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Eric Lassahn serves as the Director of Residence Life & the Center for Civic Engagement at Susquehanna University. In addition he is an adjunct faculty member and program director for Global Opportunities programs.
Introduction As a Ph.D. student at Prescott College, I am only deepening my passion for fostering sustainable communities through cross-cultural service-learning. As Director of Residence Life & The Center for Civic Engagement at Susquehanna University I also work with the campus’s Global Opportunities (GO) program at SU. This work has afforded me the opportunity to participate in the evolution of the GO program and has allowed me to grow and develop as an experiential educator.
Susquehanna University has established the Global Opportunities (GO) Program, a significant requirement in the new Central Curriculum, implemented in fall 2009. Through this new curriculum initiative, every student at Susquehanna must complete an approved, cross-cultural immersion experience of at least two weeks, surrounded by preparatory and reflective work on campus. The credit-bearing portion of the requirement is a graded two semester-hour reflection course. This reflective work might include papers, oral presentations, performances, creative writing, or video production.
The reflection course is designed to gauge student progress on a set of clearly defined cross-cultural learning goals (SU CCLGs) adopted by the Susquehanna faculty: Students must learn to understand and recognize ethnocentrism; compare and contrast cultural practices; demonstrate critical awareness of their own cultural values and identity; examine their own role and responsibility in their intercultural interactions; and consider what they might do differently as responsible global citizens as a result of their cross-cultural experiences. The cross-cultural requirement can be satisfied in part by student participation in one of three types of GO programs: GO Short, GO Long, and GO Your Own Way.
GO Short experiences are two to four week intensive cross-cultural immersion opportunities led by SU faculty and staff. GO Long programs constitute a semester abroad during which students usually participate in semester programs offered through other institutions or third party providers around the world. GO Your Own Way experiences are self-designed by students who submit a proposal detailing the ways in which their planned experience will satisfy the elements of the GO program and meet the cross-cultural learning goals. As a director for two GO Short programs, I have served as instructor for the accompanying post trip reflection courses. It was not until the spring semester of 2013 that I had the opportunity to instruct a reflection course for students who participated in GO Long and GO Your Own Way experiences.
Teaching the Course
As the semester concludes, I have just finished teaching my section of Global Citizenship. This has been a very interesting experience in that I have not before led reflection among a group whose participants have not all experienced the same activity in the same time and place. Having just completed a self-designed course on reflection in the fall 2012 semester, I was eager to utilize some of my newly acquired knowledge. One of the main reflection models with which I chose to work is called the DEAL model.
The DEAL model presents a specific framework within which to structure reflection. With this approach students are prompted to provide a Description of experiences in an objective and detailed manner. Further, students partake in a critical Examination of those experiences in relation to specific learning objectives with emphasis on complementing academic content, bringing civic learning to life, and augmenting personal growth. Finally, in the Articulation of Learning phase, students are challenged to synthesize the experience and learning. Students demonstrate new understandings by considering various perspectives, explaining conclusions clearly and logically, and providing evidence to substantiate their findings. (Whitney & Clayton in Bringle et al., 2010).
After an initial class session involved with the typical logistics and overview including personal introductions, review of the syllabus, description of the SU CCLGs, and general (mutually generated) expectations, I began our next class with a 10 minute writing exercise on ethnocentrism. The prompt asked each student to define ethnocentrism and to offer an example with accompanying description directly from her or his own GO experience.
Over the next several class periods the students gave five-minute individual presentations on their program. I hoped that through this exercise, students would gain a cursory understanding of the variety of programs and experiences that would inform our conversations going forward. Also, I wanted to do this assignment early in the course because I had seen in the literature including Tyler; Tisdell and Tolliver that presentation or teaching to others was proven a very effective means of reflection. I prompted students to use the DEAL model to organize their presentations while highlighting progress on the SU CCLGs.
As an unintended consequence, I was able to gauge a general lack of familiarity with the learning goals even though we had reviewed them as part of the syllabus during the first class. If I were to begin the course with individual presentations again in the future, I would ensure clarity regarding expected content (provide a mini-lesson on the DEAL model, emphasize CCLGs, etc.), insure a 5 min time limit, and clarify the expectation for the class to ask questions.
When we had finished the individual presentations, I led a series of discussions during the next few weeks concerned with material assigned in readings and with the intention of shifting focus toward the cultural immersion element of their experiences. As had been with many previous sections of Global Citizenship, I planned to use the text by Kwame Anthony Appiah, entitled Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.
I also decided to require group presentations for this course to create the opportunity for students to reflect in small groups as they prepared their presentations. In this way, I could combine educational strategies to promote reflection that included group or cohort work (Alcantara, Hayes, and Yorks; Donaldson; King and Heuer) and storytelling or presentation (Tyler; Tisdell and Tolliver) in (Mezirow, Taylor, & Associates, 2009) (the prompt for the group presentations is included in Appendix II).
In an effort to help form groups for group presentation, I devised an exercise that would mix students by interest in particular cultural elements. After creating a list of cultural elements as a class, I designated four corners of the room to create a continuum (one being the most and four being the least). As I named a cultural element, students would go to the corner that represents the amount of impact that this cultural element had in their experience. While in each group, discussion would center on three questions: why? how? relationship to US culture? This process was repeated for each cultural element including food, politics, landscape/natural environment, traditional celebrations, money/economics, native people, sense of time, education, travel, values, dress/clothing. The four corners exercise actually spanned two class periods and it seemed as though it really got them thinking and talking about their experience from a cultural perspective. The goal was to talk about the group project proposal so that students could identify those with whom they would like to present based on common interests.
The last assignment of note before group presentations and excluding the example below, was the skills development exercise. This entailed the completion of an extensive checklist of skills typically developed or enhanced as a result of study abroad experiences. After completing the checklist, students were asked to write a reflection paper on what they deemed the most important skills they identified from the list and the ways that these skills would influence their future. The in class discussion of this assignment proved rich and I really felt that I was able to help students understand the ways that these skills could be articulated in the context of a resume, job interview, or in relation to other pursuits.
Assignment Example: Response to a Challenging Article
The first part of this assignment required the students to read the recent post by Julia Lang on the Building a Better World web site. Lang’s piece, entitled Transformation Experience: Service-Learning Student to Scholar, is a personal account of her experience as a student on a long-term cross-cultural service-learning experience. As she recounts her time in Ecuador working with impoverished and abused children, it becomes clear that this experience transformed her. She goes on to discuss how the experience is responsible for her current path as a researcher and she concludes by sharing her current research questions.
For this assignment, the students were asked to write an essay response to the following questions:
In 1–2 paragraphs, compare and contrast your study abroad experience with that of Lang’s.
Lang mentions the term “global citizenship” several times in this piece. Consider her use of this term and compare it with your understanding of global citizenship as a concept based on your GO program experience and your time in our class so far.
Lang also discusses her experience with reentry. With this in mind, reflect on your experience regarding reentry upon arriving home, returning to school, and how you have adapted over time. Is this adjustment becoming easier? More difficult? Why? Also, what is does SU have in place to assist you in this transition. Has this been helpful?
Lang shares a list of questions with which her research is concerned. Choose at least one of these questions and answer from your own perspective.
Students responded to this assignment in interesting ways. Given that there were many elements of Lang’s experience that were starkly different from the majority of my students, I was curious to see whether students would become defensive in their responses. For the most part, they seemed open and honest in comparing and contrasting their experiences with that of Lang. Almost every member of the class began his or her paper with almost exactly the same statement: her study abroad experience was very different from their own. One student captures the sentiment particularly well:
Ms. Lang’s experience was very different. It seems to me that her program was focused on being a student in service, as opposed to mine, that was mostly for pleasure and broader cultural knowledge. Her experience was so wildly different than mine, she did actually become, for a time, a functioning citizen of that culture, of that city, and she became a part of the lives of those people and kids on the streets, and I was merely on a long vacation. I think that her experience is the very model of global citizenship that studying abroad is meant to inspire.
While most of these comments were rather detached from self-judgment, a few students did express feelings of guilt regarding their lack of service or other types of immersion during their semester abroad:
Reflecting on my own experience, even while I was abroad in Ireland, I felt unbelievably guilty and selfish for allowing myself the opportunity to travel Europe rather than volunteer my time helping those who need it most. There was numerous times when I discussed with my friends how guilty I felt for “blowing money” on flights to other countries, fully knowing that the money I was spending could be used in so many more valuable ways. I also felt selfish for the fact that my own parents were continuously funding my trips after I had run out of my own money that I saved over the summer, when they themselves had not seen the world as I had.
In general, students were able to make some interesting comparisons between Lang’s experience and their own. Regarding the question on “global citizenship” one student shared the following:
While abroad, I learned that in order to improve yourself as a global citizen, you should first be able to analyze your own culture in an outsider’s point of view. I was able see how the American way of life impacted New Zealand’s way of life through technology, education, social life, and environmental policy.
I was glad to note that many students were also able to relate to Lang’s experience. In discussing reentry, this student was in full agreement with Lang:
Within Lang’s blog entry, the concept I felt I most related to was her issue with re-entry. I don’t know how many times I have thought, as Lang states, “I felt like I had been yanked out of my universe, experienced another world, and then plopped right back where I had left off and nobody else seemed to have changed.” Lang states that this uncomfortable re-entry back into American culture may have to deal with “the little opportunity I had to reflect on my international experience while abroad, right before, or upon returning home.” I don’t think a day has gone by since I’ve been home that I haven’t reflected upon my experience…
The question on reentry seemed to prompt some very interesting responses and while I was glad that the students were working through these issues, I also saw the assignment as an opportunity to gather some informal feedback.
Working through this assignment three months after their return, the student responses provided an interesting snapshot of their reentry experience and perceptions of their time abroad. I therefore decided to manually code and track responses regarding reentry and any feedback on support they may or may not have felt from SU or other sources. With regard to reentry, twelve students reported experiencing problems with reentry while six shared that they did not experience reentry concerns. The rest did not mention reentry at all. Some students went on to specify that their reentry issues were social in nature (7), academic in nature (5), and weather related (1).
With regard to their awareness of support options intended to ease reverse culture shock, seven reported an awareness of programming offered by the Office of Cross Cultural Programs, but none of them shared that they had taken advantage of such programming. Four students expressed that they received less formal support from friends as a rationale for not utilizing programmed support from SU. Many recognized the Global Citizenship course as a means of supporting their transition back to US and SU life and nine such students expressed gratitude for the course in this respect. Four students were sure to specifically express their support of and appreciation for the SU cross-cultural requirement.
Student Responses to the Course In reviewing student feedback regarding the SU CCLGs, the majority of students indicated their course-based progress in the agree or strongly agree categories. The following is a tabulation of student perceptions of their progress on the CCLGs as a result of their participation in the course.
Students were asked to rate their progress. I found this analysis interesting, because before completing it, I would have thought that the course might have scored consistently higher in “identify my own cultural values.” And based on my experience with the students in the course, I expected the class in general to rate “recognize my responsibility to others” much lower.
In general feedback for my section of the course was favorable. Many students shared experiencing the course as well organized/structured, interesting, reflective, and informative. Almost every assignment was mentioned as a favorite at least once and the readings were mostly viewed as unimportant to the experience, but there were a few students who mentioned finding the readings useful.
Much of the feedback was also intended to be constructive including: that the class be more structured; a request for more emphasis on discussion; that a project be required instead of the class; and the use of a more “concrete” syllabus. However, my favorite comment was this one: “I learned that different cultures have something to offer the world. We get so wrapped up our culture, that we forget we are not the only nation in the world.”
Implications Based on my experience teaching this course, I believe that the improvement that could have the most impact is not one directly related to the reflection course but rather, the pre-departure preparation. During my recent coursework, I have found that pre-experience preparation, often referred to as preflection (or pre-flection) can have an incredible influence on the way that student participants approach an experiential learning opportunity. In an effort to prepare students for an experiential learning opportunity, set expectations, orient them to the concepts with which they will be dealing, identify and develop appropriate skills, and state the learning goals, preflection is an important part of the process. Students should be clear on learning goals and have the skills necessary to achieve expected outcomes (Eyler & Giles, 1999). While GO Long and GO Your Own Way students are certainly engaged in pre-departure work, it seems as though they are still heading off on their experiences without a clear understanding of the SU CCLGs or the ways in which they are expected to approach the experience such as journaling and intentional cross-cultural exchange.
Preflection can help students begin to shift into the mindfulness necessary to achieve greater depths of self-awareness. The ability to process the countless thoughts and feelings that will arise during the course of a series of disorienting dilemmas could be directly related to significance of student learning outcomes. Further, preflection can also serve to emphasize a degree of self-care that will be necessary during a cross-cultural experience.
“[P]re-flection,” [is the practice] in which students are asked to look ahead and anticipate what they are not only looking forward to, but what they are nervous or anxious about as well. We overtly and intentionally forewarn students of the potential shadows they will encounter. We tell them the experience may be messy at best and even a little scary. At the same time, we give them permission to feel anxious. Be advised, they often will not internalize or even remember this warning until they come crashing into the shadows of their experience. (Welch, 2010)
Students should be encouraged to capture such anxiety (especially as related to the learning goals) in their journals and other writing assignments in an effort to better prepare for the experience ahead.
I am a huge believer in the positive and transformative impact that Susquehanna University’s GO program is having on our students and it is my hope that we can continue to add ways to prepare students more fully. Such preparation will increase the likelihood that our students will honor the true intentions of the cross-cultural requirement. We strive to ensure that students have meaningful experience upon which to reflect because we are firmly in the business of developing responsible global citizens rather than serial travelers.
Conclusion I very much enjoyed this experience and found it beneficial from both a professional and academic perspective. Teaching Global Citizenship enabled me to have yet another experience within the field of cross-cultural education without even leaving campus. As for my coursework, I very much appreciated the opportunity to put knowledge gained from last semester to practical use so soon after acquisition. Through experimentation, some risk taking, and a true interest in the possibilities offered by this course, I found this experience to be truly enriching as it expanded my learning and further developed my skills.
While I basically stuck to the original design of the course this semester with the intention of a significant overhaul if I am to teach it in the future, instead I found that a similar design would be just fine if the students are prepared differently before they depart. If students had journals or other types of reflection materials (intentionally crafted videos, blogs on topics related to the SU CCLGs, etc.) that they were compelled to complete during their GO program, their instructors would have a good deal more material with which to work. If I could have as a prerequisite for my course that students will have had to keep a journal during their experience, I would do that. Perhaps students should be prompted to complete universal assignments (given to every single GO participant) while on their trip so that reflection course instructors could better gauge the level of cross-cultural engagement and the resulting meaning-making.
Because the GO program is still developing, opportunities for research, assessment, and continued development abound. We’re still learning how to harness the various elements of this program to optimize transformative outcomes for our students as related to our cross-cultural learning goals. With this in mind, I continue to consider ways to connect my Prescott coursework with participation in the GO Program. I particularly appreciate the many ways in which the Prescott College approach to learning and philosophy of instruction relates to the ways in which we operate the GO program at SU.
Appiah, K. (2006). The case for contamination. New York Times Magazine.
Appiah, K. (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of strangers. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Eyler, Janet and Dwight Giles, Jr. (1999). Where’s the learning in service-learning? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, Taylor, & Associates. (2009). Transformative learning in practice: Insights from Community, workplace, and higher education. SF, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Welch, M. (2010). Shedding light on the shadow-side of reflection in service-learning. Journal of College and Character. 11(3).
Whitney & Clayton. (2010). Research on and through reflection in international service-learning. In Bringle, R.G., Hatcher, J.A., & Jones, S.G., (Ed.). (pp. 145–190). International service learning: Conceptual frameworks and research. Stylus. Sterling, VA. IUPUI Series on Service Learning Research vol. 1.
APPENDIX I Global Citizenship — Spring 2013 Group Presentation Project
This group presentation should be oriented toward putting into practice the learning that comes from having a cross-cultural experience. Target audience will be first year students who are just beginning to plan how they will fulfill their cross cultural requirement.
Organize your (3–4 student) group around a cultural element (food, religion, language, traditions, politics, etc.). Groups should not contain members who studied in the same country. Compare and contrast your experiences using one or more cultural elements and be sure to include relationships to these same aspects of US culture.
Organize your presentation using the DEAL model (see below for details) and using experiences and cross cultural learning goals to inform the presentation.
Appropriate length — 10 minutes (5pts.)
Use of the DEAL model (Describe experiences; Examine meanings/insights; Articulate your Learning). This is how the presentation should be organized (20pts)
Identify 1–3 dominant cultural elements to which you related the most (connection between US/host: politics, food, customs, sense of time, etc.). This serves as the focus for the presentation (20pts)
cultural elements discussed:
relationship between US and represented countries:
Discuss relationship to class readings and/or connect to class discussion. (25pts)
Emphasis on the cross-cultural learning goals (15pts)
– CCLGs that were discussed/referenced:
Interesting, Fun, Engaging (10pts)
Multi-media and or creative approach utilized? (5pts)
Proposals should include:
the members of the group
where each member studied
cultural elements that will be emphasized
method of delivery
any other relevant information
Annotated Journal Assignment This assignment will require you to be an archeologist or autoethnographer or detective or historian of sorts. The goal is to produce a 5–7 page review of your journal (and/or any other evidence of reflections or representations of the way in which your experience was affecting you in real time during your GO program). Special emphasis and attention should be given to the SU cross-cultural learning goals (CCLGs). A good strategy would be to structure the assignment around the CCLGs so that each has a distinct section and you would be sure to speak to each one.
The successful annotated journal will include photos and text (ie: entries from your journal, sections from e-mail to friends and family, blog posts, tweets, facebook posts, or any other writings from your time abroad that capture your thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the experience you were having. Loose transcriptions of phone conversations based on interviews with those whom you had calls while abroad may even be a source for these examples). You will then provide some description to set up each example and some commentary after each example, which should include the following:
What were you thinking or feeling in the moment that’s not already obvious in the example?
How did this element of your experience relate to the CCLG to which it is related?
Would you have responded differently if you knew then what you know now? If so, how?
What, if any, impact will this aspect of your experience have on your life going forward (ie: goals, career path, level of civic and global engagement, relationships with friends and family, etc.)?
You may not be able to identify examples that speak to every CCLG. If that is the case, discuss that. Identify some reasons for this. The paper should conclude with a summarizing statement that characterizes your overall impressions having completed this process.
While I am expecting high quality for this assignment, ultimately this is for you. This could serve to crystalize your experience in ways that have not been possible to this point. To do well, you will need to revisit on a deeper level, the experience you have had both in terms of what you had originally hoped to gain from it and how SU intends students to benefit from the GO program. It is my hope that you come away with a piece that is worth revisiting later in life as a means to reorient or ground yourself based on the realizations that resulted from this experience.
Eric Lassahn serves as the Director of Residence Life & the Center for Civic Engagement at Susquehanna University. In addition he is an adjunct faculty member and program director for Global Opportunities programs such as Hurricane Relief Team and Peace, Youth, & Reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Lassahn is currently pursuing a Ph.D. from Prescott College in Sustainability Education.
Tonya Williams, principal of urban Githens Middle School in Durham, North Carolina shares her experience collaborating with the incredibly diverse group of K-16 educators at CWI’s Summer Institute. She discusses her personal journey at the Institute, from self described “neophyte” to an administrator ready to go back and implement a deep approach to service-learning with faculty buy-in. learn more about CWI Institutes
I recently came across an astoundingly powerful student led project, the ELL Give Back Project just outside Boston in Massachusetts. The power of this project is three fold: it is student conceived and led; it has huge implications for schools and ELL programs; and its “added benefit” of encouraging cultural understanding is potentially very large. As we now watch entire groups of Americans and undocumented immigrants alike come under major stress, harsh off the leash discrimination, and in many cases actual attack, this student led project has so much to offer us all.
This student led and envisioned project epitomizes the very best of what we can be as a nation, and certainly what we promote through Community Works Institute (CWI), a community focused project that emerged from a school that clearly values student voice, service, and a sense of place for its students.
In the words of the students themselves
“Our main goal is to provide educational videos to foreign new-comers as our plan to make students’ transition (at our school) to their new environment easier.”
You still have to time to register… for CWI’s Summer EAST Institute on Place Based Service-Learning and Sustainability. June 25-29, Burlington, Vermont. Join a very special group of like minded educators from across the U.S. for an inspired week of training and planning. learn more: https://bit.ly/1PCRv6u
Student experience, not outcomes, matter most for school design
There is a huge push around the country to define the student outcomes we want schools to achieve. Pretty consistently, these have become an array of “graduate profiles” by schools, districts, and education reform organizations alike.
The question being asked is, “Who do we want children to be when they graduate from school?”.
This is great — I love that we’re creating positive visions. We do want to know our aims. We do hope our children are creative, competent, curious, empathetic, lifelong learners, and complex problem solvers, and we should understand the kinds of capacities, character, and beliefs we hope our children will develop during school. Continue reading →
Scott Fischer, Service-Learning Director at Park Tudor School in Indiana thinks that Service-Learning is crucial to bringing education to life. He also thinks its hugely important to show our students that as a faculty we really believe in this through our practice. Scott and a team of colleagues attended CWI’s Institute. learn more: http://cwinstitute.net
Would you believe me if I said there’s never been a safer time to be a child in this country? It’s true. But, yes, I know it’s hard to believe.
It’s hard to believe because, just lately, we’ve had several horrific school shootings. It’s hard to believe because we’re inundated 24/7 with news, much of which is fear-inducing. (In the “good old days,” if you wanted news, you had to tune in at either 6 or 11 p.m., and the three networks had half an hour to give it to you.) It’s hard to believe because we’ve become so accustomed to “worst-first” thinking that we’re no longer thinking straight. We’re doing everything from banning cartwheels on playgrounds to punishing parents who let their children go outside alone to implementing school safety drills that can do more to terrify children than keep them safe. And we’re doing it all in the name of prevention. As I’ve written before, one school banned cartwheels not because there had been any incidents of children getting hurt, but because the potential existed.
I do understand that school safety drills have become a necessity. They are intended to keep kids and teachers safe and, in this case, preparing for potential harm makes sense. But, as with all decisions concerning children, shouldn’t we keep the children in mind? Shouldn’t school safety drills take into consideration the children’s developmental levels and weigh the consequences of frightening them to the point of traumatizing them? Continue reading →
If there is one thing that I am sure of as an educator it is that rapid change greatly affects both what and how we learn. If there is a second thing that I am sure of as an educator it is that the evolution of technology is the driver of rapid change throughout our culture. Both of these factors in education and our culture lead me to question if teachers are being properly prepared to teach students whose learning is affected by so many different influences? The past learning experiences of educators are so different from the current and evolving experiences of their students that relevance as an educator is extremely important. Do today’s teachers understand the learning needs of today’s students?
A generational gap is a world of difference in terms of technology. For this reason I feel that many educators are products of a 20th century education that limits them as educators in the 21st century. Of course there are educators who have continually, professionally developed to stay relevant, but maybe not in enough numbers to make a great difference. Continue reading →
This is a brief account of how & why I developed “Beyond the Classroom Aquarium,” a yearlong project based, curricular sequence of authentic STEM-Oriented and aquatic ecosystem themed learning activities (for students to love).
Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is a unique curricular sequence of 14 Project Based, STEM-Oriented and Aquatic Ecosystem Themed Learning Activities. In hindsight, looking on the process I went through in developing it, I identify my primary mission as having been to develop a curriculum that could be used to effectively nurture daily sustainability of a passionate sense of purpose among learners; for students who like to “do stuff;” to help students celebrate their engagement with learning — every day of the school year. Continue reading →
Tonia S. Lloyd is an educator and psychologist working with Newark’s Public Schools. She’s a strong believer in the power of service-learning to engage students in their community. She shares her experience working with like minded educators at the Institute. learn more: cwinstitute.net