WMU News

Foreign educators learn about U.S. at WMU

July 17, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- What do Colombian, Angolan and Lithuanian scholars have in common? If they're among the 18 foreign American studies educators attending Western Michigan University's Fulbright Summer Institute through Aug. 12, they are learning about America by being here. Among the institute's participants are a number of interesting individuals who have intriguing stories on the challenges of learning and teaching others about things most Americans take for granted.

Claudia Helena Lombana, an assistant professor of English language and literature at the National University in Colombia, says "probably one of the most difficult aspects in my class is to explain how the election process of the president of the United States works." Lombana is making her second "academic" trip to the United States in 10 years. "Another political topic which is difficult to deal with is federal and state laws and power. Where does the federal power start and end and where do the states' power start? This usually creates confusion among Colombian students, who are more used to understanding the use of power exerted through a centralized government." Lombana last visited the United States in 1998, when she spent Christmas with some old friends.

Having learned about the American way of life only through books and television, Marques Sebastiao of Angola is extremely excited, now that his feet have finally touched American soil. Sebastiao, deputy director of the Institute of Languages with the Angolan Ministry of Education, has taught English in Angola since 1977 and is particularly interested in seeing if all he has heard or read about the United States is true. "Angola has to learn a lot from America--its democracy, how the people live, the relationship among the different races Angola is rich but we don't know how to use that in order that people might live well," he says.

For Marijus Sidlauskas of Lithuania, participating in the summer institute is like "being a Viking who is about to discover a new land." An associate professor in the American Studies Center at Klaipeda University, Sidlauskas has taught introductory American literature for the past four years and this is his first visit to the United States. He is hoping to improve his limited knowledge of American literature, history and art so he can pass more on to his students. He says the tendency of Lithuanian high schools and institutions of higher education to focus only on the English language has led to an under-appreciation and ignorance of great American authors and their works. "So far we have no comprehensive study of the history of American literature and can boast of just a few monographs about classical authors."

Among the institute's class topics are Mormons, women's voting, Valley girls, education in the West and homelessness. Local field trips are planned as well, including a trip to the Amish countryside and a visit to the studio of Native American artist Ed Gray, who will instruct the class in making a copper bowl. On July 30, institute participants will begin a two-week cross-country tour.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu


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