Elisa is a Swiss student doing a double major at the School of Education in Human Development and International Education Development. She has always been interested in traveling around the world and knowing more about people, languages, and cultures. After the program, she is thinking of ways to increase her skills in curriculum and pedagogy, to create school programs that cather to all aspects of children (cognitive, emotional, spiritual, connection to Nature, …). She is easy-going and likes to spend quality time with her friends.
Brandon: Thanks for joining me today. I’m looking forward to getting to know a little bit more about what you do in your course of study through the IEDP. In the IEDP, there’s a lot of flexibility in how you can build your course of study. Instead of choosing electives in another program, could you talk a little bit about how you built your course of study for the IEDP?
Elisa: I think I really wanted to have tools to think on a broad scale and at the macro level. So, I took Policy Planning with Dr. Michelle Neuman, which gave me a lot of foundational knowledge that I didn’t have–how agencies like the UN and the World Bank work, and how you make policies and laws at the large scale, which I didn’t know at all. This course really helped me understand this. I took ICT4D (Information and Communications Technologies for Development) with Dr. Dan Wagner, which also helped me see how this topic of ICT is treated around the world and the impact it has because it’s increasingly important.
Brandon: You actually have a little bit of a different journey into the IEDP than other students. Since you didn’t actually start out in the IEDP, can you talk about which program you’re coming from, and then, how you decided to double major in the IEDP?
Elisa: I finished my undergrad studies in psychology in Geneva, Switzerland, where I’m from. I loved psychology, absolutely loved it. I discovered that what I was really interested in was more like developmental psychology. I also really wanted to make school programs; I didn’t want to be on a one-to-one relationship only because I wanted to take things to scale. I discovered that in Switzerland, that opportunity doesn’t really exist right after undergrad. If you want to do that, you need to be much older, usually having taught for 25 years, and then maybe you will have a say in the program decision-making processes. I didn’t want to take all that time to wait for my passion to come true. So, I looked into different programs, mostly in the US, and the Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development (ISHD) program at Penn was really everything that I wanted. It had a focus also on social and emotional learning and human development that other programs didn’t have. When I took classes, I was really happy about my decision.
Elisa: At some point I think I got a little frustrated about how micro the ISHD program was; it was about one individual or a small group of peers, which was crucial for my understanding of human development, but this didn’t really give me clues on how to bring that up to scale and make curricula and school programs. Because I was very close with the IEDP cohort of 2018-19, taking classes in the program and going to all the same conferences, it started to appear that it would be a good fit for me, too, to be in the IEDP. I had started thinking this during the first month of my Penn journey, but I was also very happy in the ISHD. When I realized there was the possibility of doing a double major, I was really happy that I could shift towards something that was more macro, even very macro, and also with an international focus which was what I was interested in already.
Brandon: It seems like you felt connected to the courses and to the IEDP cohort; do you do you have a specific memory, or experience or moment when you think the idea came to your mind: Oh, I think I should apply to the program and make this official, rather than just deciding you can take a few classes outside of the ISHD program to broaden your scope.
Elisa: I don’t have a specific moment, but I think it became evident when I would hang out with the IEDP cohort all the time and ask them about what they were doing in their classes, what were their current debates, and what were the hot topics. Then, I would try to be more informed on these topics so we could debate. Also, I was really close to a lot of them, so all the coffee chats and everything would always be around international educational development, international affairs, and things like that. For me, it was more of a process, and I think that’s why it was easier for me to make doing a double major official instead of only taking a few classes because I truly wanted to know about this field.
Brandon: It seems like it was a culmination of things and a feeling, and mostly about the topics that you wanted to complement your studies within human development.
Elisa: Yeah, exactly.
Brandon: You’ve talked about the courses you’ve taken in the IEDP that really made you interested in actually pursuing the double major, but what are some of the courses in the ISHD program that you think better inform your understanding of the field of educational development?
Elisa: I think Introduction to Human Development and Proseminar for Human Development really helped me because one of them was giving us a lot of the theories of how human development happens and works, and the different views on human development; then, the ISHD Proseminar also made us reflect a lot on who we are, why we’re here, and where we are going with all of what we learn. I think it’s quite rare that a class makes you do that, so it was a very interesting journey of both having theories you take in and also sorting out what is going on inside. That was more on the individual level. On the group level, I took a class with Dr. Xinyin Chen that was called Peer Relationships in Childhood and Adolescence. It really made us reflect about how hard it is to do research about all of these things: What is a group, what is a peer, what is friendship, what is love? I think it really made me see how complex all that was but also how very fascinating. But I wanted more; I wanted to know how I could apply this to another field.
Brandon: How do you feel like you can situate a course like Peer Relationships or what you’ve learned in your ISHD Proseminar within development—not psychological development, but international educational development?
Elisa: Well, here comes the question that maybe you didn’t want to ask: What comes next? I think the human development program is very micro, and the IEDP is very macro. My interest is in the middle of that continuum, which is for the best and also too bad a little bit sometimes because I haven’t found specific classes that were in the middle, maybe except for Dr. Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher’s class on curriculum and pedagogy in international contexts. In curriculum development, for me, I think knowledge from the two programs can go together. For example, a curriculum implementer at the UN goes and supports different countries to create curricula that are adapted to their needs. This situation would require some knowledge of how peer relationships happen and how educational development happens, for example. International settings would be where this happens, and then the content will come from both local knowledge and needs, a focus within human development.
Brandon: You talked a lot about how these two programs fit together, as you said, along a macro-micro continuum and how you’re somewhere in the middle. You created a way to fulfill that need through having this double major, almost creating this meso space instead of a macro or a micro, which is really unique, I think. How would you advise other prospective or current students in thinking about their course of study in the IEDP?
Elisa: I think there is a lot of pressure when you have so many courses you can take because you’re so free to choose electives. In ISHD, we’re a little less free. We have to choose, for example, one class out of five in each category, and it’s easier to have a framework. You also need to give time time. While you are at Penn, you get exposed to so many different things and you discover so many interests that you didn’t know you had. I realized a lot of things that interested me in my first spring semester. So, I think taking the first fall semester to be exposed to a lot of different things, going to conferences, and talking to different people would be good. I’m a big believer that there has been nothing in my experiences that was useless or was a mistake. I got exposed to what I needed to at that time. Even if it’s to show that it was not what I wanted, it’s still a very important piece of knowledge.
Elisa: I would also add that I think shopping classes at the beginning of each semester can really help, and also not choosing your classes because other people are going to take them. In those classes, if you really feel like your heart is like, “Yes this is where I want to be”, then it suits you; and maybe skimming through the readings if someone really doesn’t know. I know a lot of people say this, but also trying to see if things outside of GSE work for you. Inside GSE, there’re more than 20 programs. There are a lot of different directions that can be taken, but do not be afraid of taking things that add a bit of variety to your course of study. You can always become more and more of an expert at something as your life goes on. You don’t need to be an expert in something at the end of your one year, or one and a half year. It’s the perfect time now to get very broad horizons and a different perspective.
Brandon: I think that’s some good advice for all students. Is there anything else you want to add?
Elisa: I thought I would come to Penn, and in one year, I would be in and out, go home, and do my thing. And then I realized that a lot more things happen here than just the coursework. As you start understanding things about yourself, you may be changing paths and go somewhere other than where you originally thought. And that’s okay; figuring things out requires a lot of mental and emotional energy sometimes, and I think acknowledging that and taking time to self-care or to reach out and tell people that you’re not always feeling at your best is really important. Doing this also allows other people to feel this way, because vulnerability brings out vulnerability.