letter of protest against the closure of the University of Texas graduate program in Foreign Language Education

It looks like the decision will not be reversed.

Doesn’t matter. We should still fight it.

——————————————-

From: Devon XX, FLE PhD Student

1234 XX Rd.

Austin, TX 78703


To: Provost Dr. Steven W. Leslie

The University of Texas at Austin

1 University Station, G1000

Austin, TX 78712-0538


To: Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies ad interim Dr. Judith Langlois

The University of Texas at Austin

VP & Dean of Graduate Studies


110 Inner Campus Drive, Stop G0400

Austin, TX 78712-1710


To: College of Education Dean Dr. Manuel Justiz

Office of the Dean, College of Education

Sanchez Building Room 210

1912 Speedway, Stop D5000

Austin, TX 78712

May 6, 2013


The US needs foreign language educators in order to combat extremism and terrorism.

Dear Dr. Leslie, Dr. Langlois, and Dr. Justiz,

A key objective of foreign language education is to promote intercultural sensitivity. This is especially important for people living in cross-cultural situations, such as students going abroad, or immigrants moving to a new country. These people go through a process of acculturation, in which they are learning to live in a new culture.

Oberg identifies four stages of acculturation:

  • Honeymoon stage

  • Culture shock stage

  • Adjustment stage

  • Recovery stage (1960, in Wintergerst & McVeigh 2011).

In the honeymoon stage, everythings seems exciting and great. One is often unaware that deep cultural differences exist. When this euphoria wears off, a person adjusting to a new culture is no longer fascinated by and often experiences problems with cultural differences. This leads to the culture shock stage, in which one is aware of cultural differences and perceives them in a negative light. Causes of culture shock include “the loss of familiar cues, the breakdown of interpersonal communication, and an identity crisis exaggerated by cultural differences” (Weaver 1993, in Wintergerst & McVeigh 2011). In the third stage, one begins adjusting to the new culture, but may still experience difficulties. By the fourth stage, one can appreciate and accept cultural differences while successfully functioning in both cultures. Although this model suggests a clear, linear path, people adjusting to new cultures can go back and forth between stages, depending on their situations, roles, and expectations. Oberg’s model does not suggest giving up one culture in favor of another; rather, this model is additive and encourages adapting to a new culture without giving up one’s own culture.

If individuals get stuck in the culture shock phase, they are at risk for developing avoidance strategies, such as avoiding the host culture and grouping together with other “shocked” individuals and groups from their home cultures (Kohls 1996, Ogden 2007, Vande Berg 2007). These people may become more prone to the influence of extremist groups, who provide them with a new sense of meaning. The confusion of daily life can be replaced by a clear and simple message.

However, confronting problems, reflecting about critical incidents, and dealing with cultural differences are powerful methods with which to progress to the next stage of acculturation. Therefore, it is necessary to move beyond avoidance strategies if one is to develop a cross-cultural competence. Durocher and Mantle-Bromley recommend culture-neutral activities and self-awareness exercises that may be useful first steps for people who are not ready to discuss their own and the target cultures (2007, 1992).

While some individuals can progress through the stages of acculturation and develop intercultural awareness on their own, many benefit from guided reflection. Educators can help people in cross-cultural situations by providing them with scaffolding to reflect on their own experiences in a meaningful way (Wintergerst & McVeigh 2011). Something as simple as asking the right questions can elicit the reflection necessary to make gains in intercultural sensitivity. For example, nudging learners to think about critical incidents from multiple perspectives can help increase their tolerance for ambiguity and allow them to develop cultural empathy (Wintergerst & McVeigh 2011). Individuals can also be encouraged to think about their own culture or cultures in comparison to their host culture, as this self-awareness may first develop when one’s own cultural notions are contrasted with and challenged by another culture.

An article in the Washington Post chronicles the story of two young men who were stuck in the culture shock phase. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were successfully functioning in US, but acculturation is not a linear process. Financial challenges and family problems apparently led Tamerlan to seek meaning within an extreme practice of Islam. His influence possibly changed his brother, Dzhokhar, very recently. Some individuals can progress through the stages of acculturation on their own. These two young men could have benefited from guided reflection. These two young men could have benefited from a pedagogical intervention provided by graduates of the University of Texas’ graduate program in Foreign Language Education.

Foreign language educators are necessary to help cross-cultural individuals to create meaning in a rapidly changing world. Please reconsider the decision to close UT’s highly regarded graduate program in Foreign Language Education.

I am looking forward to further contact with you and your colleagues. You may reach me through e-mail: “xxx@xxx.edu”.

Sincerely,

(my signature, which I’d rather not publish online)

Sources

Durocher Jr., Dennis (2007). Teaching sensitivity to cultural difference in the first-year foreign language classroom. Foreign Language Annals, 40(1), 143-160.

Fisher, Marc (2013). The Tsarnaev family: A faded portrait of an immigrant’s American dream. Washington Post, April 27, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/feature/wp/2013/04/27/the-tsarnaev-family-a-faded-portrait-of-an-immigrants-american-dream/

Kohls, L. R. (1996). Survival kit for overseas living (3rd ed.) Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press. In: Wintergerst & McVeigh (2011).

Mantle-Bromley, Corinne (1992). Preparing students for meaningful culture learning. Foreign Language Annals, 25(2), 117-127.

Oberg, K. (1960). Culture shock: Adjustment to new cultural environments. Practical Anthropology, 7, 177-182. In: Wintergerst & McVeigh (2011).

Ogden, A. (2007). The View from the Veranda: Understanding Today’s Colonial Student. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad. Winter 2007, 8, 3.

Vande Berg, Michael (2007). Notes from the Field: Direct Enrollment and the Resident Director. Portland, Maine: CIEE. Web.

Weaver, G. (1993). Understanding and coping with cross-cultural adjustment stress. In R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Wintergerst, A. C., & McVeigh, J. (2011). Tips for teaching culture: Practical approaches to intercultural communication. NY: Pearson Longman.

3 thoughts on “letter of protest against the closure of the University of Texas graduate program in Foreign Language Education

  1. This isn’t the time to scale back on cross-cultural awareness!

  2. Thanks, Dad. There was a meeting this morning, and it seems to be more about politics than I originally thought. Sigh…