How to Be a Responsible Foreign-Language Learner and Speaker

August 25th, 2016

words

As participants in the 2016 Many Languages One World essay contest, we had to submit an essay on multiculturalism and multilingualism. Writing about multiculturalism and multilingualism is a tough and broad task, but what we can do, as individuals, is write about our own experience. 

As a student in Chinese department and as a traveler, I do not believe in any so-called “clash of civilizations”, or in any “culture shock”. “The other” is always the result of a process of image-making. Moreover, I am strongly convinced that most of the distinctions we rely on are constructs and artificial distinctions, used by dominant groups to justify unequal situations and discrimination. Learning foreign languages aims to explore interstices, never to widen gaps. 

I would like to explain why my experience of multiculturalism and multilingualism has fostered a strong sense of responsibility, and has motivated my political and social commitment.

I was born in France twenty years ago, and was brought up in ten different countries, among which Spain, South Korea, Canada and China. I have been moving every one or two years because of my parents’ job as International School French teachers. I can relate to many different cultural habits and cultural backgrounds. “Where do you come from?” is a question I feel very uncomfortable with. Because I am unable to answer it and because experience has proven, it doesn’t actually tell a lot about the person you’re speaking to. I don’t feel like I belong to a specific country and don’t feel attached to one single language. I don’t want to choose between countries and languages. The first language I learnt was Finnish. My brother and I recently saw some videos of us speaking Finnish together, but we can’t understand a word anymore. It’s one layer among our multi-layered, multi-dimensional life. Since then, my little sister arrived in our family, adopted from China, and my brother left the French school system to take the International Baccalaureate. My parents have moved to Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, and started learning Russian. When we get together in France every summer, we speak bits and pieces of French, English and Mandarin Chinese. Each language allows us to express our ideas, hint at common references, play on words in a different way. In our case they are always related to a certain time period, linked to certain friendships, landscapes, food, books, movies and educational systems we’ve experienced and share, which thus inform our approach to each language. As my sister said once, what we truly share is our story, our passing by in many places and never settling down.

This had led me to think identity is not an enclosed and immutable entity, identity is evolution, identity is change, making one’s way between adapting and conflicting. Identity is like a tangled web, tying together places you lived in, people you met or crossed paths with, what you’ve seen and experienced. In my case, I feel that what has primordially influenced me are the most unbearable things I have witnessed. People suffering from leper, from hunger and thirst, children working in terrible conditions and whom childhood was stolen away, eager to escape from poverty and war, in the places I’ve visited or lived in. You can’t forget these things. You can only pretend, but somewhere deep inside, it’s calling out for justice and urging you to do something. I feel this is what ties all the puzzle pieces of my scattered life together.

Therefore my political and social concerns have always been the very basis, the starting point in the appreciation of the world and people around me. I have been volunteering for several NGOs. I have been working in Pnomh Penh for the NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For a Child’s Smile), which takes care of children living in slums and dumps and offers them access to healthcare and education. I participated in the planning of Charity Runs in Taipei and other cities I lived in. When I was in Paris I participated in helping homeless people and families to fill in paperwork and have access to basics. I have been writing down all their stories and hope to get you to read them some day. What revolted me is, some people would sometimes stop near me and say we – volunteers – were encouraging the present-day “invasion” of “immigrants” and poor populations in France. Some seem to consider solidarity as crime – but as I said, I don’t make distinctions between “us” and “them”, and by helping them I’m helping us. Recently I have been working in Lyon for the Secours Populaire, helping out in annual events and working to improve the reading and writing skills as well as self-confidence of children left behind. Wherever I’ve been I have felt the same emergency. Wherever I will be living, and wherever you live, there is probably something going wrong outside your front door and you can always do something, at your level, to instigate change. Multi-culturalism is about lending a hand to others, wherever you come from and wherever they come from.

Moreover, I believe that we have a duty to reflect on our ability to bring some change, not only as young people but also as students in Language Departments. I am studying in the Chinese department of my University. I think it is important for us to concentrate on building “cultural bridges” : we can study common, parallel aspects in order to create dialogues rather than orchestrate sensational “West-East” breaking points. For instance last year I have read some interesting studies on links between some French twentieth century surrealist works and early Chinese Daoist works such as the Zhuangzi : provocation, striking images, humor, rejecting of forged boundaries and rigid categories. Drawing parallels often teaches us a lot more and is definitely more stimulating. Also, I would like to emphasize the fact that cultural understanding should never be taken for granted. We have to fight for it. Some of my classmates in the Chinese Department, studying Chinese language and culture at a high level, have never been in a Chinese speaking country, have no intention of going there, no desire to learn more about or meet people who live there – because, as one of them told me once, their interest in Chinese is only “theoretical”, “aesthetic” – and sometimes they have harsh, shocking words, and many prejudices against Chinese people and culture – very dangerous ideas.

I plan on maybe becoming a researcher in Chinese philosophy or history; whatever I do later on, I hope I will never separate my work and my ideas. I was blamed once for refusing to complete an exercise in one of my Chinese courses. The problem was, the title was “Why women and men do not think alike” and the sentences we had to complete and read were very insulting. The teacher respected and understood my choice, but one of my classmates told me I should learn to separate the student and the “feminist” – that is schizophrenia – and then explained, China “never had and still does not have any feminist ideas” – which is completely false. Essentialism and distinctions between political and academic spheres are recurrent obstacles, and yet they can be overcome by raising awareness about our responsibility, our role as foreign-language learners and mediators. The issue is too important in our world today to be ignored.

That’s what I would like to conclude with: learning languages and traveling is a good start, but it is not enough. We need to stand up, and take action for what we believe in. We are responsible for what we do – and what we don’t do. Learning foreign languages is an urgent necessity but it won’t help if it’s just about playing with sounds and alphabets. It’s about making the others’ fear, anger and hope, our own.”

lea

Léa Buatois

About Léa Buatois: Léa was one of 60 winners of the 2016 international essay contest of Many Languages, One World® (MLOW) that included students from 36 countries and 54 universities. Her essay, shared in this blog, was selected from a pool of over 3,600 entrants. Many Languages, One World is organized by ELS Educational Services, Inc., and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI). Léa  was born in Dijon, France, in 1996. Her parents teach in French international schools around the world. Because of her parents’ job as French teachers abroad, she has been moving a lot, approximately every one or two years. The first language she spoke was Finnish, and later she started learning English, French and Mandarin Chinese. She is now studying in the Chinese Department of the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Lyon, France. She is interested in becoming a researcher in Chinese philosophy or history, or working in cultural diplomacy or international relations. She love traveling, reading and writing.

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AN EVALUATOR’S JOURNEY

August 19th, 2016

Sunset

When I accepted my mother’s invitation to accompany her to a cocktail party, I did so reluctantly. It was July 1982 and as a freshly minted college grad with a BA in Political Science the last thing I wanted to do was attend a party with my mother. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done as I left the party with not one but three job offers. I decided to forgo the offer of working at a law office (even though I was toying with the idea of going to Law School), or a real estate office (numbers were not my forte) and chose instead to accept the hostess’s invitation to work at her private not-for-profit Foundation that specialized in international education research and evaluation. The rest, as they say is history. Over a course of thirteen years, I worked my way up the proverbial ladder from file clerk, to junior then senior evaluator, assistant to associate director and finally as Executive Director. Bitten by the entrepreneur spirit and an MBA in hand, I bid goodbye to my mentor and founded the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI) in 1994.

You can say I was born into the field of International education. Beginning from an early age by insisting on “working” at the education firm my mother headed in Tehran, Iran, to attending an international boarding school in England, and continuing my higher education in the U.S. The same is true for my brother and business partner, Alan Saidi, who joined me at ACEI in 1996 as Senior VP and COO. Together, we have infused into ACEI our personal life experiences of having lived in three different continents and benefiting from three different education systems (Iran, UK, and USA). Our mission has always been to make ACEI a company that truly cares for and values its international candidates who are considering to further their education, or qualify for employment, immigration or professional licensing or maybe they are displaced because of war and conflict and seeking refuge in the U.S.

Our own experiences, as international students morphed into immigrants, have enriched our understanding of the dreams of international students, immigrants and the plight of refugees. We have also garnered a deep appreciation of world cultures and the varied nuances of education systems around the world. Together with a team of expert evaluators we pride ourselves in ACEI’s history of over 22 years of dedicated service in international credential evaluation and helping our colleagues at U.S. schools and colleges with the admission of students from around the globe. We continue to share our experience through our e-learning training programs, our blog AcademicExchange, our monthly newsletter The Report, and by contributing to publications on world education systems, and speaking at various international education conferences.

As an Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators, we at ACEI are committed in preparing evaluations by recommending U.S. educational equivalencies that are consistent and in compliance with the Association’s Standards and Best Practices.

If you are exploring opportunities of outsourcing your international student credential evaluations, we hope you will consider ACEI as your number one source. You and your international students will receive the personal care and attention we know you deserve. It is our mission to be of service and we want to be your trusted source for international credential evaluations.

Kind regards,
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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I Am Not A Citizen Of The World

August 11th, 2016

worldpeople

No soy una ciudadana del mundo.

I come from Chile, located at the end of the world. Surrounded by the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, the loneliness of the Atacama Desert and the impenetrability of the Andes cordillera, it could be considered an island. 

I am not a citizen of the world.

I am fluent in Spanish, French and English. I am “cultured”; I know about history, art, music and poetry. I am “travelled”: I biked the Golden Gate Bridge, I went up the Eiffel Tour, I got the Padi diving course in Koh Samui, Surfed in Sydney and knew the leather tanneries in Fez. However, when I travel, I care about the amazing travel selfies that I post on instagram. I am not interested in knowing the locals, since they look different and their cultural traditions are ridiculous, obsolete, and nonsensical, compared to my “modern” and “liberal” way of life. I am not interested of Khmer Rouge and its impact in Cambodian citizens, and I certainly do not take advantage of my language skills to understand their beliefs, their stories, or their wounds.

Je ne suis pas une citoyenne du monde.

I do not care about global issues such as the energy crisis or the uncertainty of the refugees’ life. I have electricity and hot water in my house and recycling is too much effort. And when by accident I run into the international news happening in a faraway land, I quickly change the channel to the Turkish soap opera of the moment. After all, the facial expressions of Hurrem in Muhteşem Yüzyıl, are much more attractive than the death baby on the beach. My main concerns are the next season of Games of Thrones, the next Taylor Swift album or the 4 kilos that I desperately need to lose before my next trip to Costa Rica.

  1. Turkish soap opera: The Magnificent Century

 

I am not a citizen del mundo.

I do not have time to get informed of world news, search different sources of information and form my own opinions. I do not have time to do any volunteer work since my life is “crazy” and I have a lot on my plate; after all, you do not get to the 1013 level in Candy Crush Saga playing for only one month.

Je ne suis pas une citizen of the world.

I go to fancy restaurants, and the bill covers a month of an entire family living. I buy Louis Vuitton bags, while outside the store is a lady selling coconut water to support her family, and I bargain her down from two dollars to one. I love to buy cheap t-shirts, but I never ask myself how the price can be as low, and who is really paying for them.

Je ne suis pas una ciudadana of the world 

My favourite and most valuable relation is with my smartphone, since it provides all that I need. Wakes me up in the morning, keeps me company during the day and even introduces me to people to date, since I long lost the capacity to engage with others in real life. When I do not have Internet my phone, I feel disconnected. I am numb.

I am not une citoyenne del mundo

I live unconsciously. I do not connect to others in any significant way. I am a consumer. I try to fill my internal void with external things, and wonder why I never feel as happy or complete as the girls in the women’s magazines. Even when on my Instagram I have hundreds of likes and I seem to have it all, I do not want to acknowledge that “thing”. That “thing” on my chest. That “thing” that I conveniently “confuse” with hunger so I eat/drink/smoke to make it go away. That “thing” that accompanies me everywhere I go. That “thing” that never leaves me, not even in my dreams. That “thing” that gives me nightmares every night. Nightmares that I do not realize that I have or even question why or since when I have them.

Since most of the time I travel alone, is not unusual that people approach me to ask where I come from and why I am traveling by myself; people with epicanthic fold, women wearing veils, with different skin and hair colour, in summary people that I had never the interest to approach. It is when they kindly ask me about my culture and they tell me about theirs, when I realize how narrow my worldview is. How come they are interested in me but I am not interested in them? When they talk to be on the bus or in the hostel lobby I realize how much I focus on my belly and not on what surrounds me. I realize how loyally I mirror Chile. I am also an island. Surrounded by invisible but robust frontiers, locking me in a comfortable bubble wrapping me to everything dissimilar.

Out of nowhere, these strangers show me their openness, their kindness, their generosity, and their happiness, and strangely, it feels good, and that “thing” on my chest feels somehow warm. It is then when I realize I lack those attributes. I cannot demonstrate affection as easily and as openhandedly as they do. I wish I could, but that “thing” on my chest, seems to be cold and empty…

It is only because I am multilingual that I am able to talk with people from China, Lebanon, Malaysia, India, Nigeria and Russia about the common battles we face as women over coffee in Edinburgh. Women who would be unlikely to meet in Chile since the percentage of immigrants from China is 2%, and even less for the other mentioned countries. Our natural barriers seem to act like an impenetrable membrane from the rest of the world, which gives the illusion that we are the norm and the others are the different ones. Our barriers keep us physically, mentally and emotionally disconnected from the rest of the world. 

It is when we cry our hardships together and encourage one another that I discover and I am able to appreciate these former strangers as human beings. Humans with feelings, struggles and dreams, just like mine. And it is then when I feel something moving on my chest, and I notice an urge to help them to achieve their goals, and to do it together. Suddenly our conversations are not about the bachelor or what we consider attractive in a man, but about our adventures or misadventures, on how we misread cultural norms, and what we learnt from them. We compare traditions, customs and meaning and it is then when I start to appreciate their way of life, and recognize that maybe my way of life is not the best one, that it is certainly not entirely “right” or “good”. Theirs may be more “conservative” and traditional, but at the same time it is more respectful, cooperative and caring. Women are not displayed as sexual objects, people are not in an endless race to show who has more, and people think twice before judging someone else. Learning different perspectives and about different ways of life, allow me to think about new ways, new solutions and new possibilities. I am able to see the richness of our world and it opens my mental frontiers to consider that maybe if we share more, we can take what is good from each other´s cultures, build a new perspective together and share a new common path to improve our communities.

It is when they tell me about their life stories when I realize, that that news that I heard about war and the bombing of that country in a faraway land, becomes real. It is not something that happened to random people on TV. It is my friend’s life that was on the line. I had shivers and sorrow to hear her describe how her father decided to split the family members in several different cars to drive to the frontier in case one of them got bombed. The shivers and sorrow I was able to feel were only possible because we were able to talk the same language and were curious about each other experiences. 

It is then that I realize that multilingual ability is more than technical proficiency. Multilingual ability serve to something more than to land a job in an international company, have high scores in a given test or ask for directions in a foreign country.

Multilingual ability can be more. It can be a door to empathise and develop significant relations with others different than us that we would have never talked to since we would not understand each other. It can allow us to connect with others emotionally and break our stereotypes. It allows us to constantly redefine the meaning of kind words according to the langage we speak. It can be a way to engage with others as human beings and find what bonds us instead of what takes us apart.

Multilingual ability awarded me the gift to have new friends with diverse customs and worldviews. Friends who showed me their generosity and their love; friend who taught me how to develop the attributes I lacked. Attributes that moved and warmed up that “thing” inside me. It was with their friendship that I started filling up the everlasting loneliness that was with me, no matter how far I went or how many things I bought.

Multilingual ability threatens my perfect “casual” picture on Instagram of me looking at the horizon in the Grand Canyon, and replaces it for a messy picture in my wallet with all my friends sharing hummus, dumplings, patacones, fish and chips, chalakaka and pisco sour on a long table.

It is when I acknowledge the stereotypes I have,
It is when I start to connect emotionally with others and with myself,
It is when I question the fears I hold,
It is when I recognize what impact my actions have in the world,
It is when their issues become mine, and mine become theirs,
It is when my friends´ homes become mines,
It is when I see the richness of what we could create collectively,
It is when I live my life with others,
It is when I share the warm of heart,
It is when we realize that we are all in this together,
That I start my journey of becoming a citizen of the world.

maria
Maria Jose Ramirez C.

Maria Jose holds a PhD in Education from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Master’s in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa, Canada, and degree in teaching from Ponrificia Universidad Catolice de Chile. She loves sports, nature and travel and for over 12 years has worked with athletes by motivating and inspiring them to not only win medals but achieve their own excellence not just at their sports, but also as human beings. Maria Jose was one of the 60 winners of the 2016 international essay contest of Many Languages, One World® (MLOW) that included students from 36 countries and 54 universities. Her essay, shared in this blog, was selected from a pool of over 3,600 entrants. Many Languages, One World is organized by ELS Educational Services, Inc., and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI)

alcanzandotuexcelencia@gmail.com

http://www.alcanzatuexcelencia.com

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How many countries?

August 5th, 2016

How many countries

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Intensive English Programs (IEPs) Are in Trouble Again

July 28th, 2016

englishusa

Once again, we find ourselves in very challenging times for intensive English language programs in the US. These enrollment valleys occur once every ten years or so. One can cite a variety of reasons for the declining enrollments; however, the primary one is the decline in Saudi Arabian scholarship students. Other factors at play are the dollar, the “Trump card,” the Brazilian scholar program, the lousy world economy, more world competition (e.g. English in Malaysia), and some might even include “global warming” on their list of causes. But the primary cause of the situation we’re in today, the Saudi student decline, was certainly predictable. It was not a matter of “if,” but “when.”Along with the tremendous influx of Saudi students since 2005 came more IEP school openings. IEPs barely had to lift a finger to fill their seats thanks to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There was really no reason to allocate resources to prime the pump of other potentially lucrative future international student markets. I am sure a few of the IEPs continued to cast their sales net far and wide and were able to groom some potentially new emerging markets; however, I suspect most did not. Life was good, so why make the effort?

Not the first IEP enrollment crisis, not the last

These major “market disruptors” such as the Saudi student decline occur about every decade for IEPs. For other examples, we can look back to the oil crisis of 1974, the huge Venezuelan scholarship program of the mid 1970s that saw a sudden end, and the Iranian take over of the American Embassy in 1979, as well as the 1997 Asian financial crisis and 9/11. In addition to these major market disruptors, there were minor ones such as periodic foreign government fiscal controls on travel abroad, major currency devaluations (or stronger dollar), Europeans no longer able to quit their jobs to study abroad and easily return home to better jobs (Switzerland in particular), and military conflicts, just to name a few.

So, here we are in this mess today with declining enrollments, instructors being laid off, administrators being placed in classrooms, program levels being combined (out of financial necessity), and IEPs closing (more by the end of the 2016). And then there is the possible impact on international education if Donald Trump becomes our next president, or a disruptor of some sort occurring in the People’s Republic of China, either of which would bring further hardship to IEPs.

How to survive the Saudi slump

There are few short-term solutions to getting us out of this mess. If the student numbers do not turn around soon, there will be an increasing number of IEP closures resulting in fewer IEPs, providing some enrollment growth among the remaining IEPs. Yes—you are all competing in the same markets for the same students with few exceptions. You are all friends, but you are also friendly competitors.

Those IEPs that are able to survive the carnage will be those that are best able to manage their expenses throughout this period. That is how they will survive. I say this because developing new markets is costly, time consuming and requires skill sets that might no longer be available at the IEPs. This is especially true since those IEPs that do survive into the fall of 2016 will have eliminated many administrative positions.

A common marketing mistake of many college/university IEPs is that they look to the “big name” schools to set the standards for recruitment. “Big name” schools do not require the same aggressive marketing efforts as those IEPs on lesser known campuses. So, if you are one of the “small name” schools, you need to be very creative and very aggressive in the ways you market your IEP program. You have to put the students first. For instance, if you have a program schedule designed to meet the schedule of your college/university instead of a schedule most convenient for your prospective students, well, need I say more?

Recruiting: an ongoing project

IEPs may sometimes forget that the sales effort does not end with receiving a student application. Special efforts need to be put forth to ensure that the student applicant will actually arrive and enroll for classes. And the sales effort continues. As you know, the student can easily pick up and transfer to another IEP if he or she becomes unhappy with yours. Regular blind student surveys will certainly go a long way to help you identify and rectify reasons behind unhappy student customers. When I think of the IEP program, I think in terms of 24/7. IEPs which do not accept 24/7 responsibility will be those programs which lose students to the IEPs which do think in 24/7 terms.

The surviving IEPs will be those that are customer centric and have carefully studied market conditions resulting in knowledge that will help them finely tune their sales efforts. They will need to be able to identify new potential markets utilizing recent US government visa statistics that are not readily available to the general public. Using student statistics such as those found in Open Doors can easily lead you astray. You need to know where the student activity is today, not where it was one or two years ago. A shotgun sales method will not yield the results you are looking for. Also, if you are not working with very qualified and carefully screened productive agents in key countries around the world, you will have great difficulty recovering from this downturn.

So, do your homework, target your promotion, keep your expenses in line with your revenue, work with good referral agents with whom you communicate by Skype once a month, and you will be around when the dust finally settles. And, yes, it will settle as new markets and new opportunities begin to appear on your radar.

See this article as it originally appeared on iTEP Chairman Perry Akins’ LinkedIn page. Follow iTEP on LinkedIn

Perry Akins
Chair
iTEP
http://www.itepexam.com/

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In Contribution to Peace: The Role of Multilingualism in Contributing to Process of world Peacemaking

July 21st, 2016

peace_international

Growing up in a country which has lived long successive wars for more than three decades makes Peace and Peacemaking my very first priority. Civil wars, fighting, explosions, extremist groups, segregation and  destructed social structures, displaced people, frightening number of widows, orphans, and immigrants, polluted environment, declined agricultural lands, poverty, hunger, collapsed economies, and almost all other serious problems, are the consequences of long years of unjustified successive wars. I believe that it is time for everyone, for each of us, to take the responsibility of rebuilding a sustainable peacefulness in this world. As an Iraqi architect, faculty, and researcher within the field of architecture, I had a dream, a small dream: for architects and architecture to promote the process of peacemaking, not only in my country but in all conflict zones all over the world.

The Journey was not easy at all. The dream had started to fade behind the rapidly rising conflicts in Baghdad, especially following the civil war of 2006, until the moment when a light started to emerge again at the end of the tunnel. I was blessed with a scholarship to study a PhD abroad. The dream came alive: to study at a University in the United States was the key to my goal.

Being blessed again, I was accepted to study at the University of Cincinnati and that was for me the very first step to bring my dream into reality. One of the requirements for the admission of international students was a language certificate in order to improve their language skills and prepare them for the academic life of University.

Initially, learning English was simply a requirement I had to fulfill in order to start my journey at the university.  I never expected that my journey would actually begin earlier, from ELS, where I learned the real meanings of living in peacefulness. The experience of learning English itself turned out to be my very first, crucial step towards achieving my dream; that is to contribute to the process of peacemaking in this world. 

From the first day, I discovered that ELS is not just a school, it is a new home and the ELS team is our new family. In that small, safe world where I was learning English, I was receiving so much more than I ever expected. Every day I had a new experience. From inside our warm, safe, small classes, I travelled all over the world through our class presentations and discussions about our countries and cultures.  I can’t count how many times we laughed together or how many times my eyes filled with tears. I can’t forget when we were asked by our teacher in SSP class about what we miss the most from our home countries, and how we all answered the same: family and food. During that class I kept listening to my young Omani friend trying his best in English to express how much he was missing his mother and how beautiful he sees her; I was feeling the same.  In our Reading and Writing class, our teacher asked us to write about unforgettable moments in our life and my Chinese friend shared with us his experience with his parents when he was a little child. He used to see a homeless person with his child begging on the street every day on their way to school. His parents taught him to never to look down on that homeless child; instead, he should help him because a homeless child is also a human being and we all need to help each other.    

I also remember my Korean friend when he was trying to explain his understanding of religion; he sees religion as a way to appreciate every beautiful blessing around us on this earth, the sun, the rivers and the seas, the moon surrounded by the stars in the night, the mountains, the colorful flowers, and the birds flying high in the sky, and he feels that there should be a great creator behind all of this beauty. 

Every time that I was blessed to listen to my friends, I asked myself the same question: how would I be able to communicate with all these wonderful people and have this rich experience and live this peacefulness without sharing English as a common language between us? 

The Experience of learning English at ELS gave me the opportunity to learn about cultures, art, history, family traditions, food, and so many other things about different countries.  My horizons expanded. I learned how to accept different points of view as new ways of seeing the whole life. But above all, it is by learning English that I started to build connections with people from different cultures and nations. I discovered the beauty of diversity and I realized that we are all, from all over the world, just a big family. We have the same feelings; the only difference is that we express them in different languages.

The time passed and I transferred to my university program and coursework.  The role of multilingualism in contributing to the process of peacemaking did not become clear enough to me until I started working on my PhD thesis. Searching deep in the theories of peace and peacemaking revealed important derivatives, among them are the following points:

The first is the crucial role of building common grounds between different groups in order to promote a more peaceful and harmonious future for them.The experience of learning English at ELS is an example for the viability of this point. The process of learning English, in one of its deep structures, was an act of building common grounds between people coming from different cultures and nations with totally different native languages. Without English as a common ground language I would not be able to communicate with my Chinese, Korean, Indian and my all other amazing friends from all over the world.

The second point is the emphasis on producing productive connections.  It is essential to the process of creating more peaceful environments to get others with all of their differences to establish new inclusive inter-relational systems. Here comes the importance, if not the urgency, of learning other languages as it enhances communication and builds productive connections between people from different cultures and nations. Building such productive connections can produce a new means of expression, or a new realization. Peacefulness, based on this point, could be the new realization in this world.

Lastly, defining the process of peace building distinguishes negative from positive peace.  Negative peace is an act that halts the direct violence, but it does not end the tension, while positive peace is a process of life enhancement. Positive peace is not a direct act and it is not the absence of violence; it is, rather, a process of creative transformation towards achievement of more sustainable peaceful environments. Building common grounds and producing productive connections are crucial for this creative transformation. Learning other languages helps end separation and opens the doors for creating more communicative and dialogic spaces, wherein multiple points of view benefit from each other’s presence, without necessarily resolving themselves or negating each other. Within such spaces, transformation towards achieving sustainable peacefulness would be possible.

It may seem that the dream of peacemaking in a world full of meaningless wars and war consequences is almost impossible, but sharing my life journey until this moment might be an inspiration. 


  1. John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington D.C.: United States Insyitute of Peace Press, 1997), 73-87.
  2. John Wilmerding, “The Theory of Active Peace,” Peace and Collaborative Development Network. Colombia University, January 4, 2009, http://www.internationalpeaceandconflict.org/forum/topics/the-theory-of-active-peace.

  3. Graham Livesey, “Assemblage” in The Deleuze Dictionary, ed. Adrian Parr (Edinburg: Edinburg University Press, 2010), 18-19.

  4. Johan Galtung, Peace By Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization (Oslo: International Peace Research Institute, 1996), 9-23.

  5. Dongsei Kim, “Towards A Dialogic Peace in the Demilitarized Zone,” Architecture of peace 40, no. 2 (2014): 40-43.

 

My long journey goes back to 1990, when my father left this world. My mother showed strength and great care: education was her very first priority. She used to repeat her dream for me: to become an architect as my father wished, and to get a graduate degree from a university in the United States of America. Although becoming an architect was not an easy dream to achieve, to continue my graduate studies in the United States of America was such a huge dream, enough to be unrealistic and close to impossible. The situations were especially difficult due to the economic embargo suffered by the Iraqi people at that time in addition to many other political and social pressures. But, my mother used to say: “dreams have to be huge otherwise what can change our reality but the ambition to achieve our unrealistic huge dreams?”

Time passed. Despite all the difficulties, by 2002, I was not only the first architect woman in my family but also the first woman with a Master’s degree in Architecture.  Soon after, by 2003, the Iraq War was announced; my mother left this world, but her dream stayed with me and became mine.

In 2003, my first day as a faculty in the same university I graduated from, was the same first day of official work after the military operation in Iraq. Everything in Baghdad including my University turned into destruction. The situation rapidly deteriorated that by 2006 a civil war had broken out; there was bombing, blocked roads, fighting everywhere. Life in Baghdad had almost reached a zero point; many professors left Iraq, students couldn’t attend classes. All of these difficult circumstances were challenges that pushed me to identify a clear goal for my life: to have a positive role in rebuilding this society.

In December 2009, I walked toward the stage among the Arab Ministers of Housing and Construction at the Arab League in Cairo while my name was announced, to receive the Architect Award of the Arab World as a first woman winner of the award. With every step I saw all the faces that have supported me in my long journey, teachers, real friends, and my family especially my parents.

By March 2013, my mother’s impossible dream came true. I started learning English at ELS preparing for my next academic life in the University of Cincinnati, United States Of America.

By 2014, I was the winner of Tamayouz, Excellence Award in Architecture, for the rising star category, announced by Angela Brady; the former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, RIBA.

My journey has not yet ended; as an architect and scholar, I am working on the possibility of introducing the concept of architecture of peace. As a citizen of the global society I am calling for the learning other languages for the role of multilingualism in building connections and common grounds between different cultures and nations, a role which is crucial to the process of rebuilding positive sustainable peacefulness in our global society.

I am fully aware that this is a huge dream and maybe difficult to achieve. But I believe that if peace is our desire, and if each of us take the responsibility and if we all stand together to achieve it, then impossible itself would be the impossible. Peace can become the new realization making this world a better place for living not only for us but also for the next generations to come and the role of multilingualism can help us achieve this dream.  Love still exists deep in our hearts; all we need is to bridge the differences together and bring the barriers down.

Bibliography

  1. Galtung, Johan. Peace By Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization. Oslo: International Peace Research Institute, 1996.
  2. Kim, Dongsei. “Towards A Dialogic Peace in the Demilitarized Zone,” Architecture of peace 40, no. 2 (2014): 40.
  3. Lederach, John Paul. Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies. Washington D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997. P: 73-87.
  4. Livesey, Graham. “Assemblage”  in The Deleuze Dictionary, edited by Adrian Parr, 18-19. Edinburg: Edinburg University Press, 2010.
  5. Wilmerding, John. “The Theory of Active Peace.” Peace and Collaborative Development Network. Colombia University, January 4, 2009. http://www.internationalpeaceandconflict.org/forum/topics/the-theory-of-active-peace

 

Venus Suleiman Akef

Architect_venus@yahoo.com

Venus

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Why Does Mindfulness Matter in Schools

07/15/16

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This is not an article about the neuroscience supporting mindful practices in schools. For that good stuff, click here and here.

Nor is this a treatise on the many ways mindful practices contribute to academic success. You can read about that here.

And click here for a well executed visual on the importance of mindful practices in the classroom.

I want to get down to the very basic foundation of mindfulness and why schools need mindful practices to flourish. It starts with a question:

What matters in education?

It’s a question I reflect on constantly and suggest every person spend some time thinking about whether you have children currently in school or not. What happens today in schools becomes the culture of society in the very near future. When I think critically about social culture today, it is painfully obvious that too many people did not learn, in their formative years, the social and emotional skills needed to navigate diversity and uphold democracy.

When we over focus on testing and standardize education, we often leave the individual needs of students out of the education process. What we now see asextracurricular (arts, music, physical education, mindfulness) are the very aspects of curriculum that make learning possible for many students because those activities meet the needs necessary for learning.

We know that children cannot learn well if they are hungry. We also know that students cannot engage well with information they do not care about. By taking away the aspects of curriculum that spark creativity and individual expression and movement and collaboration, we take away what students need to make progress in academics.

What matters in education? What matters in society?

Working backwards, what values do we collectively want to cultivate in society at large? Can we all agree that we want people to be more kind, compassionate and empathetic? Is it important to us all that citizens are skilled in problem solving and know how to weigh important decisions? Do we need more acceptance and understanding of difference? Do we care about inner and outer peace?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have made your own case for mindfulness is schools.

Mindful practices support a balanced inner life for students and teachers such that we can bring more balance, equity and consciousness to our relationships. Since every aspect of our lives are influenced by relationships; to self, others, society, it makes sense that an effective education would provide us many opportunities to cultivate strength in our ability to relate effectively.

Increased standardization of education has led some people to believe that better test scores and academic outcomes will arise from more time focused on testing. Critically thinking educators, researchers, legislators and parents know this is misguided.

The practices of mindfulness bring people back into focus in education. With people, comes back creativity, passion, spark and innovation.

Mindful practices, interwoven through the daily course of learning, support what matters most in education and society. We learn to move, breathe, think, and communicate with more grace, consciousness and intention.

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If YOU think mindfulness in schools is a cause worth supporting, please consider contributing to our SoulCycle fundraiser today. All funds raised will help deliver our new mindfulness program for teens in schools. Learn more here.

 

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Filed under Education, Human Interest