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A Meeting of Cultures: Normandale Community College's Internationalization Initiative
Jewell Bracho never imagined that she would travel to places like Senegal and Peru during her community college career, but the internationalization initiative of the World Languages and Cultures Department at Normandale Community College put these life-changing experiences within her reach.
“These adventures in Senegal and Peru have expanded my knowledge of French and Spanish languages,” Bracho says, “and, most notably, built a sense of community and union with people completely distinctive from my own.”
In fall 2019, Normandale offered courses in six languages, the most of any two-year college in the
Minnesota State System. The World Languages and Cultures Department’s Senegal and Peru study abroad courses reflect the Normandale internationalization team’s priority of preparing multilingual students and designing study abroad opportunities in countries that tend to be underrepresented in traditional world languages and cultures programs.
“Internationalization, or a coordinated approach to teaching global readiness, has existed in four-year institutions for quite some time,” says Heidi Kreutzer, chair of the World Languages and Cultures Department at Normandale.
“It’s been exciting to create a customizable model for two-year contexts like ours.”
The study abroad courses are low-cost compared to many other options offered in two-year and four-year contexts, and Normandale’s foundation provides scholarships to supplement trip expenses. We also plan our travel courses well in advance, giving students time to prepare and save for them. Normandale students who participate in these programs spend several weeks on campus studying the cultures and languages that will deepen their study abroad experience, which lasts fifteen days in the target country. When they return, students present a capstone project to peers.
For the in-country experiences, we partner with local organizations, such as École Internationale de Popenguine, a secondary school in Senegal, to give the students an avenue for forming authentic relationships with people from an entirely different part of the world. Students and faculty from both institutions share curricular and cultural resources, and we are in the process of developing a pathway for students from École Internationale de Popenguine to study at Normandale.
We have also developed study away (domestic) programs with an international focus, such as an upcoming trip to Miami concentrating on Haitian and Cuban diasporic communities. During this weeklong experience, students will meet Cuban and Haitian writers, artists, chefs, and other local luminaries who will provide insight into what it means to thrive in a diaspora community in the United States.
Accessible, high-impact study abroad and study away options are only one facet of the Normandale internationalization initiative, which aims to prepare students to thrive personally and professionally in diverse environments both within the United States and abroad. This work is directly informed by what we hear from employers in our community and around the globe: they need team members who speak multiple languages and possess the skills and perspectives that will allow them to work effectively with people from different backgrounds.
Two consecutive federal grants through the US Department of Education’s Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program have allowed Normandale’s internationalization team to implement internationalization at the community college level, and we strategically partner with faculty members, staff, and students across campus to ensure that international content is present in curricular and cocurricular activities.
Global partners in multiple sectors have opened up learning opportunities for students through exchanges, internships, and teleconference sessions on campus. For the 2019–20 Diaspora Speaker Series, for example, we are working with other departments and student groups to invite local and international experts to talk about topics related to the concept of diaspora. One upcoming speaker is Susan Brower, a demographer for the state of Minnesota, who will talk about the history and current realities of Latinx communities in Minnesota. The event is a collaboration with the student-led Latinos United at Normandale in Action group. We also created the Normandale Diaspora Project (www.nccdiaspora.com), an online resource that centers the experiences of students, staff, and faculty who identify as being part of a diaspora community and that also helps foster dialogue and critical thinking in various classes and activities across campus.
A sense of belonging
Minnesota has the highest population of Somali immigrants in the United States, and Normandale, where 42 percent of students are students of color, has a large number of Somali-American students. Committed to serving the needs and interests of Normandale’s diverse community, the internationalization team created the first Somali area studies program of its kind at a community college. This credit-bearing program—which consists of two years of Somali language study (four courses) and one Somali culture and civilization course—is designed for anyone looking to learn about Somali language and culture, including heritage learners and professionals from the community.
The program has brought academic value to the college and also increased the sense of belonging among Somali-American students. “It makes me happy and heard knowing that my community is being represented in the courses that are being offered,” says Naimo Osman, a student who is part of the Somali-American community at Normandale. “I’m grateful that we are able to recognize our diversity on campus in ways that aren’t just statistics but through an interactive and educational model.”
The internationalization team also created an International Experience Certificate program that can supplement any area of study and that combines world language and culture courses, a study abroad opportunity, and an intercultural communication course. Current students pursuing the certificate are also in the process of completing associate degrees or transfer pathways in interpreting and translation, business, and nursing.
“Learning a language is important,” Kreutzer says, “but being able to understand cultural norms when it comes to various circumstances is also a big part of this certiﬁcate. Whether you are an educator, police ofﬁcer, a nurse, a business person, or a professional in any number of areas, these are important skills to have.”
In addition, we have brought our international initiative into the community. Last summer, Chinese instructor Miranda Miskowiec worked with the filtration systems manufacturer Donaldson Company to design courses on Chinese culture, customs, and language. This program was developed through our Continuing Education and Customized Training Department, which works directly with organizations to create noncredit-bearing courses specific to their needs.
“We are happy to serve as a resource for businesses looking to increase their knowledge of languages and cultures that are critical to their success,” Kreutzer says.
A strong commitment
In order to conceptualize and sustain this multifaceted work, we have relied on the expertise of researchers and practitioners at the Global Programs and Strategies Alliance and the Center for Advanced Research and Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota. By consulting with us on numerous occasions, they have helped us develop frameworks and long-term strategies to make our internationalization work sustainable and impactful for years to come. We have also maintained a strong commitment to sharing our own processes and best practices at national conferences, such as at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages annual convention.
The philosophy of the internationalization team at Normandale is “If something is working, we need to share it.” As we look at what is currently happening across the globe, it’s evident that there has never been a greater need for international education and programs that concentrate on developing intercultural understanding and competence.
Jen Westmoreland Bouchard is a faculty member in the World Languages and Cultures Department and coordinator of the International Experience Center at Normandale Community College.