From the College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Office Hours—A Faculty Perspective
Karin deJonge-Kannan

At Utah State, Karin deJonge-Kannan co-directs the Master of Second Language Teaching program.

A Step Towards Peace

By Karin deJonge-Kannan, senior lecturer of linguistics

People are routinely divided into two groups: us and them. We see this breakdown almost daily in the news when reading about conflicts in politics, sports, religion, and culture. However, people will remain ‘other’ until we spend time interacting with them to work on common goals. I do not believe a single-nation group will solve the problems facing our world today; all of us must work together to develop solutions. Bringing international guests to the United States serves as an effective element of such an approach and it has been my great pleasure to help organize and host such opportunities.

My desire to organize programs for international guests is rooted in something that retired Secretary of State Colin Powell stated in the public radio program This I Believe, “A good stay in our country is the best public diplomacy tool we have.” The U.S. Department of State, through its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), has long supported professional exchange programs for foreign artists, athletes, teachers, journalists, legislators, and entrepreneurs to foster peaceful relations between the United States and their home countries. This is my motivation for applying for ECA-funded grants to bring international guests to our campus.

In the summer of 2011, USU hosted 39 university students from around the world for 8 weeks of English-language learning and cross-cultural interaction. The students lived on our campus, shopped in our stores, met local people, carried out service-learning projects in the community, and got a much better impression of the USA and its people than they could ever gain through the movies. My favorite memory of that summer is rafting the Colorado River in Moab with a large group of young people who claimed not to be able to swim—and almost all the rafts tipped over in the raging river! We learned that life-jackets are terrific, and that friends will keep each other from drowning even when they don’t share the same language or religious background.

The other ECA-funded projects I have been involved with have brought teachers to our campus. In a collaborative effort between the School for Teacher Education and Leadership and the Master of Second Language Teaching program, USU has twice hosted a group of about 20 high school teachers from around the world. The international teachers stayed on our campus for six weeks and were paired with a local teacher in Logan or Cache County school district. They observed classes, taught lessons, and ate in the school cafeteria. In several cases, the students of the local teacher interacted with students of the international teacher through Skype or other Internet communication tools.

Our time together taught us respect for one another’s professionalism. We shared creative approaches to finding the right balance between meeting our students’ individual needs and preparing them for standardized high-stakes tests. While the program centered on professional development, we also took the teachers on excursions. I particularly enjoyed hiking around Tony Grove with them, canoeing on the Cutler Marsh, and carving pumpkins together in my backyard for Halloween.

My department—Languages, Philosophy, and Communication Studies—is currently hosting two Fulbright Language Teaching Assistants from Egypt and Brazil who teach Arabic and Portuguese courses. At least as important as their instruction is their role as cultural ambassador and transnational bridge builder. For most students enrolled in first-year language classes with these scholars, this is their first interaction with someone from the target-language speaking community. Developing a relationship with a flesh-and-blood speaker goes a long way in motivating our students to persevere in the long process of learning a new language.

At present, my colleague, Maria Luisa Spicer-Escalante, and I are gearing up to host Fulbright scholars from Iraq. This project will bring scholars in English as a Foreign Language/Applied Linguistics to our campus for 10 weeks of professional development this summer and we look forward to learning with and from them. Among Iraqis, perceptions of the USA are likely to be mixed. We are fully confident that their stay at USU will help the scholars experience the best our country has to offer: kind people, excellent facilities, and spectacular nature.

Participating in these programs has brought me tremendous joy. Meeting people from all over the world is a privilege—but not only for travelers. Those of us who remain stateside can expand our understanding of the world by interacting with international guests right here. We can invite them into our classrooms, our homes, and our hearts. In my view, this is an important step in pulling down the divide between us and ‘other’ and to building world peace.