Cultural exchange session – Mexico, South Korea and Britain in dialogue

Dr Brian Wallace teaches two modules on British governance to South Korean and Mexican students on King’s Summer Programmes.

This July, King’s College London Summer Programmes hosted students from Mexico and South Korea for parallel courses on governance in the United Kingdom. A highlight of both courses was a joint session between the two cohorts, in a cultural exchange to facilitate reflection on the themes they had been exploring. One of the key aims of both programmes is encouraging students to use our learning sessions and the experience of residence abroad as a vantage point from which to consider their home countries via a series of themes applicable across borders. The students could both reflect on what they had learned about Britain and apply these reflections to their respective homes.

The session was designed primarily to spark dialogue and the exchange of ideas and experiences among our six mixed student groups, each composed of five South Korean and four Mexican students. After a brief introduction laying out their shared course themes and the shared London experiences they had all likely been encountering as tourists, our first ice-breaking conversation session asked the students within their groups to simply introduce themselves, their home town or city, and their favourite or least favourite thing about London. Our second strand explored the idea of common ground. Drawing on the ‘cultural exchanges’ theme, I gave our students a brief presentation on cultural and political links between Britain and their home countries, introducing cultural products such as art and food along with official occasions such as state visits, with their political rhetoric stressing the shared history and values of the nations. The second breakout conversation session asked the students to respond to this idea of common ground – was this reflected in their experiences visiting London? Did they feel their nation’s culture was familiar in Britain? What were the greatest similarities and differences? As these discussions were ongoing, I toured each group’s table and sampled their conversations and conclusions. There was a wide range of opinion, but one common theme which emerged among the students was interest in the ‘export versions’ of their national cultures they had encountered in London.

Our final conversation session asked the students to produce a more formal response in the form of a lesson plan poster presentation. Each group was assigned one of the common themes of the two programmes – national identity, monarchy, the empire and Commonwealth, government and Brexit, the British press, and cultural ‘soft power’. We then asked them to take on the role of teachers, composing a lesson for their fellow students back in Mexico and South Korea. How would they explain these themes? What case studies, objects, or sites would they use? What did they think their students would find most surprising about these themes in Britain? With one Mexican and one South Korean ‘teacher’ as co-presenters, the session encouraged students to not only demonstrate the knowledge they had acquired in our learning sessions, but to translate it for a home audience as well as considering it in an international context. The student groups responded creatively and thoughtfully, using diagrams and illustrations to lay out the similarities and differences between the three nations. Common features between the three nations were identified in the shared structures of government, while the greatest differences were identified in the realms of journalism and soft power.

The idea of cultural exchange is central to the aims of our summer courses and this session proved to be an invaluable venue for putting it into practice, offering a space for our student cohorts to respond to the themes of the course and give their own reflections on their London experiences. At the culmination of our students’ learning sessions on British themes, it productively reversed the student-teacher roles and encouraged them to discuss and delineate how these issues resonated at home. Finally, introducing the Mexican and South Korean cohorts to each other in order to engage in this reflective work generated a creative energy and excitement within the session which was reflected in the enthusiasm of their conversations and presentations.

The way we learn on summer schools

Thais Russomano, MD, is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre of Human & Applied Physiological Sciences, part of the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine’s School of Basic & Medical Biosciences.
Thais teaches summer school students about body systems and how humans adapt when exposed to hostile environments.

 

If asked at the age of 16 what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’, the answer university professor would never have crossed my mind. I knew what I wanted to be, it was simple – for as long as I could remember I dreamt of becoming an astronaut. This would be a difficult career path for anyone to follow, however, coming from a country (Brazil) that didn’t at that time even have a Space Agency made the task as difficult as climbing Mount Everest blindfolded! I wish at that stage of my life I’d had the opportunity to experience a course like the King’s Summer programme.

Exposure to material taught by an international professor in a ‘university-type’ form would certainly have given my confidence a boost and allayed many of the doubts I had about studying abroad and at a higher level. Nonetheless, I planned my journey, completing medicine in Brazil, then facing my fears and going oversees for a 2-year MSc in Aerospace Medicine in the US, and a PhD in Space Physiology at King’s College London, before working at the German Space Agency (DLR).

My academic career began at a university in Brazil, where I established the Microgravity Centre, a pioneering Space Life Sciences Research Centre, but my links with King’s always remained strong, and I eventually became the Deputy Course Director/Senior Lecturer of the Space Physiology & Health MSc course. Another constant in my life was dedicating spare time to teaching school-aged students about the life and works of astronauts during space missions.

Therefore, when asked to participate in teaching for the King’s College Summer Programmes, I was delighted to accept, as, from my own student experience, I knew the benefit this kind of interaction brings – I see it as a two-way win-win situation for both students and professors, both of whom encounter different learning styles and gain from an exchange of cultural values, which broadens perspectives and adds to personal and professional growth.

The design of the Summer Courses fosters this interaction of tutors/students and provides an enriching learning environment. Students gain a great insight into what life would be like studying at university level, and possibly experiencing for the first time a British way of delivering knowledge. This opportunity also gives a special experience to us as professors, entering a highly multicultural environment, bringing with it challenges as to how best to engage these young minds, but at the same time making the teaching-learning process more stimulating and special.

Given the short length of the courses, they can be no more than simply ‘taster’ experiences for both sides, however, the enthusiasm and curiosity of the students is evident from their willingness to participate in activities, and from their questions, which become more probing and frequent as the week progresses and confidence grows. And it is exactly this growth in confidence, this exposure to professors of a different culture, and this opportunity to mix with a different way of doings things that is the most invaluable lesson of the week for students, opening their eyes to potential new horizons.

Likewise, teaching pre-university students, and especially those from a culture for whom English is not their native-tongue, provides lecturers with a reminder that sometimes we must adapt our skills to better communicate the content of our classes, making the language we use more accessible, building on logical reasoning and employing good analogies that help in the understanding of more complex ideas. I am reminded that these skills are important within our practice at King’s, which is by its very nature, a very international university, with more than 40% of its student population drawn from 160 countries.

For me, the experience of teaching young students on King’s Summer Programmes is gratifying and enriching; something new to add to my lifelong learning portfolio. For the students, I hope they find their pre-university programmes inspiring and motivational experiences, bolstering their self-belief and turning the first page of their academic journey.

Addressing the Signs of the Times

Dr Huw Dylan is a Senior Lecturer in Intelligence Studies and International Security in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Dr Dylan is also a Visiting Research Professor at the Norwegian Defence Intelligence School, Oslo.

 

One of the most exciting things about the King’s Undergraduate Summer School is the variety of approaches to teaching and learning that students will experience. This reflects both the scope of subjects on offer, but also the energy tutors put into creating engaging learning environments. This entry, building upon our colleague Dr Diana Bozhilova’s blog post on teaching international relations in this series, offers a brief introduction to our approach to teaching Politics and the Media.

For those of us interested in politics and international relations it seems that not a day goes by without some controversy or other concerning what is the truth of a particular situation making the headlines in the press. From the competing narratives offered to the electorate in the BREXIT referendum, to the myriad debates concerning President Trump and words and deeds, to the running series of debates between Russia and the West over a number of issues, including the shooting down of MH17 to Russian involvement in east Ukraine, matters of strategic communication, allegations of propaganda, and charges of ‘fake news’ have come to dominate several areas of our political discourse. This course aims to place many of these issues in a deeper historical context, and to consider carefully how information and messages have been utilised by political power throughout history to further their goals.

Our teaching is based on our experience in the Department of War Studies. This department encourages an interdisciplinary and creative approach to studying conflict and war and all associated phenomena. We aim to combine teaching of core concepts and ideas, such as exploring the main theorists or thinkers of propaganda and strategic communications, in tandem with the conflicts or issues that they sought to influence at the time. And then to examine how these ideas resonate today in our contemporary debates. So, we will begin with the ideas of Gustav le Bon, and propaganda in the age of the Two World Wars, before moving on to the Cold War and the post 9/11 world. Students will engage deal with theory and practice, setting the scene for many of the issues we the class will consider during the latter part of the course.

The learning outcomes for this short course on Politics and the Media are centred upon the development of an understanding of key subject matter and fostering critical thinking. The class will consider the core components of propaganda and strategic communication narratives in various case studies. Many of these case studies involve campaigns that aimed to convert or entrench the political stance or the voting intentions of a large body of people, and have become contentious. Analysing the construction, delivery, and impact of these various campaigns will leave students equipped to more effectively engage with such campaigns in future, in particular with regard analysing and challenging the competing claims of ‘truth’. A key component of developing these critical skills will be an active consideration of the modern information environment and information technology, and how they both facilitate the propagation and the challenge of key messages.

A journey to Berlin, a Trip for a Lifetime

Aida Baghernejad,  Lead tutor – Berlin: City of Reinvention, explains that getting to know Berlin helps us understand how community and civic engagement can make a difference.

This year I’ll have the pleasure to lead a study tour to Berlin for the second time. Last year the students came from all different disciplines, but they each shared an eagerness to learn and to experience this city and its unique history.

Berlin is known by some as the capital of big-scale rave, but also as a city that allows creativity and individualism to thrive. A German proverb says “you are crazy, sweetheart, you must move to Berlin,“ and indeed, Berlin can be a haven for those who think differently.

On our course, we follow in the footsteps of Prussian kings, learn about the chilling history of the Olympic stadium in situ, talk about Berlin’s wild and creative years during the Roaring Twenties and hear about what Berliners endured in the post-war years. We met lawyers who gave historical walking tours with a twist, young creatives who took over an old warehouse and established a co-working place where you pay for your desk with your creative labour by contributing to a self-organised conference and a writer whose blog has become to definitive guide to Berlin. In short, this course introduces you to dynamic people who have taken their life and their destiny into their own hands. It’s all about personal agency and responsbility; about not only dreaming of a utopia, but actually just creating it yourself – that’s the Berlin way!

By the end of the week last year, as one of the participants observed, this group of students from different backgrounds had become a group of friends. By travelling together through the different time periods in Berlin’s history, learning about the legacies and the bright and open future of the city, we come to understand cultural difference as a precious resource to learn from each other and broaden our perspective. Berlin can teach us what it means to not only live somewhere, but also strive to make that place better. It is a living example of how community and civic engagement make a difference and provide a glimmer of hope even in the direst of times; of which Berlin has had many…

I am looking forward to welcoming the next cohort to Berlin and re-experiencing the city through their eyes. Berlin is constantly reinventing itself – and you might just do the same!

University Futures: Starting the journey early

Zoe Galvin – Academic Services Manager and Pre-University lead for King’s Summer Programmes – describes an exciting new skills based programme to inspire students towards their future at university and beyond.

In July 2018 King’s Summer Programmes will launch its University Futures programme; a one week conference designed for 14 and 15 year olds. In partnership with King’s’ Entrepreneurship Institute the programme is designed to build students’ skills in innovation and leadership through a combination of lectures, group work activities and personal reflection. This new venture will extend King’s existing summer programmes portfolio for high school students, which already includes the well-established Pre-University Summer School and Pre-University Taster programmes aimed at 16-18 year old’s.

Students, both international and domestic, are seriously thinking about university before the age of 161. With career choices often being informed by undergraduate level study and degrees, in turn, being informed by A Levels (or their international equivalents) it is no surprise that students start to consider their options long before they reach their final few years at school. The University Futures programme is a step towards supporting these younger students. During the week students will learn about the wide variety of degrees on offer from different faculties, and campus tours and daily interaction with current King’s students will offer a unique insight into undergraduate study and life at university. We hope that the programme will inspire students at the start of their journey and help them to understand what they need to do to achieve their goals for university and beyond.

The University Futures programme will focus on skills based learning rather than the subject specific study typical of our Pre University programme. This complements the growing emphasis within HEIs and the workplace on the importance of equipping students with transferable skills. In their future careers, the ability to collaborate and innovate across disciplines and sectors will be more important than ever and the rise of automation may “amplify the comparative advantage of those workers with problem-solving, leadership, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), empathy and creativity skills.”2 These skills will be at the heart of this programme’s curriculum.

Students will be tasked with an entrepreneurial challenge at the start of the week and will work collaboratively with their peers from initial idea generation through to the final pitch of their team’s business idea. Along the way they will be challenged to think creatively, communicate effectively and present with confidence. The challenge will be rooted in the concept of social entrepreneurship, in line with the Entrepreneurship Institute’s mission to equip King’s’ students, staff and alumni with entrepreneurial skills that can help serve society. We hope that this unique learning experience will inspire these university students of the future to build the skills and experiences they need to solve the global challenges of today and tomorrow. We cannot wait to see what ideas they come up with!