NCA Micro Grant Report
Santoi Wagner, University of Pennsylvania
In May 2013, with support from a Center for Intercultural Dialogue micro grant funded by the National Communication Association, I traveled to Seoul, South Korea, to meet with Dr. Eun Sung Park of Sogang University. We are both applied linguists, though we have different research concerns: my interests lie at the interface of language and social interaction while Dr. Park’s work has centered on cognitive aspects of second language acquisition. However, given our professional roles in working with TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) teachers, we share common interests in second language teaching and learning, and how to effectively educate teachers in both theory and practice. I am currently the Acting Director of TESOL at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Dr. Park is an Associate Professor of TESOL/Applied Linguistics and Director of the General English Education Program at Sogang. Although we had corresponded briefly via email about the possibility of working together, we had not previously had the opportunity to engage in an extended discussion. I envisaged our conversation to be an exploratory step to examine an issue that has been of particular interest to me over the past few years: how well do Master’s TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) programs prepare international students to teach in classrooms in their home countries that may be very different from those experienced via study and fieldwork in their graduate programs?
My preparations for the trip were fairly smooth. While the micro grant did not quite cover the entire airfare to Seoul, I was fortunate to able to fund the remainder through my faculty conference/travel fund. One of the more difficult aspects of preparation was to find a suitable time to travel given my teaching responsibilities and the fact that I wanted to be able to meet with Dr. Park while her university was still in session. By planning several months in advance, I was able to schedule my summer teaching to fit in with my plans to travel as soon as my spring semester had finished. This also gave me time to track airfares to ensure I found the best price possible (I used a tracking and notification tool available on Kayak).
Dr. Park was very generous with her time while I was visiting. We had broad and informative discussions, ranging from the teacher training and credentialing process in South Korea and the changing environment of English teaching there in terms of a greater emphasis on oral skills, to the career paths of graduates who have studied overseas and returned to Korea. Very interestingly, Dr. Park described how, in her experience, native English speaking teachers are perceived by students at her university to be better teachers than non-native English speaking teachers, but how more often than not, it is the non-native English speaking teachers who receive better student evaluations. This particular theme was not one that I had initially considered, but we brainstormed on the various ways we might go forward with this idea, including accessing and analyzing the available data, and we will follow up our discussion on email and hopefully arrange a meeting at a conference in the United States next year.
During my time in Seoul, two opportunities arose that I had not originally planned for. Firstly, Dr. Park arranged for me to observe a graduate class she was teaching, ENG 6217: Second Language Acquisition. The class was conducted in English as the program has a number of overseas students. Dr. Park asked me to speak to the students about studying in the United States and to answer questions about applying to doctoral programs there. I enjoyed this experience as it enabled me to engaged directly with the students (and to do some promotion of my home institution’s program!)
Secondly, I was also able to meet with a former graduate student from my home institution who was teaching English at Sogang. Our conversation was particularly beneficial as we talked about her experience of a TESOL Master’s program in the US and how it had prepared her for teaching in Korea. Two rather surprising issues arose. One was the unrealistic expectation held by international students on entering the Masters program with regards to the ease of finding a good teaching position in their home country after they complete their degree. The other related issue was the perception of the most significant benefit from obtaining the degree. Rather than improving one’s pedagogy or knowledge about teaching, as I might have posited, the former student pointed to the increase in her authority that stemmed from her students’ knowledge of her educational background. Although my methodology in my original project proposal is centered on the micro-analytic examination of classroom interaction, this meeting underlined the usefulness of such conversations in generating ideas and developing possible themes for further inquiry.
I am deeply appreciative of the time I spent in Seoul, and for the NCA micro grant that enabled me to make such a trip. Although I initially had formulated quite firm proposal ideas, the conversations I had were extremely valuable in opening up my perspective about the possible and effective ways to further my research goals, and possibly expand them to encompass new directions for my work. I feel that the grant’s support of “participation in intercultural dialogue through academic interactions” is especially important in the exploratory stage of research. Dr. Park and I are not in the same sub-fields of our discipline, and so this type of in-depth conversation might be less likely to happen through regular conference or peer contacts. Phone, email, or even video-conferencing would have been poor substitutes for this type of exploratory discussion: I am grateful for the opportunity to meet potential collaborators in person, engage in face-to-face interaction, and establish productive professional relationships.
[NOTE: Santoi Wagner’s original project proposal is available here.]