The US Cultural Immersion Institute, sponsored by the American Embassy in Islamabad, gave 25 Access Microscholarship teachers from all over Pakistan a chance to equip themselves with the ability to initiate actions and teaching approaches that could help to bridge cultural divides and promote peaceful relations in their community and nation.
The program was implemented by World Learning, along with its partners PAIMAN Alumni Trust and San Diego Diplomacy Council. The three-week immersion program took place in four separate U.S. locations, which had been selected to facilitate a diverse introduction to American life, leadership, civic engagement and pedagogy. The institute was divided into two components. In the first component participants visited four American cities and experienced the culture accompanied by pedagogical sessions. The second component is comprised of community projects that participants will carry out once back in their home communities.
[pullquote align="left|center|right" textalign="left|center|right" width="30%"]Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you[/pullquote]
The whole institute was designed on the basis of the Experiential Learning Cycle (Kolb, 1984) in which the participants directly encountered American culture and then reflected on and analyzed their experiences. The experiences included indoor and outdoor as well as formal and informal social interactions that were focused on establishing new understanding, awareness, and skills in the areas of leadership, community engagement and American civilization, ethnicity and values. The participants engaged in small group dialogue sessions, team building activities, community service projects, workshops on peace building and conflict resolution and pedagogical sessions covering a wide range of techniques for teaching English language for leadership.
In Brattleboro, Vermont, we learned the Cultural Knowings Framework (Moran, 2001) and it helped me to understand that most of what we know about people is hidden below the surface and you need to investigate that hidden part in order to know that culture completely. My role as a cultural investigator facilitated my understanding of ways of bridging cultural divides. We also participated in group team building activities to explore our our own identities as leaders and educators while also thinking about how to foster leaders in our classrooms.
In Baltimore, Maryland during a home stay, my dual role as cultural investigator and cultural informer made me realize the significance of dialogue and active listening in changing preconceived notions and stereotypes in order to create social cohesion on a broader level. Besides, there is no hospitality like understanding. I experienced this with two wonderful people, Marilyn Manigan Franklin and Franklin, who I now consider part of my family. They added to my learning by showing multilateral aspects of life, culture, history and their slice of heaven.
In Washington DC, the learning cycle revolved around the theme of leadership and nationalism. The sessions of reflection on our visits to different monuments and memorials made us ponder ways to integrate leadership skills in our teaching methodology. Workshops on textbook adaptation opened the window for all of us to look at the simple units of our textbooks with a different perspective of teaching English language for leadership and team building.
In San Diego, California, we experienced the flavor of civic engagement and civic activism first hand through organizations like Reality Changers and by participating in beach cleaning activities. The exposure to different organizations was very useful as those excursions inspired and motivated us. Plus, we came across different ideas and versions of serving the community.
[pullquote align="left|center|right" textalign="left|center|right" width="30%"]We learned to foster leadership by inculcating a classroom spirit of collaboration, inclusion, responsibility and respect. [/pullquote]
In New York City, the idea of empowering marginalized people added a completely new dimension to my teaching philosophy. The Girl Be Heard Project was inspiring. Their style of using performing arts with the aim of advocacy for giving voice to marginalized people helped me in looking at my own culture closely and the issues that need to be addressed. The reflective session on our experience in New York helped us to realize the importance of creating a safe environment in class and within our communities with the purpose of providing a space that values multiple perspectives. The whole experience of New York made us think about the ways through which we can expose our youth to the struggles of the people from our own culture and work hard for the voices of the marginalized people to be heard.
Now, that I’m back in my context in Pakistan the execution of learning is in progress and after the completion of the second component of the institute there will be lots of success stories of metamorphosis to be penned down. I, along with my fellow program participants have been well equipped and empowered to foster a path of leadership among our students by inculcating a spirit of collaboration, team work, inclusion, responsibility and respect.
Rafia Saeed has worked with the English Access Microscholarship Program Multan, Pakistan since 2009 as an English Language Facilitator. She worked as a Visiting Lecturer with the English Language Center of Bahauddin Zakariya University where she designed and taught modules like Oral Communication, Communication Skills, Functional English and English for Academic Purposes. She participates avidly in English Language Teaching workshops organized by the US Embassy, Islamabad. She has successfully completed the E-Teacher Scholarship program in English for Specific Purposes (Integrating the Internet into the Classrooms) offered by Lewis & Clark College, University of Oregon, Linguistics/American English Institute.