From the beginning, I didn’t think I’d be here. I still have doubts and disbelief nearly every morning as the trip inches closer, day by ever-passing day. I don’t win anything, I rarely travel, particularly outside of the country, and I struggle to make huge decisions that affect only me. Now on the day of my departure I am excited, yes, but also perpetually overwhelmed (I’m beginning to believe that this is the default setting for 20- and 30-somethings). This–along with the entire graduate school experience–is going to be the most grown-up thing I’ve ever done. And I’m not sure I’m ready for it.
Not that I’m complaining. I’m absolutely grateful for the opportunity. I’ve been abroad only twice before, the last time being a trip to Ireland that was also an opportunity provided through a college program. When I applied to Virginia Tech, I did so with the intention of teaching outside of my comfort zone. I earned a Preparing Future Professoriate Certification through the graduate school in order to learn more about what it takes to thrive in higher education. As a GTA, my interest in teaching was cultivated by interacting with students of all disciplines, skill levels, and nationalities, who have to overcome racial and socio-economic disparity and learning styles and disabilities. Now, as part of the Virginia Tech Global Perspectives Program I am extending that interest in teaching to learn further. I teach English composition and my experience working in Writing Centers as well as working with my students in and out of the classroom one-on-one has shown me the intimate connection between language and culture. One of the biggest issues that students–especially those who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable writers–have when they sit down to write is having a command of the language, being able to use language for nuance, clarity, and articulation in ways that are beneficial to their particular project. I am fascinated by the intersection of language and culture in composition because so much of our understanding of one relates to the other. What I want to look at is how the universities utilize language pedagogy to help benefit multi-lingual and native language-learning students and borrow these ideas for American students. America is becoming more and more diverse every year with the number of non-English speaking or English language learning (ELL) citizens growing each year. In order for these students to be able to thrive in a diverse learning environment, particularly one that is so dependent upon language efficacy and application.
For me, this trip is about immersing myself into a culture outside of my familiarity, to experience–however briefly–what it is like to be an outsider, in a place where the language, the culture, and the people are different from what I know. By doing so, I aim to acquire the kind of knowledge necessary to understand, to a lesser degree, what ELL and non-native speakers experience every day in America.
So, in a sense, my discomfort means that I’m doing it right, that this is exactly what I’m looking for, that the anxiousness I feel is a defense mechanism. So, I say, let’s see how far down the rabbit hole I can go. That’s what grown-ups do, right?