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News for Faculty and Staff

April 24, 2014

Global experiences come alive in storytelling event

November 4, 2013

Global experiences come alive in storytelling event

Global experiences can be poignant, funny, uplifting and sometimes unsettling.

“The river was deciding when I was going to breathe and when I was going to get wet,” said Brandon Marshall, a master’s student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, on his rafting experience in Costa Rica.

“The only people in France who don’t speak English fluently are doctors,” said Vivian Burgett, a comparative literature student, on her hospital experience during the first week of her internship in France. When she tried to explain her eyelids were swollen, “It came out like my eyelids are too big,” she said.

They were among faculty, students and staff who spoke at the first “Lost in Translation: Stories of Global Experiences” event in November 2012. The International Career Pathways series presents its second “Lost in Translation” event Thursday in Space 2435 in North Quad. It opens with a coffee hour at 6:30 p.m., followed by storytelling at 7 p.m.

Heather Mann, a graduate student in the School of Education who earned her degree in December 2012, was among storytellers in the inaugural “Lost in Translation” event last year. Photo by Bill Nolting.

“The storytellers haven’t been finalized yet, but the range of stories looks to be as great as last year,” says Kelly Kowatch, service engagement program manager with the School of Information, and one who helped create the program.

The storytelling style of the event was inspired by “The Moth Radio Hour,” in which true stories are told in a live setting. It is presented on public radio stations and via podcast. “The storytellers share profound insights that they have gained through their experiences and tell them to the world in a really interesting, but yet familiar and traditional form,” says Kowatch, a Moth podcasts fan.

Kowatch said that a sub-group of the International Career Pathways Committee, which organized the first event, studied the “Moth” presentation. They also worked with Word of Mouth, the student organization, to optimize the event and keep things interesting through audience interaction.

The stories are no longer than five minutes. “Some stories are about the challenges of things we take for granted at home, such as transportation. That was a repeated theme. Another thing mentioned was the differences in health care access in other countries,” Kowatch says.

James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, told of his experiences in Cambridge, England, in the 1980s. “Stories connect powerfully to our emotions because we are empathetic creatures. These connections allow us to form stronger conclusions, stronger impressions, than we would from simply sharing facts,” he said.

JJ Pionke, who recently earned a Master of Science in Information degree from the School of Information, got the audience laughing with her story. She told how she was surprised to learn during her travel to Uganda that as a plus-size woman she was seen as “a sexy catch.” Pionke said it was the first time she understood how thin women in America might feel to be viewed as a sexual object.

“Learning about the kindness of strangers was also a common area — from wonderful host families to strangers helping people find their way home,” Kowatch says.

The storytellers have included freshmen and graduate students, staff and faculty — all with different perspectives and new stories that haven’t been heard before. “I love that students that attend get to hear personal stories from faculty and staff. It’s an opportunity to see that the folks that teach and work with students are people too,” Kowatch says.

To RSVP, go to sites.google.com/a/umich.edu/lost-in-translation. The event is sponsored by the International Center, School of Social Work and the School of Information.

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