Trans issues

Recently, I’ve been thinking about dissertation topics in a more concrete way. Right now I’m thinking about examining the effect of drama-based instruction techniques in undergraduate foreign language courses on students’ transcultural competence, that is, their abilities to function across cultures. Specifically, I’d like to focus on students’ abilities to recognize their perspective from within their own cultural membership and to open themselves to the perspectives of people from cultures different than their own. While this may never result in complete understanding, empathy is an important trait of social interaction.

But I’ve also been thinking of another trans lately: transgender.

Ferran Esteve/ Flickr Creative Commons

Ferran Esteve/ Flickr Creative Commons


First, let’s talk terminology. To be transgender means that a person’s gender identity is different than the identity assigned at birth. Sexuality and anatomy are different issues. Gender/transgender refers to culture: social behaviors, identity and perceptions.

There was a Time Magazine cover recently titled “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s next civil rights frontier”.  While the story by Katy Steinmetz was a balanced mix of background information, statistics, and stories about the experiences of a few diverse individuals, I found the most interesting quote to be a detail in parentheses: “(This article will use the names, nouns and pronouns preferred by individuals, in accordance with TIME’s style)”. That’s an important linguistic decision that shows respect and normalcy.

I too want to tell stories of three transgender women from my perspective as an outsider, a cis female. I offered to change their names to protect their privacy, but all three of these women gave me their explicit permission to use their real names. I like this, as I can write in greater detail without having to change their stories to protect their identities. Also, their willingness and relative nonchalance about being open indicates something good about the current state of US society.

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My roleplay with debt and poverty: The American way of life

Elmar and I have been waiting on our savings from Germany for two months. Our current salaries would be enough for us to squeak by while preserving our current, relatively non-consumerist lifestyles (especially by US standards for white, educated professionals). Except that we’re building a house.

Creative Commons photo courtesy flickr user Images_of_Money, found on

Creative Commons photo from flickr user Images_of_Money, found on

While we have great credit scores, our impermanent jobs in academia prevent us from getting a home loan. So we’re building ourselves. Continue reading

studying cacti and culture

A friend of mine from Dresden, Germany just arrived in Austin with his wife and their two daughters (ages: 2 years, 8 weeks). He’s a mechanical engineer researching the structure of cacti for his dissertation. So obviously his path led him to Texas. But it also brings my path full circle. Continue reading

Buzzing with research ideas and grad school support

Last year, I kinda fought my way through grad school. While I had supportive professors and colleagues, I felt like the last frames of this by the end of spring 2013.

Now I feel like I’m on the verge of something, like in an old school video game, when you’ve built up all your energy and you can do a special move. Now, I just have to figure out the button combinations to unleash a research fireball. Luckily, I have a great deal of support on this quest.

Photo from Wiki Commons

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new job starting in June

I signed my offer letter today to work as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Center for Teaching and Learning. Specifically, I’ll be working with a group to develop resources for graduate student instructors, like workshops and web content.

While I really enjoy teaching German at the university level, and part of me is sad to not teach the whole lower division curriculum, I think moving to this office makes sense for my long term goals.

How grad school is like roller derby

I’m finishing out my first year as a PhD student in Foreign Language Education at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s been a wild ride so far, and I’ve come to realize that my grad school experience in the US is actually a lot like roller derby. I’ll briefly explain and let my alter ego, Culture Shock Her, illustrate.

Photo: Lisa Ahrens Continue reading