the administrative work that is done in Germany in order to support immigrant populations and further integration processes, it also made me realize that I do not see myself working in such an environment in the future. Working directly with people and having an immediate impact on intercultural understanding is too important to me when reflecting about my personal role as an intercultural educator.
Papers & Research Projects
After returning to Philadelphia for my second year in the ICC program at GSE, I decided to take classes that would reflect my interests and personal goals for the program. For this purpose, I made use of the fact that the ICC program allows students to take up to four classes outside of the Graduate School of Education. Thus, in the fall term 2016 I took a class about international migration at the Political Science Department and another class about community organizing at the School for Social Policy and Practice. While the class at the Political Science Department provided me with the possibility to broaden my knowledge about global migration and the reasons that lie behind people moving across borders and continents, the class at the School for Social Policy in Practice provided me with valuable information and skills about how to organize individuals and groups in order to achieve social change. I decided to enroll in both classes, because I perceived them as directly connected to my professional ideas of working with immigrant populations, raising intercultural awareness, and having an immediate impact on peoples’ lives.
I included my final papers from both classes I took outside of GSE in this portfolio. While the first one is a comparative research paper, looking at the interplay between refugee policies and education systems in Australia and the United States, the second paper analyzes a recent movement in Germany that seeks to organize refugees to stand up for their equal rights in society.
Another research project I included in this part of my portfolio is a poster I created for the class Sociolinguistics in Education which I took during the spring term 2016. Being one of the core classes for the ICC program, this research project required students to use ethnographic research methods in order to connect field observations with sociolinguistic theories discussed during class sessions. For this project I decided to observe an ESL class at the International House in Philadelphia. This field site provided me with the opportunity to observe the interactions between individuals from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds and to connect these observations with academic research central to the area of intercultural communication.
The final paper I included in this section of the portfolio is a project I did for the class Museum Education in Spring 2017. This class made it possible for me to focus on the second main theme for my studies in intercultural communication, namely the question how art and intercultural communication can be interconnected. I am convinced that any form of art is a form of communication and therefore worth considering when it comes to work concerned with intercultural education. Since many museums have either designed specific educational programming for their audiences or have a whole education department that creates educational experiences within the museum context, they can serve as excellent resources for intercultural educators. For my final paper, I looked at traces of Orientalism in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s past and present. I furthermore asked the question how aware the museum is of this phenomenon and whether it actively works against tendencies of generalization of other cultures. In a modern world where societies become increasingly diverse, intercultural awareness is of essential importance for a cultural and educational institution.
This portfolio furthermore contains two lesson plans I created with fellow students using Shaun Tan’s graphic novel The Arrival. According to the author, “The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time.” This unique world that Tan creates in his work offers great opportunities for educators to connect arts, the work with immigrant populations, and intercultural communication.
The first lesson plan I included in this portfolio was created with fellow students in the class Sociolinguistics in Education in the spring term 2016. We designed a series of ESL lesson plans using storytelling and Shaun Tan’s graphic novel The Arrival to improve students’ linguistic skills and confidence. While creating these lesson plans, we had an audience of adult English learners in mind who only recently immigrated to the United States. The story told by Shaun Tan’s The Arrival should help them tell their own, personal story of moving to a new and unfamiliar place and thereby deepen their engagement with the new language.
I used Shaun Tan’s The Arrival for another lesson plan I designed with a fellow student for the class Teaching Performing Arts for Cross-Cultural Education (TPACE) in Fall 2016. The main purpose of that class was to understand how performing arts can be used as a means to further intercultural communication and intercultural awareness. We used Shaun Tan’s graphic novel as a basis to design a one hour lesson where students would give voices to Tan’s characters through spoken word poetry. Facilitating this lesson as our final project in class, we were impressed how performing arts can create a meaningful environment for intercultural dialogue and intercultural awareness.
Looking into the Future
After graduating from the ICC program I will move back to Europe to live in the Netherlands. I am looking forward to pursue a career that gives me the opportunity to share my love for the arts and intercultural communication with others and that provides me with the possibility to inspire people to look at the world from new and unfamiliar perspectives.