Georgia College and German students practice language skills by discussing climate change

Georgia College and German students practice language skills by discussing climate change

Dr. Hedwig Fraunhofer
Dr. Hedwig Fraunhofer
W orld languages and culture students this summer polished their French- and Spanish-speaking skills––while reflecting on the worldwide climate crisis and finding ways they can affect change.

The course was part of the GC Border Free initiative, which utilized Zoom to create an international classroom. Thirteen Georgia College students interacted online with education majors in Northeast Germany, who needed to practice their English skills.

“This was a really innovative and ambitious course. It brought together a diverse group of students from both sides of the Atlantic and got them thinking together across cultural differences about an urgent global problem,” said Dr. Libby Murphy, chair of World Languages and Culture.

“This, to my mind, is liberal arts learning at its best,” she said.

The course, “Climate Crisis: Teaching Fiction and Philosophy at the End of the World,” was offered by Dr. Hedwig Fraunhofer in conjunction with Professor Laurenz Volkmann at Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany. This international collaboration, combined with a current-event topic, attracted student interest.

A liberal arts college is where we can establish these connections across disciplines. It is really ideal for this kind of social effort.
– Dr. Fraunhofer
Fraunhofer is originally from Germany. The topic of climate change is frequently discussed in Europe, she said. In the United States, however, the issue gets lost in a myriad of other subjects. To counteract that, Fraunhofer said it’s imperative for educators of the humanities to get involved. Students in this course came from a variety of majors like biology, health science and creative writing.

“A liberal arts college is where we can establish these connections across disciplines. It is really ideal for this kind of social effort,” Fraunhofer said. “The science is in, but nobody’s doing anything about it. That’s the role of the humanities: How are we going to make people realize what’s going on and how urgent it is?”

Biology professor Dr. Melanie DeVore gave a guest presentation about the science of climate change. Guests from Germany spoke about pedagogy and involved students in discussing ways to teach climate change and garner attention.

Students read a graphic novel in French and another novel in Spanish by a South American writer. They worked in bi-national groups and co-presented projects in class. Fraunhofer worked to “create strong conversations” among students. One topic of discussion was “greenwashing.” That’s when corporations present themselves as ecological, but it’s a pretense for profits.

For their final assignment, students were asked to link what they learned in class to their majors and career interests. Some wrote short stories, while others created visual art or wrote academic papers.  
 

Liliyan Ibrahim
Liliyan Ibrahim
Liliyan Ibrahim, ’21, of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, wrote a business proposal for her final project. She graduated in the spring with a degree in business marketing and a minor in French. Ibrahim wants to be a fashion designer. For years, she’s been working on her own clothing line called “16Arrow.” The world languagess and culture course was a chance for her to work on her dream, while exploring the fashion industry’s effect on climate patterns.

Ibrahim learned how “fast fashion” results in low-quality clothing. Trendy, hastily made styles wear down easily, ending up in landfills. Ibrahim wants to make clothes with high-quality, sustainable fabrics that are environmentally friendly. Organic fabrics, like cotton, linen, hemp and bamboo are biodegradable and discharge fewer chemicals into water systems. These fabrics last longer, she said, but they’re also more expensive.

“I knew about these problems,” Ibrahim said, “but I never knew how bad it was and how these things can potentially affect the future.”

Joshua Haymes, Andrea Villatoro and Liliyan Ibrahim talk online with Dr. Fraunhofer.
Joshua Haymes, Andrea Villatoro and Liliyan Ibrahim talk online with Dr. Fraunhofer.
Sophomore nursing majors Joshua Haymes of Effingham, Georgia, and Andrea Villatoro of Guyton, Georgia, took the course to strengthen their Spanish skills and learn more about climate change. Haymes’ mother is from Peru, and he enjoyed delving deeper into his family background. Villatoro’s family is from Guatemala. With the help of a friend, they created an information video about climate change in those countries.

The climate subject complemented their future careers as nurses.

The course was like a breath of fresh air. Ultimately, the dangers of climate change all tie into public health.
– Joshua Haymes

“The course was like a breath of fresh air,” Haymes said, “Ultimately, the dangers of climate change all tie into public health.”

Their 8-minute video was done in Spanish. It required research, writing dialogue for the script and adding visuals. Villatoro visited her relatives in Guatemala this summer and sent them a copy of the video.
This is the “ultimate reason to learn a language,” according to Fraunhofer. “It’s not about verb conjugation but the ability to relate to other cultures.”

She points to future disasters––up to 50 percent of species potentially going extinct by 2050––if nothing’s done to mitigate climate change.

“That means there won’t be any bees, there won’t be any fish in the ocean, and one of the species that will eventually become extinct, if we don’t change our game, will be humans,” Fraunhofer said. “It will completely change the way we live. Every course should talk about climate change these days. It’s an existential threat to all of us. We all need to talk about it.”