The Story of “Person to Person Peacebuilding, Intercultural Communication and English Language Teaching”

This month we are publishing Person to Person Peacebuilding, Intercultural Communication and English Language Teaching by Amy Jo Minett, Sarah E. Dietrich and Didem Ekici. In this post the authors explain how the book came about.

This book began as a friendship between the authors. In 2014, Sarah shared with Didem that she wanted to provide her pre-practicum students authentic teaching practice. Didem was volunteering for an organization working with Afghan citizens who wanted to improve their English. Thus began a collaboration pairing graduate TESOL students with Afghans seeking English tutors. Tutors and students met through videoconferencing, in a space we call the virtual intercultural borderlands. After each meeting, tutors wrote reflections. The voices within those reflective journals – and their references to war, peace and intercultural communication – inspired this book.

In 2018, Amy, Sarah and Didem met for lunch. Didem was finishing her dissertation on how ESOL students developed intercultural competence by working online with Afghans. Sarah was investigating teacher development through the tutoring project. Amy, who had worked in Afghanistan, asked if she could read their data. Everyone pulled out their laptops and so the book began.

That conversation led to interviews with Afghans and tutors, analysis of reflective journals, and long virtual meetings between the authors (by now we lived far apart). By the time the pandemic had shut down most of the face-to-face world, we were confident in our discovery: that language tutoring and intercultural communication – in the virtual intercultural borderlands where Afghans and tutors met and worked – led interactants to build peace, person to person.

The participants whose voices we share in this book do not negotiate treaties or lay down weapons. They are peacebuilders, nonetheless, whose voices bring to life a constellation of elements pivotal to peacebuilding:

  • A Ukrainian-born tutor overcomes her self-acknowledged stereotypes of ‘Afghanis’ when she and her Afghan counterpart share stories of conflict in their homelands, forming a powerful new in-group;
  • A US-born tutor displays dramatic empathy when discovering her student – who was meeting her from a hot and unairconditioned office – was fasting during Ramadan and could not drink water (the tutor quickly put her water away and offered to reschedule the session);
  • An Afghan woman who was a ‘child protection officer’ describes how her tutor helped her understand guidelines in English as she implemented ‘Father Daughter Hours,’ an international initiative intended to push back against generations of gender violence present in so many Afghan families;
  • A US-born tutor learns her student’s educator parents – threatened with beheading under the Taliban – instructed their son ‘that peace will come through the ink in a pen rather than bullets from a gun.’ The tutor goes on to share this line ‘with everyone’.

On August 15th, 2021, Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. A few Afghan participants made it out during the evacuations. Others are in hiding or have fallen completely silent. Now we work for their evacuation and for the resettlement of those who made it to the US. We also remain endlessly grateful to the voices in this book, as they provide ways educators can more deliberately leverage person to person peacebuilding in the virtual intercultural borderlands of online exchange.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Peacebuilding in Language Education edited by Rebecca L. Oxford, María Matilde Olivero, Melinda Harrison and Tammy Gregersen.

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