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MC Students Inspired by the Winter Olympics

March 18, 2018

I grew up in the snowbelt of northeast Ohio.  The “lake effect” – brutally cold winds blowing across Lake Erie – would result in significant snow accumulation every winter.  Oblivious to the adult concerns of shoveling driveways and paying painfully high heating bills, I reveled in snow every winter. As a kid, my siblings and I would head to our backyard hill and sled for hours.  This was a pre-Internet, pre-cable TV era. Entertainment was found outdoors.

As the years passed, I tried a variety of winter sports:  ice skating, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing.  When I was in my 20s in grad school in Vermont, I would grab my skis and head to the woods.  The swishing of the skis, the creaking of ice on the Connecticut River, and my breath were the only sounds.

When the Winter Olympic Games come around every four years, it’s no surprise that I catch Olympics fever and tune in to watch luge, skeleton, bobsled, skating, and skiing. As an English language teacher, the Olympics combine some of my favorite things:  international goodwill, learning about different cultures, and snow, beautiful snow.

My students, who hail from African countries, Latin America, and the Middle East, are, unsurprisingly, pretty blasé about the winter Olympics.  They’d shrug and roll their eyes as I shared my excitement about the Games. Meh. Not for us.

As Rollo Romig pointed out in The New York Times Magazine on Feb. 9, “In theory, the Winter Olympics is a global event. But winter is not a meaningful seasonal category for nearly half the world’s countries. And nearly half of the countries of the world have never competed in the Winter Games."

But that’s changing.  To my delight, I recently discovered athletes like Shiva Keshavan, a luger from the Himalayan mountains of India who turned down a lucrative deal to compete on the Italian team because he wanted to represent his home country in the Olympic Games. When he started out, he had to make his own luge.  Now he’s determined to become a coach and mentor to young Indian athletes who want to learn the sport.

How about Akwasi Frimpong, a track athlete and skeleton racer from Ghana, who discovered his love for the sport while living as an undocumented teenager in the Netherlands?  With the support of Dutch soccer star Johan Cruyff, he was eventually able to gain his Dutch passport, excel in both track and skeleton, and later compete under the Ghanaian flag.  Sporting the vivid yellow, green and red of Ghana’s flag and dancing to West African music after a race down the track, Frimpong’s love of his sport and pride of his roots are clear.

Let us not forget Pita Taufatofua, better known as the Shirtless Tongan.  Here’s an athlete who competed in the Summer Olympics in tae kwon do.  Wanting to compete in the Winter Games, he taught himself to ski in under a year and spent only 12 weeks on snow learning his sport.  “If I win a gold medal, I’ll be happy,” he told CNN in an interview on Feb. 16.  “If I come in last, I’ll be happy.”   Miraculously, he not only qualified for the Games, but he managed not to come in last in the grueling 15-km cross-country event.   Grinning from ear to ear, he waited at the finish line to welcome fellow skiers – from Mexico and Colombia – at the back of the pack.  “People are scared to fail, scared of criticism, scared of what their mum or dad will say about stuff and then they don't do anything," he told CNN.  Now, he’s working to inspire kids from his small South Pacific island nation to pursue their own dreams.

And the magnificent Nigerian bobsled team – Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga.  These women, track and field athletes, were born and raised in the US but are proud of their Nigerian roots.  “Although we’re American, we’re also Nigerian… That’s the culture we were raised to respect and understand,” Seun Adigun told the Voice of America in an interview from Feb. 15.  They’re an inspiration to Nigerians but also to young women athletes across the globe. Their goals?  “To help women, the country, the continent,” Adgiun told The New York Times in an interview that was published on Feb. 17.

As I shared these stories with my students, I could see their interest in the Games beginning to grow.  In a recent essay assignment, I asked them to consider the effects of these under-represented athletes on the Olympic Games, on young people, and on the image of their home countries.

One of my students, who is from Ecuador, discovered the story of Ecuadorian Klaus Jungbluth Rodriguez, who learned to ski while studying in Norway.  She wrote, “I felt proud when I knew that an Ecuadorian athlete was going to represent my country, so it was easier for me to realize how people of under-represented countries felt when they watched their flags present in this event; moreover, that made the event more interesting for me and my compatriots.  I know all their work will not be in vain, for even if one person is motivated, their work will be done.”

Another one of my students, from Madagascar, discovered the story of Mialitiana Clerc, originally from Madagascar and adopted by a French family.  Inspired by her story and by other athletes, he wrote: “Even though (athletes from under-represented countries) certainly will not win a medal, they could leave a legacy behind and move the sport forward. Diversity plays an important role in these kinds of events and athletes could represent their cultures in many ways.

The stories of my students – while unknown to the world - are similar to those of these athletes.  Some of them have experienced the uncertainty of living without documents, like Frimpong.  They know financial struggles, as did Keshavan, who worked endless hours as a waiter to make ends meet while training without any financial support from his country or sponsors. They know the pain of overcoming obstacles, like Taufatofua who trained – and fell, repeatedly – on brakeless roller-skis while learning his sport in Tonga.  They know what it’s like to claim two identities, like the Nigerian bobsledders who proudly declare that they are American and Nigerian.

“These athletes remind me of how we should be proud of ourselves and our countries,” my Malagasy student wrote.  “I hope that the message behind their hard work will pass to the next generation because they were the pioneers.”

Only half the world’s countries competed in this year’s Winter Olympics.  But the largest contingent of African athletes, with eight African nations, competed in Pyeongchang.  In Beijing 2022, I expect that number to grow.  Maybe the Games will eventually become the truly international celebration they were intended to be. You can bet I’ll be tuning in – and so will my students.

Heather Bruce Satrom 
Associate Professor, English Language for Academic Purposes program, TP/SS campus 

Read past posts here>>


Bringing Home El Salvador

Seventeen MC faculty, staff and administrators traveled to El Salvador during spring break as the final trip in the Seminars Abroad program. Through Seminars Abroad, a key component of the GHI's National Endowment for the Humanities grant-funded work, members of our community exchange ideas with our colleagues abroad and the GHI builds partnerships supporting future collaborations. To learn more about this trip, you may attend one of the "Bringing Home El Salvador" campus presentations, free and open to the public: 

TAKOMA PARK/SILVER SPRING 
Tuesday, April 24, 9:30 to 11 a.m. CM211 

ROCKVILLE 
Wednesday, April 25 from 11 to 12:25 p.m. SC459 

GERMANTOWN 
Thursday, April 26 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. PK2059 

For more information,  download the flyer.

Global Humanities Justice Fund Student Scholarship

For exemplary performance in Introduction to Global Humanities, GHUM101

The Global Humanities Institute, in collaboration with the Peace and Justice Studies Community, proudly announces a scholarship to support the work of students and faculty actively involved in learning and teaching in the global humanities. 

The Global Humanities Justice Fund is created as an endowment by faculty in the Global Humanities Institute to energize, motivate, and support the passion of students and faculty. We strongly believe that adopting a broadly humanistic and global perspective on the issues that confront our world today is an important means of preparing students and faculty for a complex and intricate future, with issues, concerns and opportunities that are unprecedented. We know that in order to address the needs of our societies and communities in the future, we will need a deep understanding of our global interconnectedness. The interdisciplinary work of the global humanities makes possible this deeper understanding, putting a premium on people’s lives and the ways that mutual appreciation of cultural differences and similarities shape our realities.

Fall Semester Student Applications Due November 12, 2018
Please download the application form to be completed and submitted to the Montgomery College Foundation.  

Information Sheet

Student Application Form

Faculty Application Form
 

GHUM101 Introduction to the Global Humanities 

 An interdisciplinary General Education course that focuses on contemporary issues about fairness, equality, and community around the world from the perspective of the humanities. This course is offered every semester on every campus. Register now for Summer and Fall 2018. A student scholarship is available for this course. Download the flyer for more details. 

GHUM101 Course Flyer [PDF]
 

One College, Many Voices

Montgomery College was recently awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), titled “One College, Many Voices.” This grant will train faculty to integrate global content and perspectives into their teaching and focus on ways to help students improve intercultural competencies. Unlike our previous NEH grant, the focus now is to engage faculty in Communication Studies and in disciplines other than the Humanities. 

The fellowships will take place during the Fall 2018 semester and come with 1 ESH. The application form and information about the fellowship are linked below. The deadline to apply is Friday, April 27.

Call For Fellowship Applications | Fellowship Application Form

The Global Humanities Justice Fund 2017

 The Global Humanities Institute announces the creation of a new fund to support the work of students and faculty actively involved in learning and teaching in the global humanities.

A. Student Scholarship [Three available each year] 

B. Faculty Grant to Support Experiential Learning initiatives for Teaching the Global Humanities [Two available each academic year]  2017 GHI Justice Fund Faculty







Director's Message

The Global Humanities Institute was created in 2012 with the support of a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The NEH, the world’s largest supporter of the humanities, put forth a new initiative, Bridging Cultures, whose aim is to “engage the power of the humanities to promote understanding and mutual respect for people with diverse histories, cultures, and perspectives within the United States and abroad.”


Why Globalize the Humanities?
Watch as the the founders of the Global Humanities Institute discuss the reasons why the humanities should be globalized and why the Global Humanities Institute is valuable to Montgomery College.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txwo8blTpaQ

Campus Conversations

Humanities in Higher Education
This episode of Campus Conversations asks—What are the humanities and why should we study them? It also explores some of the humanities programs at Montgomery College.

View on the Campus Conversations web site.

NEH Humanities Magazine
Fulbright @ MC

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The Global Humanities Institute is a partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Help us Prepare Students for the Global Economy 

When you make a tax-deductible gift to the College’s Global Humanities Institute, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant will provide 50% matching funds. Simply visit www.montgomerycollege.edu/onlinegiving, or contact the Montgomery College Foundation for more information at (240) 567-7900.


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