Social Science Scholar: Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Policy Scholars Program, and Public Service Weekend.

My initial project plan was to immerse myself in various educational systems in different countries around the world in order to formulate a wholistic and ground-level understanding of educational policy in different systems. To do so, I had planned on doing a project with three separate components. First, I would have traveled to a university in Dresden, Germany as a part of the Florida State University Beyond Borders Cultural Exchange Program and studied national education policy targeting anti-Semitism in primary schools. Then, I would have travelled to Israel and the Palestinian territories for two separate programs designed enhance my cultural awareness of the region. I would have participated in a faculty-led philosophical and archeological education trip across Israel with a faculty member from the University of Rhode Island before settling in Bethlehem where I would have had the opportunity to teach music classes at a summer camp for children of Palestinian refugees. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, these programs have been cancelled for the summer and I had to quickly change my summer plans to accommodate for the circumstances.

Instead, I participated in three separate programs that enhanced my understanding of various challenges in education, on classroom, institutional, and systematic levels. For the first seven weeks of the summer, I took a seven-week online course with the Florida State University Center for Intensive English Studies to receive my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate. In the following month, I participated in the D.C. Policy Scholars Program through Pepperdine University to study applied philosophy in American education policy and the Public Service Weekend hosted by the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Program and Carnegie Mellon University. Through these programs, I explored complex and abstract topics in institutionalized education while advocating for improvements in educational systems and their outcomes. 

TEFL Program

The TEFL Program at the Florida State University Center for Intensive English Studies (CIES) aims to address many of the learning barriers that come with teaching in a multicultural setting. Their stated approach is to “provide instruction on the basic teaching skills, methods, and intercultural competence necessary for teaching English successfully abroad” (FSU Center for Intensive English Studies, 2020). This is clearly showcased in the organization’s effort to provide multiple services for both English language learners and aspiring English teachers. In the seven week span of taking the course to receive my TEFL Certificate, I was required to attend 42 hours of class, facilitate 40 hours of tutoring, participated in 9 hours of conversation with a conversation partner, observe 5 classes, teach 4 classes, and spend the remainder of the time planning lessons and doing reading assignments. This added up to be 120 hours. 

The consistent commitment to delve into the mechanics of teaching a language opened my eyes to the various challenges that come with cross-cultural and cross-linguistic communication. The most impactful part of this experience was the opportunity to tutor and converse with those learning at CIES. I was assigned to tutor three native Arabic speakers from Saudi Arabia. This was beneficial in many ways for me, as I am currently studying Middle Eastern Studies and learning Arabic. Being able to form relationships with them and share meaningful conversations in addition to helping them learn enhanced my cross-cultural communication skills and taught me the importance of utilizing humanistic skills when teaching. I was challenged to be open-minded and adaptable during my tutoring sessions as I was often required to think outside the box in order to properly build bridges of understanding between me and my tutees. In particular, I found myself having to revise my speech patterns and body language in order to accommodate for the cultural differences in communication. Although this was challenging, it opened my eyes to the necessity of cross-cultural communication skills when working with diverse audiences.

Ultimately, this experience contributed to my overall goal of exploring institutional challenges to education as it introduced the various barriers that are presented in a classroom of varying cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In our increasingly globalizing world, classrooms will be filled with diverse groups of students. Educators must be adaptable and prepared to build bridges of understanding across cultures in order to properly present material to the group.

PPIA Public Service Weekend

This year, the PPIA hosted a virtual Public Service Weekend with Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. The theme this year was “Public Interest Technology and The Promise for Greater Equity”. Along with listening to various keynotes from leaders in public interest technology, including Afua Bruce, Chief Program Officer of Datakind and Amanda Renteria, CEO of Code for America, participants also competed in a policy hack-a-thon on policing reform.

I was grouped with three other students from universities across the country for the policy hack-a-thon. Our group focused on addressing issues of over policing in the American K-12 system and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. To link the topic of policing reform to the overall conference topic of public interest technology, my team proposed creating an artificial intelligence system to replace the role of the school resource officer. We also proposed revising the public school reporting system so that teachers within schools are less reliant on police and have access to other specialized resources, like guidance counselors or social workers. This exercise challenged us to apply innovative ideas to address society’s most pressing issues. Although my group did not win the hack-a-thon, it was rewarding to brainstorm ideas outside of my normal field of interest. I had not done research on artificial intelligence prior to the conference and this experience helped me broaden my perspective on the future of policymaking.

D.C. Policy Scholars Program

 For four weeks during the latter half of the summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the D.C. Policy Scholars Program hosted by Pepperdine University. The overarching approach of this program is to explore “topics typically untouched by Washington, DC-based policy studies programs, pushing its participants to better understand the vital interconnection between culture, history, and public policy” (Pepperdine University, 2020). The session I attended was titled “Humanizing Education Policy: A Study of Foundational Philosophies”. This program is a graduate-level introduction to philosophical debates that have shaped the practices of American educational policies, curricula, and institutions. We explored many broad concepts in Western educational philosophy, listened to guest speakers, and participated in very meaningful discussions.

 The Policy Scholars Program uncovered how differing views of human nature affect how educators teach and how concepts like integral humanism and freedom of conscience influence the role education policy plays in promoting human progress in a diverse society. Combining this knowledge with the experiences acquired from the TEFL Program helped me broaden my understanding of challenges and opportunities for revitalizing American and international educational systems and culture. I particularly enjoyed the guest speakers that the program offered to us. We were able to discuss with federal policymakers, non-profit educators, and professors who have taught in various areas of the world. Their varying applications of humanizing education in their own fields helped me formulate a better understanding of practical applications of educational philosophy. 

Applications

This summer was the first step to a lifetime of education policy analysis and multicultural teaching. Using this approach, I will be able to better consider the implications of globalization in education and address the challenges it may bring to learning as systems and institutions continue to adapt to and accommodate for various learning and teaching styles. These programs introduced me to many different dimensions of education and policymaking and encouraged me to take on opportunities that further my curiosity in this field. 

Inspired by the work I did with the D.C. Policy Scholars Program and the PPIA Public Service Weekend, I began two internships that will help me develop the skills needed to pursue a career in policy analysis. I currently work as a Data Analytics Intern at the DeVoe L. Moore Center and a Research Intern at Friends of Children. My work as a Data Analytics Intern helps me expand the technical skills needed to perform policy analysis and adapt to our increasingly technological and data-driven workforce. On the other hand, my internship with Friends of Children helps me apply the humanistic skills from the D.C. Policy Scholars Seminar into child welfare research. 

Additionally, my TEFL certificate has greatly aided me in my job search for after I graduate. As someone interested in pursuing an international fellowship like Fulbright or Boren, having a TEFL Certificate from FSU showcases my ability to facilitate and participate in cross-cultural interactions. I have been able to use my certificate to complement fellowship applications in addition to job applications for teaching positions abroad.

The knowledge and skills I gained from the programs I participated in this summer will carry me far into my professional career. I am grateful to the Social Science Scholars Program for the support that they gave me throughout this process. 

Angel Purganan is a 2020 Social Science Scholar and an undergraduate student at Florida State University pursuing a dual degree in Political Science and Philosophy with minors in Middle Eastern Studies and History. You can learn more about Angel here.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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