In addition to sending faculty across the globe, The University of Texas at Arlington has also become a destination for international scholars.
This semester, two visiting scholars are working with faculty and graduate students in the Department of English.
“No matter what a person’s work or personal life at home involves, travelling to a different culture is always an education,” said Dr. Wendy Faris, professor and department chair. “And for those involved in education, that experience is enhanced greatly because they can get new perspectives on their field, which they then can use in their own research and also pass on to their students.”
Hanna Sjögren, a doctoral candidate from Linköping University in Sweden, is working on her dissertation, researching the ways in which educators are addressing sustainability in the classroom. Ciccy Chen, an English instructor from Shandong University of Science and Technology in Qingdao, China, is studying the various ways in which the English language is taught to native speakers.
Sjögren came to UT Arlington after meeting Professor Stacy Alaimo, who lectured last year in Linköping. Alaimo’s work on sustainability and feminist theory inspired Sjögren to spend a two-month stint in Arlington and gather additional research.
“My dissertation is at the intersection of philosophy of education, sustainability and feminist theory,” Sjögren said. “It’s really about rethinking what education could be in challenging times or when we see that our lives are more interconnected with the surrounding world. Not only people, but animals, nature and the environment.”
For the past two years she has been viewing sustainability in education from a Swedish perspective, but the chance to visit and study in the U.S. afforded Sjögren greater access to leading scholars in her field.
“Some of the most profound academic research is happening in the U.S.,” she said. “It’s good to have access to those fields and those people. I expected to build a network, feel more comfortable speaking English and move around in this kind of academic environment.”
During her short stay, Sjögren has worked with Alaimo on her dissertation; continued translating a book from Swedish into English for one of her academic supervisors back home; set up a study group with a fellow grad student to discuss French philosophers; and participated in the “Posthumanities and Science Studies” workshop to discuss her research with other faculty and graduate students. Sjögren also sat in on a sustainability course taught by Associate Professor or Architecture Dr. Douglas Klahr.
Sjögren said she is encouraged by her interdisciplinary approach to her doctoral research.
“This visit has helped me address my research problems; it’s opened up things for me to think differently about some of the work I do,” she said. “The English department people are focused more on theory than my own department. That’s been good for me to see the different side of it.”
Chen came to Arlington earlier this year with her husband and four-year-old son. While her husband works on a research project in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Chen is working on a government-funded project to enhance her teaching skills.
“For students whose native language is English, the ways to teach them about the language is quite different [than for those who are non-natives],” she said. “Teachers here focus on the logical ways the language is used in writing. In China, we have a harder time dealing with grammar issues … because writing in Chinese and English is totally different. The logic of approach and the way we arrange the paragraphs; it’s hard for students to make that switch.”
Chen has spent the last 10 years teaching English – a two-year requirement for all university students in China. She said she jumped at the opportunity to travel to the U.S. and experience the language and the American culture firsthand.
“It’s important for me to get close to the culture and language. Working in the English and Linguistics and TESOL departments, I am learning different ways to teach how to write and speak English. It’s been very informative for me.”
Both women said their cultural experience in Arlington, Texas, has been eye-opening. Both were surprised at the lack of public transportation and bike lanes in the city. Both were pleased with the warmer temperatures – there is snow on the ground in both Linköping and Qingdao this time of year – and the friendliness of native Texans.
For Sjögren, the trip allowed her a different perspective on the subject of sustainability and how various cultures address human interaction with the environment. She said the break from teaching and working in Sweden helped her to regain her research focus.
For Chen, family trips to the Fort Worth Zoo and local museums have been as instructional as observing UT Arlington composition classes. She is confident she will bring a new perspective to her teaching and her students when she returns to China this summer.
“If you’ve never been to the country or been in the culture [you are studying], you’ll never know,” she said. “You might watch a lot of movies or read a lot of newspapers, but it’s totally different. When you get into the culture, something will astonish you.”