Learning to Write in Post-Colonial Uganda: Reflections by a Multilingual Writer/Tutor/EAP Instructor

Esther Namubiru is an English and writing instructor and the 2019 Stearns language diversity faculty fellow at George Mason University. She enjoys learning about how to teach reading and writing while helping students develop their confidence in their own linguistic and cultural identities. Having been an international multilingual student from Uganda, and now working as a multilingual instructor, Namubiru is dedicated to the success of multilingual and international scholars.

 

As an international student from post-colonial Uganda, I came to the United States of America already knowing and using English because it is a lingua-franca in my country. It is learned and used alongside other local languages in the region. I learned English in my classes and used it at home, so it was easy for me to write and speak in this language as I moved from one schooling system to another. However, it was not until I began traveling and learning in a different educational and cultural system that I realized how little I actually understood about this language and its relationship to writing, reading, my mother-tongue, my political and cultural history, my identity as a Ugandan international student in an American college, and a multilingual instructor of English for Academic Purposes. Through moving from one academic system to another and interacting with this language in writing and reading contexts, I realized the extent of my underlying assumptions and ideologies regarding what it means to be an English-language user and writer.

1891 map illustrating both the geography and colonial ideologies prevalent during the colonial scramble for Africa.

The writing center is bound to receive international students like me – students from post-colonial societies where English functions alongside other languages but often with fraught political, cultural, educational, linguistic, and historical dynamics. These dynamics impact the way writing and reading are understood and enacted by international students. Some writing center scholarship has begun to explore these dynamics, particularly culture and its influence on language norms, to understand how they impact students’ willingness to apply methods like peer-tutoring which are commonly used in Western academic contexts (Miller, 2002). For example, Miller noted that methods like peer-tutoring were met with skepticism when they were proposed at a new writing center program in a Kenyan university. Both the faculty and students challenged the method due to their perceptions of power in the teacher-student and student-student relationship and their understanding of who was considered a qualified student-writer and could conduct a strong peer-tutoring session (Miller 2002, p. 8). However, if the writing center is to succeed in working with international students from post-colonial contexts like Kenya and Uganda, writing tutors and administrators have to first understand these international students’ unique experiences with the English language, reading, and writing. How do these students perceive reading, writing, and language in their post-colonial context? In light of the colonial history in these contexts, how is English incorporated, perceived, and used in the local education system alongside the students’ own languages? In countries like Uganda where foreign education systems are being used in private and international schools (Ssentanda, 2013), how are students and families who can access these schools adjusting to the different pedagogies related to reading and writing in English?

In this essay, I try to answer some of these questions by sharing the way I learned to read, write, and speak English as a student in post-colonial Uganda and an international student in Kenya. I describe some of the ways I was taught English grammar, essay-writing, and feedback-processing within different post-colonial local and international contexts. I also describe how language itself has played a role in my identity-formation as an international student and my ability to interact with and appreciate my fellow peers and instructors. My experiences are not representative of other foreign students’ journeys (even those with a similar background). Instead, they are meant to start a conversation about the need to appreciate the unique factors and experiences that influence international students as they learn writing and reading in American educational systems. Continue reading “Learning to Write in Post-Colonial Uganda: Reflections by a Multilingual Writer/Tutor/EAP Instructor”

Transnational Collaborations and Writing Center Development at an English-Medium University in Lebanon

Anna S. Habib has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction (2006) and is near completing her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric from George Mason University. She served in several positions in the Mason Writing Center, from graduate tutor to Acting Director. Currently, she is the Associate Director of Composition, managing the undergraduate composition courses for multilingual students at both the George Mason University home campus and at the branch campus in Songdo, South Korea. She also coordinates and teaches the Graduate Writing across the Disciplines courses for INTO Mason, Mason’s pathway program for graduate and undergraduate international students.

WLN blog: Can you share some of your story?
Habib: I was born in Beirut during the civil war[1] to an American mother and a Lebanese father. At the age of four, when the war began to escalate, my parents, sister, and I fled the country on a small boat with other refugees who had found an illegal way out of the country. We made our way to the island of Cyprus where I grew up in a community of immigrant/refugees from Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, and the former Soviet Union. My father’s family opened a branch of their Lebanese school in Cyprus for this community of displaced students. The school followed the French Lycée curriculum, meaning all subjects were taught in French (a consequence of Lebanon’s post-colonial history), but the curriculum also included Arabic literature and language and English and Greek as required courses. When I turned 15, my family emigrated to the US to live with my mother’s parents. The shift from a tiny Mediterranean island surrounded by my native languages and my community of friends to a North Jersey high school in a wealthy community was extremely jarring.

I managed to find my way through high school, and then moved to Virginia to attend George Mason University as an undergraduate student. The campus felt a lot more comfortable than my high school environment—I was surrounded by other students from the Middle East and North African region and began to form friendships again with peers who also spoke Arabic as their first language or who had had similar international experiences.

View from University of Balamand

WLN blog: What was the role of writing centers in your academic experience in the US?
Habib:
I didn’t encounter the concept of a writing center until my undergraduate studies at Mason. In the Lebanese school/French lycée system, writing was not taught as a process. Students were often required to write decontextualized essays in class or at home that demonstrated their mastery of literary/philosophical concepts without any feedback or conversations on drafts. During my undergraduate studies at Mason, I visited the writing center once, but couldn’t appreciate the possibilities of the peer-feedback approach yet. It wasn’t until I was hired as a graduate research assistant for Terry Myers Zawacki and Chris Thaiss’ book, Engaged Writers, Dynamic Disciplines (2006), that I learned about the work of writing centers. I sat in the back hallway of the writing center and transcribed dozens of Terry’s and Chris’ interviews with faculty across the curriculum describing their own experiences as writers, and how those experiences informed their writing pedagogy. As I typed and typed for hours, I watched students and tutors interact in thoughtful conversations about writing projects. Through listening to faculty perspectives and observing tutors and students in action, I began to understand pretty clearly that the role of writing in the US academy was significantly different than its role in non-US academic contexts like the one I grew up in. Continue reading “Transnational Collaborations and Writing Center Development at an English-Medium University in Lebanon”