Fitting In

“We have a lot of educating to do.” Karen Dodge, Manager of MRU Cont. Ed.’s Languages Institute instructs, “it’s not only the people coming in that need to be educated.  The people that live here need to be educated too.”

With new Canadians, including some controversial Syrian refugees, integrating into our culture, work and lives in our hometown, there has to be more attention paid to both sides of the conversation.  “Calgary is a multi-cultural community,” she declares, “ESL is a Canadian reality right now.”group with Canada balloons

The MRU Languages Institute is well aware of the cultural acclimatization needed to succeed in a new region.  Regarding recent reactions on our home turf, she identifies, “The ‘them verses us’ mentality is discrimination. Calgary is going through what England was going through thirty years ago.”

Karen Dodge is an educator and the world is her classroom. She knows cultural differences first-hand.  A self-described internationalist, Dodge has lived and worked in Spain, China, England, Oman, Saudi Arabia and more.  Landing here in 1998, she is an ESL (English as a Second Language) and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teaching specialist.

The program focuses on three main branches, the popular English Language Program, World Languages (and customized training) and Teacher Education.

The first is to teach English to both local and international students, in fact it’s a 50/50 split.  Some are learning for work or studies, as they must qualify for the English language requirements for admittance to programs while others are studying for life in a different culture.

World Languages offers customized training to individuals or groups who are either in business with another culture or are planning to visit. “If you want something specific,” Dodge promises, “we can facilitate it.”  There are countless benefits to an introduction to a foreign language for business people.  “We can teach a businessman fifty key words in Mandarin,” she says, “which goes a long way in building relationships.”  The point isn’t always to become fluent in another language, it’s to demonstrate a vested interest.

The Teacher Education component leverages many of the almost eighty partnerships that MRU has with other academic institutions around the globe. “In South America,” Dodge explains, “professors are required to teach their discipline in English.”  This is the case in many international institutions as English is, “the language that has become dominant.” she admits.  In this program, foreign professors are brought to MRU for training which is delivered face to face. “Our aim,” Dodge says, “is to help international partners develop their own way of training.  It’s a train-the-trainer model.”  Most recently, a team of ten professors from Guanajuato, Mexico benefitted from this experience where they learned teaching strategies as well as specific English for the classroom vocabulary.

MRU’s Languages Institute knows that learning the language is just one component to actually fitting in.

“Fitting in,” she advises, “can be everything from defending yourself, standing up for yourself, putting forward your cultural viewpoint and earning respect.” In the end, it’s about empowering the student not just teaching proper verb usage.

“Cultural norms for us are not norms for everybody.” Dodge declares. To succeed, or fit in in the workplace, she notes, takes an understanding of soft skills from “being understood at the water-cooler” to “following hockey scores.”

-JLove a.k.a. JAmour