an act or the process of finding somebody or something, or learning about something that was not known about before.
This week has proved to be full of insights from different sources, but importantly I find myself reflecting on the insights to be gained from others, from experience, from people and places beyond the everyday. Because even if every day is an adventure, some adventures are far from everyday.
After last week’s inspiration (and parting thought) on taking different perspectives on language, what else could I do but take a renewed focus on both my native English and other languages? I’m still getting great insights into both from American linguist John McWhorter, and his podcast Lexicon Valley. Fascinating as I find them for their own sake, they always offer something extra that makes me think again about the way I teach English as a foreign language. This week the podcast centred on word order and how it compares between languages: Subject-Object-Verb, SVO, and so on; others have looked at gender, negatives, or just the origins of certain words. Understanding at least a little of my students’ own language, and where my own comes from, can really help identify and overcome some of the challenges of teaching and learning a language.
Network and intercultural colleague Kellie Noon, too, offered some insights this week in the form of a short video into ‘why she does what she does’, and I found this really engaging. It also resonated so strongly with my own reasons for starting InternationalEyes that I’ve set out to do the same – so watch this space. In essence, Kellie’s point was that many things led her to study and work in the area of international culture, but it was personal experience that pointed her in this direction. She studied languages at degree level but, through the experiences of living and studying abroad and teaching here in the UK, realised that it’s often the cultural (mis)understandings that affect how well we communicate.
For me you could say I was a late starter – the realisation, though, came again from the insight of personal experience. I studied and enjoyed languages at school, back when TV was largely black-and-white and the scope of genuine cultural awareness here in the UK was similarly limited. Competing ambitions led me to study sciences and to stray away from the field I was frankly better at, and it wasn’t until I began to travel and my own children started to study languages that my passion for language and culture was sparked again. I’d realised by then that what I loved about travelling, and about dabbling in other people’s languages, was the people this allowed me to get to know as much as it was about the experience of the place. My own intercultural journey took me from being a tourist and teacher in the ’90s to a student of tourism in the early 2000s, of languages soon after, and most recently as intercultural entrepreneur. Studying international tourism with people from so many other countries exposed me at last to what it means to be a citizen of the world, not just your own country.
Working with colleagues and students from European universities in sport, hospitality and tourism in particular, opened my eyes to all that studying and working abroad in any language can do for you. I threw myself in at the deep end after learning Spanish for a year or so – visiting and teaching in both English and (somewhat limited) Spanish. But it wasn’t my language competence (or otherwise) that made the difference, it was the very fact that I was interested, and wanted to engage, in the culture and with the people around me. Later, regular visits to Spain, France, Norway, the US and other countries reinforced the importance of caring about culture, caring about the people, and rising to the challenge of finding out about who they are, what they care about. Language was an important part, yes, but intercultural understanding was really the key. Similarly, teaching and supporting students from Europe and beyond, and the appreciation I’ve received from those in whom I invested my time has enriched my own life, while it has hopefully contributed to their efforts to enrich their own.
So as I explain on the InternationalEyes website, the site and the business have grown from a passion for travel and working internationally. But it’s the people who are it its heart. Those I continue to work and learn with, those I learn from and teach. My aim is to help any that want to broaden and go beyond their horizons, and to encourage those who are unsure how to do so. Learning is about life, and life about learning. Learning isn’t, as the dictionary would have you believe, “knowledge that you get from reading and studying”. Learning is about discovery. And how better to discover new insights than to do so beyond your cultural and geographical horizons?
And I brought this week to a close meeting those European friends I mentioned earlier in the virtual world we’ve come to inhabit. While the focus of discussion was largely on how we move forward, perhaps the most important outcome was the connection reinforced by insight into how difficult it is in and outside the realm of work. Family, friends, injury, ill-health and loss, fear of things getting worse and hope for things to improve so that our world and our network can get back to what we were established to do – to help students, teachers and professors broaden those horizons. These important insights help us develop and maintain the essential empathy for others and it’s so important we continue to do so. The insights and empathy mean we can help, guide and support those who need it most.