from the periphery

Or, “how different are we, actually?” (hint: scroll to the end for concrete examples)

Picture an old-fashioned wagon wheel, resting flat in the grass or propped up on its side in a field.

up on the rim - 640

photo: tuchodi

Now hunker down closer and perch your eyeballs just above the outer rim, scanning across to the other side of the wheel from various vantage points along its outer perimeter.

As we progress around the ring, each view into the distance is different.  And at each stop along the way, one particular slice or wedge formed by the spokes presents itself in the immediate foreground with its own unique and enticing elements, a unique micro-context, like a sampler plate on display: pepperoni here, vegan veggie there, hot tomales elsewhere.

The eye naturally reframes our focus from time to time.  And in that moment, shifting between detailed foreground (our own individual programs) and broadly sweeping backdrop (the perspectives and priorities of the larger interdisciplinary community to which we belong), the center of the wheel, the intersection into which all of the individual spokes and wedges dissolve, comes briefly into view.

old grey, missing rim - 640

photo: martinlabar

As we — MIIS, Middlebury, our smallest cohorts, our most expansive OneMidd visions — search for that elusive center, that “ethical space between the all-too-easy and the impossible“, as we seek our own version or re-vision of “literate social change“, as we move through that in-between state en route from “we all share a passion for international and multilingual” to “no, in our program it’s different, because” … my hope is that we’ll pause at regular points along the way, for just a moment longer, and savor the view.

From vantage points all around the Institute’s periphery, look across the wheel towards that shared area where multiple programs and projects meet; glance up and bring this shared, central core briefly but ever more frequently into focus.  Below I share a few snippets or vignettes, in no particular order, that capture such moments for me.

In what specific instances have cross-program intersections revealed themselves to you?

I listen to Jinhuei Dai (LS-Chinese) recounting her inner monologue as she read final journal entry reflections from students in their very first semester of the program. “A year from now,” Jinhuei thinks to herself, “that is when the true course evaluation will come …”

… and I think immediately of conversations in MPA and DPP classrooms 
about measuring impact, and on what scale, and over what time frame. 

While collaborating with Paige Butler (IEM) on combining exposure to detailed program logic model frameworks (designed in part to minimize error within programs) with opportunities to stand back, be flexible and open, and ask bigger picture questions …

… I am reminded of the disparate demands made on language students and
Language Studies (LS) faculty to spend time developing both
linguistic accuracy and well as more broadly defined measures
of communicative competence.  

I hear Jeff Knopf and others in the NPTS program articulating the necessity of deep subject-matter knowledge that those who hope to work in Washington DC policy circles must possess and display …

… and remember the hours upon hours that my Russian and French roommates,
both advanced entry candidates in the T+I program, would put into
constructing detailed glossaries in preparation for a
particular translation or interpretation assignment.

I hear Tom Hout (MBA) recasting student contributions from their original, more everyday colloquial format, feeding back these same ideas using language more likely to be encountered within the business community …

… and am transported back to conversations within the TESOL / TFL
program and the explicit attention paid to the process by which
graduate students gradually adopt discipline-specific discourse patterns
and display increasing mastery of a variety of distinct
academic sub-genres and registers. 

I watch as Jacolyn Harmer (T+I practicum faculty) pauses, takes a deep breath, and with empathy and polite insistence, helps mentor someone new to working with simultaneous interpreters about the proper etiquette and awareness required to produce a mutually satisfactory result …

… and hear echoes of policy students expressing their surprise after
field-based experience in which they had to negotiate or make explicit
various aspects of their work with their learning partner or within
the community that they had initially thought of as
pre-determined, shared assumptions.

I sit in on a discussion led by College faculty member Orion Lewis with our Monterey-based NPTS students on the need to understand what might motivate a suicide bomber to adopt such an extreme course of action …

… and can’t help but think of the passionate beliefs at play,
the attention to human motivation and need for empathetic stances
shared by those with a commitment to create change in
less dramatic contexts and in more non-violent ways.    

Photo credits: Creative Commons licensed via Flickr, by tuchodi & martinlabar

Got any cross-program stories of your own to share?

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