The Journey to IEDP series was created to give readers an understanding of the myriad experiences that have led us to the IEDP. For prospective students, we hope to answer questions of how and why we decided to come to the IEDP, what the decision-making process of applying to and deciding among offers was like, and how the IEDP has aligned with our goals and expectations since we’ve matriculated into the program. This blog series will show how some of our cohortmates have navigated these questions and more.
To grad school or not to grad school
As an English teacher, I came to realize that language, culture, and learning ideology play crucial roles in providing inclusive learning opportunities for all students. At the school, teachers had different learning ideologies on how students should learn English and how much Thai should be allowed in the classroom. Students also entered the classrooms with specific attitudes toward English that influenced classroom learning dynamics. In textbooks and learning materials, I noticed how examples were not grounded in lived experiences of my students in Bangkok, and how this disconnect might have affected students’ understandings of grammar and vocabulary. In response, I created supplemental examples to situate the target content in Bangkok, Thailand, and Southeast Asia from which point students could better juxtapose their realities with those in other places.
From my own experiences and awareness, I realized that I wanted my career to involve working with teachers, as well as administrators and policymakers, to adapt educational resources and practices to local contexts. However, I had no clue as to the types of tools that would help educators to identify and eradicate learning barriers, and to foster culturally and linguistically inclusive environments for their specific classrooms. I needed a strong understanding of methodological and sociocultural theoretical underpinnings for addressing issues of language learning through teacher professional development, curriculum design, and monitoring and evaluation of learning spaces for quality improvement. Most importantly, I wanted to explore how I could approach providing educational assistance in places outside of the United States where I wouldn’t have a stake as a local (whatever that means). Thus, I knew that the next step in my life would be attending graduate school, where I could build a theory-practitioner’s toolkit and be more cognizant of my positionality in other communities.
IED over other approaches
After I identified what I wanted to do in grad school, I had to figure out what kind of program that would look like. I turned to my undergraduate interests in educational linguistics and to a friend in educational development in Bangkok; their results and advice converged at international educational development (IED). First, I began by looking at graduate programs in educational linguistics and language education. In undergrad, I had been familiar with the Educational Linguistics Division at Penn GSE and started my search for graduate programs on their website. Their programs were interesting, but I didn’t think that they met my specific post-graduation goals. Clicking on different programs and course descriptions and professors led me to Dr. Nancy Hornberger who was listed as a core faculty member of the International Educational Development Program (IEDP). This program’s description was exactly what I wanted out of graduate school, and so I decided to explore programs at other schools in international education, international educational development, and comparative education.
At the same time, I met up with a friend in Bangkok who was working for Education Development Center (EDC). I talked to her about my interests to see how they would be realized during and after graduate school. She confirmed that my interests intersect with IED, but she did say that choosing a program depended on how you wanted to approach an understanding of development. She was incredibly helpful in putting me in touch with people she knew in the field, two of whom went through the IEDP at Penn, to have a better understanding of how I could approach entering IED and the various programs and schools I should consider. While some pointed out that I could attend graduate programs that focused entirely on theoretical underpinnings that I could apply immediately after graduating, and those that focused on a specific area (e.g. teaching and learning) that I could apply to development, I ultimately decided on applying to programs that situated content in development and married theory and practice.
Goals + IEDP @ Penn GSE
Choosing among graduate programs was incredibly difficult. I kept weighing the pros and cons of each program to which I was admitted, which changed as scholarship and fellowship awards were announced. To help in making the decision, I tried to attend virtual information sessions for all of my programs to get a better sense of what it would feel like to be a student and to interact with the professors. The virtual info session with IEDP at Penn GSE, with students in the 18-19 cohort, was extremely informative. As the students spoke about their interests and experiences in program, they genuinely looked happy and and connected as a group, which was important for me in a graduate program. While I could have taken a different lens or focus at a different school or another one offered me a larger financial aid package, I chose IEDP at Penn GSE because I thought it would be the program where I could see myself best utilizing the resources, opportunities, courses, and expertise in grad school to meet my in- and post-graduate goals.
So far, the IEDP at Penn GSE has been everything that I wanted in a program for my post-graduate goals. Through core IEDP classes, I learn the ins and outs of what working in in the field (or at a desk) looks like and am able to discuss various issues around international educational development. I’m also able to expand outside of my core classes with a class in quantitative methods for program monitoring and evaluation as well as a class to focus on my interest in the complexity of language in education. Of the 29 students in my cohort, only one other student has the exact same schedule as I do. Much of my time is spent learning from and with my cohortmates about the topics that they’re covering in their classes and the interests and backgrounds that have brought them to international educational development. Their backgrounds range from teachers wanting to affect change on a larger scale to people who have never worked in education. My peers have contributed immensely to my understanding of international educational development in my journey through IEDP, and I can’t wait for y’all to read about those journeys in upcoming posts.