The Nightmare of Conference Visa Applications

I currently live in a country which, according to the index of passport power (2018), holds the top ranking passport in the world.

I only have an Iranian passport and I found a website where I could compare my passport with other passports: www.henleypassportindex.com/compare-passport

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If you know me, you definitely know about my UK visa rejections and my online presence at EUROCALL2017 (here is the link to the story just in case: https://parisamehran.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/denied-yet-present-at-eurocall-2017-a-memoir/)

EUROCALL2018 will be held in Jyväskylä, Finland next month. Here is the title of my poster presentation:

Anika Kohler

In the middle of visa application for Finland, I wanted to give up many times and asked myself this question all the time:

“What if my visa application is denied again?”

Many thanks to a Canadian friend who encouraged me to continue and apply, I am off to Tokyo tomorrow to submit the documents on Monday and here I would like to share some of the tweets by Naveen Minai about the challenges of academics in, [and from], the Global South.

Before she starts, she emphasizes that she knows the term ‘Global South’ is still problematic and contested but she needs a shorthand for Twitter.

We need to apply for visas for traveling for conferences and research. Visa applications are time-consuming, expensive, and require a ton of running around and documentations, and approval is not guaranteed even if you have an invitation from conference organizers.

This means we often don’t apply for conferences in other countries because we

  1. can’t afford the visa app fee

  2. don’t have time to complete the visa application requirements

Also, a lot of us earn in currencies which are weak compared to, for example, US & Canadian dollars, UK pounds, or Euros. So it costs A LOT for us to not only apply for visas, but also to travel if we do get the visa in time.

Here is the list of documents that I prepared to apply for the Finnish visa and I have to mention that I paid 75,000 JPY (670 USD) yen for the translation of the Japanese documents. I also need to remark that it took me about 2 months and a half to collect all the documents:

  • Application form
  • Copy of the personal information page in my passport
  • Copy of my alien registration card
  • One colored passport photograph
  • Travel insurance
  • Reservation for travel tickets
  • Hotel reservation
  • Itinerary
  • Bank statement for the last six months
  • Bank account balance statement
  • Certificate of studentship
  • Certificate of Japanese Government Scholarship (Monbukagakusho)
  • Receipt of the conference registration
  • Payroll statement: Princeford English College, Kobe City University of Foreign Languages, Kobe Women’s University, Konan Women’s University
  • Invitation letter from EUROCALL2018
  • My supervisor’s letter saying that all the expenses will be covered by Osaka University
  • My business card
  • Copies of job contracts
  • Certificate of marraige
  • My husband’s alien registration card and personal information page in his passport

This year I also submitted two proposals to ISLS2018. Both of them got accepted, I registered for the conference and paid 160 Canadian Dollars, but I had to withdraw simply because I found the application for Canadian visa too complicated especially because the Visa and Immigration Section at the Embassy of Canada in Japan (Tokyo) is closed and services have been transferred to the Embassy of Canada in Philippines (Manila) plus I did not have time to complete the visa application requirements.

Naveen concludes:

Here, I would like to ask academics in the Global North to please x 10000 include video conference/Skype tech for conferences whenever possible so we can participate too! Esp b/c I do appreciate that funds &/or discounts for international travel & accommodation is also difficult to do!

And I cannot finish this blog post without referring to the following tweets.

Wish me good luck! And let me answer my own question: 

“What if my visa application is denied again?”

I will be online, follow every single tweet of the conference, and will be there via Virtually Connecting! 🙂

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PanSIG2018: GALE Forum

Debunking Stereotypes about Middle Eastern Women in the EFL Classroom

I won the JALT GALE Professional Development Scholarship 2018 and had the chance to present at GALE Forum: “Equality Across Borders” which examined issues related to gender and identity both within Japan and globally.

My colleague, Elisabeth Fernandes, and I explored the theme of debunking stereotypes of Middle Eastern Women. We are both teaching English in the Japanese university context. We first shared our personal narratives focusing on Iran, my homeland, and Pakistan, which Elisabeth visited. We then talked about our collaboration in our English classrooms to dispel stereotypes about Middle Eastern women. We introduced our projects (e.g., “I Am More Than A Stereotype: Meet An Iranian Woman”, “Exploring Stereotypes”, and “Write4Change”) aimed at helping our learners reflect upon these existing stereotypes, and the impact of these misconceptions on attitudes towards the identity of these women. We also discussed how technology helps us fulfill our goals of challenging stereotypes.

 

On the Buzzwords of “Diversity” and “Inclusion”

why-diversity-inclusion_-e1531670748897

Diversity and Inclusion: Before coming to Japan, I had no idea what they mean! After experiencing exclusion and feeling marginalized, I am gradually getting to know these terms.

ELT people in Japan have felt that there is a need to talk about diversity and inclusion and probably this is why the theme of JALT2018 is “Diversity and Inclusion”. It is worth noting that the theme of SIETAR Japan 2017 was “Promoting Equity and Social Change: Acknowledging the Diversity Within”.

Here is the message on JALT2018 webpage:

“To everything there is a season.” And a reason. Now is the season for inclusion, to embrace the incredible diversity within our profession. Although there seems to be much diversion, division, and exclusion in the wider world, the time is now ripe for us to look at the diversity within our practices and ask, “How can we be more inclusive?” In order to support inclusion and create a more level playing field for our students, we need to better understand the evolving language learning and teaching landscape, become aware of the work that is being done in new areas and heed the call from our learners, teachers, and institutions to play our parts in a brighter future.

JALT2018 will provide a platform for new ideas and hitherto unheard voices to be heard. It will provide avenues to open up our classrooms and challenge existing ideas about what we language teachers and our learners need in order to usher in an era of change. We aim to address the concerns of teachers, learners, and leaders and show how “inclusion” provides a place from which multiplicity of thought and action can flourish.

The theme of the conference has been questioned. Here are the questions and you can find them on JALT social media:

  1. Is ‘exclusion’ a problem among JALT members that needs to be addressed?
  2. I must be confused. What does diversity and inclusion have to do with teaching English?
  3. Inclusion is a complex notion. I wonder what it means to everyone. It is obviously more than just being “included in a group”, with a lot of politics attached. Is it equality as well? Is it oriented to inclusion of minorities and removing discrimination?
  4. Would this inclusion and diversity you speak of be extended to those who are skeptical of the leftist / Marxist / post-modern conceptual framework on which the conference is based. This is a sincere question.

These questions encouraged me to do a deep research and find some information about diversity and inclusion. Maha Bali’s blog post, Unpacking terms around equity, power and privilege, and podcast, Complicating diversity and inclusion hosted by Greg Curran, were the best resources to start with. I read her blog post three times and listened to her podcast twice. I paused the podcast and went back and forth many times.

MahaBali1024x512

Here are the parts that I found interesting and thought-provoking:


♥ Becoming Conscious of Our Oppression ♥

Everyone who is a minority in some way at some point in their life becomes conscious of oppression hopefully if they are educated and they start to open their eyes. If you are in that situation and it is happening to you all the time, you start noticing it, and then you realize that it is actually intersectional.

Also, I found the term “colorblind” related to this point. Here are some parts from a post by Na Shai Alexander, Gen Y on D&I: The Problem with Colorblindness in the Selfie Generation. She remarks:

I-dont-see-color-i-only-see-people

How many times have you heard someone in your professional or personal circles say that they are “colorblind” or “don’t see color?”  Or that “color doesn’t matter” to them?  On the surface, these statements seem innocuous. And in a society where much history has been marked with painful recollections of racial tension, injustice, and discrimination, wounds that in many cases are still tender, it is easy to see why the term prevails. Talking about color isn’t easy, and so, in many cases, we don’t.

It is even more bizarre to conclude that we can be “colorblind” in this day of Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and the like. In this “selfie generation,” color is often the first (and hopefully not the last) detail that we see.

Diversity begins with color consciousness, or critical awareness of race and racism. However, awareness of and valuing diversity are not sufficient to achieve it.

Assuming that diverse persons will be attracted to an institution simply because of its excellence or because it values diversity is a passive approach that is unlikely to diversify an institution.

Proactive and ongoing efforts toward inclusion and equity are necessary to create and sustain diversity.


♥ Getting Beyond Generic Approaches to Diversity and Inclusion ♥

A lot of times we talk about diversity or we bring a different person but that does not take into account the complexity of how that different person will fit into the structures that already exist and a lot of times those structures are not modified to support the inclusion.

A lot of times diversity is tokenistic and it is just bringing a different person to look like we have the person but then it does not take into account the complexities why it is difficult for that person to be there in the first place, and once they are there, how to make sure that when they are there their voices are understood not just heard.

Diversity is a “nice” term for the dominant to use, and it implies that just having different people with different backgrounds is a desirable thing, because it benefits everyone, including the dominant. The problem with the term diversity is that it removes power from the equation.


♥ An Intentional Approach to Diversity and Inclusion ♥

The trickier thing is recognizing that diversity is HARD WORK if you want to do it right. Because integrating people who are different from the dominant majority/perspective is not a matter of plunging them in and expecting it all to work out. There will be tension. There needs to be intentional effort to make this work. To make the voices exist alongside each other, when in reality, having a couple of “diverse” voices in a sea of dominance does nothing to challenge the status quo.

Inclusivity is such a problematic term because:

♦ It implies there is a thing that belongs to certain people, and they’re being generous by including others into it, by letting others in.

♦ When I “include” someone, I include them on my own terms, and that’s not the epitome of empowerment. Inclusivity is better than not inclusivity, right? But inclusivity is not empowerment.

You involve people but you keep doing things exactly the same as you have been doing it before. That is not really solving the problem.

When you include one person who is different from everybody else, that does not help. But if you have the diversity of diverse people, that becomes different.


♥ Final Remarks ♥

As a Muslim who has lived in the US and UK, I don’t have a lot of instances of people discriminating me, but when it happens, it is deep because it is not that one incident. There is a lot more behind it. There is background to that feeling. You as an individual are not problematic.

Even marginal people together can silence each other, for example, by not being willing to speak up about certain things.


I keep reading and blogging! 🙂

 

 

How to Achieve Gender Parity in ELT Conferences and Events: Some Guidelines

How to Achieve Gender Parity in ELT Conferences & Events (1)

I am an active member of JALT GALE SIG and we are discussing how to achieve gender parity in ELT conferences, events, and associations in general. It is believed that some guidelines are needed to make the selection processes systematic as there is a fine line between inclusion and positive discrimination. Some good articles have been shared on the GALE mailing list. As usual, I consulted EVE: Equal Voices in ELT. Also, I personally did a search and found some resources.

Here is the list of articles and other resources on this topic that I have read so far:

And here are the parts that I found interesting:

  1. Become aware of our own biases, which means recognizing the lenses that we’ve looked through for our entire lives.
  2. To reduce gender biases, we need to acknowledge them.
  3. Avoid these excuses: https://www.genderavenger.com/excuses/ and https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44310225
  4. Collect the data; i.e., count the number of women and men attending a conference.
  5. Develop a speaker policy; for example, the conference committee wants to achieve a gender balance of speakers that roughly reflects that of its audience.
  6. Make the policy visible and put it online for everyone to see.
  7. Establish a balanced and informed program committee. If the conference program committee is not diverse, then neither will be the speaker list.
  8. Report the data to see how well the conference, speaker series, or symposium meets its stated policy goals.
  9. Build and use databases because some people find it difficult to come up with names of women speakers, compared with men speakers. Here is an example: https://genderequalityelt.wordpress.com/database-of-women/
  10. Respond to resistance. Most criticisms are easily addressed by establishing a dialogue with those who are critical about establishing a policy, and you can prepare in advance.
  11. Support women at meetings. Women often have primary caring responsibility for children. This can limit their ability to travel and to attend conferences. So, be family-friendly.
  12. Take the pledge: When you are invited to help organize, attend, or speak at a conference, ask to see the conference speaker policy before you accept.
  13. Make diversity a strategic priority and expect those who work for and/or with us to do so as well.
  14. Raise awareness of diversity. If you are asked to present, be on a panel, or serve on a committee, ask if there are (other) women participating. If not, suggest names of women to invite.
  15. Consider not speaking at an event unless the event’s organizers are clearly working hard to address diversity on stage.

At Buffer, they ask themselves if the event displays the characteristics of their core  values. Here are some of them:

  • Default to transparency
  • Listen first, then listen more
  • Have a bias toward clarity
  • Make time to reflect
  • Show gratitude
  • Do the right thing

I think some of these guidelines can be applied to achieve highly proficient speaker parity in ELT conferences and events as well.

Finally, here is the most interesting conflict of interest I have ever read:

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
We care about diversity in science and may therefore be biased.

If you want to add more guidelines or share some resources on how to achieve gender parity in ELT conferences and events, which should not be an issue but it is in some contexts, please leave a comment.

Thank you.

Peace ❤

Connecting to Puerto Rico through Augmented and Virtual Realities

This is the story about human connections, about caring, about planting seeds of hope, about changing the world.


Chapter 1: Visa Rejections

Denied yet Present at EUROCALL 2017

My UK visa got rejected three times and I could not physically attend EUROCALL2017. I think the world knows about my visa story, but I share the link here again, just in case:

Denied Yet Present at EUROCALL2017: A Memoir


Chapter 2: Helen DeWaard and VC

I got to know Helen DeWaard through Virtually Connecting (VC) through which I could virtually attend the conference.


Chapter 3: Antonio, Alan, and Postcards for Puerto Rico

After the conference, we stayed in touch on Twitter. She mentioned me in a tweet and introduce a a campaign of mailing postcards to Antonio Vantaggiato and his students, devised by Alan Levine, to say unlike Trump about using these hashtags  . You can read more about the details of the campaign here:

El Puente de Puerto Rico: A Bridge of Postcards by Alan Levine


Chapter 4: My Message

I wrote my message and sent it to Antonio and announced it to the world, and encouraged others to join the campaign.


Chapter 5: Connecting to Puerto Rico

Here are the tweets by Antonio and Alan after receiving my message. Antonio’s blogpost made my day:

I got mail from el Puente de Puerto Rico


Chapter 6: Podcast

I’d love to record one live while Alan is in Australia and interview Parisa Mehran, the author of the first postcard to arrive here, which carried the powerful message:

A woman who has to prove her humanity every day.

We want to talk humanity.

And we did and here are the links to the podcasts:

http://blogs.netedu.info/2017/11/15/podcast-puerto-rico-connection/

http://blogs.netedu.info/2017/12/16/prconnection-episode2/


Chapter 7: Elisabeth Fernandes

Elisabeth

Elisabeth is a great friend and I know her through JALT, . I talked to her about the campaign and she suggested that we could introduce it to our Japanese students and make a lesson pan on how to empathize in English.


Chapter 8: How Can I Change the World: Bookmarks for Puerto Rico

We chose bookmarks as an “educational” item on which our students could write encouraging messages in English, and which could then become a keepsake for the Puerto Rican students.

All about me_001

 

Through the use of virtual reality (VR), our students were able to “travel” to Puerto Rico to experience the devastating results of the hurricane. They were also able to explore the campus of the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón through 3D images.

 

Universidad del Sagrado Corazón 360 View


Chapter 9: Reconnecting to Puerto Rico

Here is Antonio present in our classes.

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Chapter 10: We Care About Puerto Rico

 

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We also utilized augmented reality (AR), Blippar, to bring our #care4sagrado message to life.

AR

My English major students also wrote essays about Puerto Rico:

1-1hggbgj-1ncjsqr.png

http://write4change.edublogs.org/2017/12/04/4-we-care-about-puerto-rico-3/

http://write4change.edublogs.org/2017/12/12/4-we-care-about-puerto-rico-3-group-brainstorming/

http://write4change.edublogs.org/2017/12/12/4-we-care-about-puerto-rico-3-group-outlining-collaborative-writing/

 

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Chapter 11: Humanity

Most of the time I have to deal with micro/macroaggressions and reply to questions that they sound like an interrogation, and people even don’t know my name. “Postcards for Puerto Rico” made a bridge and connected me to people who know my name and they don’t ask me questions. They don’t want me to prove my humanity.

Peace

How to Get More Women to Apply to Speak at a Conference

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I’ll be holding a pre-conference workshop on Augmented and Virtual Realities in ELT this year and the line-up is not gender-balanced (12 presenters and two are women). I decided to apply because I knew that women usually do not present at these edtech workshops. I submitted my proposal, it was accepted, and I’ll be presenting!

I sent a message to EVECalendar (Equal Voices in ELT) on their Facebook page and asked them to help me find ways how to get more women to apply to speak at a conference, especially CALL-related conferences which are mainly male-dominant, as I am in touch with some conference organizers who really want to make their conferences gender balanced. Then, Fiona Mauchline (@fionamau), co-founder of EVECalendar, responded on Twitter, mentioned her colleagues, and we had a chat about this topic:

Here is a summary of the chat.

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Sue Lyon-Jones (@esolcourses_sue)

How about not expecting people to ‘pay to present’? For people who aren’t funded, the cost of attending conferences can be a barrier to participation. Presenting at conferences can add to the cost, both directly and indirectly – particularly for freelancers.

Andy Hockley (@adhockley)

  1. Encourage women directly (when you meet someone doing interesting work, ask them to consider speaking, telling others).
  2. If they are nervous about presenting, give them support, advice. The IATEFL Leadership and Management SIG (LAMSIG) had a webinar with the FairList on this: 
  3. If there are “cultural barriers” to women travelling to conferences (for example), try and make the conferences go to different places. If they can’t come to conferences, can conferences come to them? 
  4. Don’t be afraid to use affirmative action. If you have to choose between two talks to include on the programme, and there isn’t much between them, choose the one given by a woman.

Sophia Mavridi (@SophiaMav)

There ARE indeed fewer women in tech. It’s usually men who put themselves forward, write books, become “names” and plenary speakers. Two reasons in my opinion:

  1. The “male computer geek” stereotype and unconscious bias. It starts at school and continuous indefinitely. The edtech expert has to prove her “geeky” self all the time.
  2. The fear of being a minority in an environment that is notoriously male-dominated is another serious barrier for many female colleagues. You have to become comfortable with it otherwise you just won’t survive.

As a conference organiser, I have to admit it is not always easy to find edtech women speakers. It takes conscious and ongoing effort but that’s the only way to make things happen. we DO need more women in edtech: Plenary speakers, book writers, app developers, and consultants.

And we do need to spread the word and have more discussions like this one and like the super #EVELT tweetchat organised by EVE (@eve_elt) and IATEFL LT SIG (@iatefl_ltsig). You can find some highlights from #EVELT here.

I think it starts from plenary speakers lineups. They’re usually male dominated (few women experts/ book writers etc in edtech and other reasons I mentioned earlier) so you need to make a conscious effort as an organiser.

If women see that plenary lineups are more balanced and there are more and more women who are acknowledged and appreciated as edtech experts, they are more likely to put themselves forward as speakers.

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I’d like to thank Fiona, Sue, Andy, and Sophia for sharing their thoughts. If you are reading this and have an idea to share about how to have female speakers on conference stages, please leave a comment. Thank you.

Peace

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Here are more comments:

Nicola Prentis (@NicolaPrentis)

If they’re the primary childcarer, ask if you can help with childcare for the day. It might only mean designating one person to stand with a baby at the back of the room for the talk. It might mean a creche. Cover the child’s airfare if needed. Realise this can be a barrier.

TESOL MWIS (@TESOLMWIS)

In general, the process of how one to become plenary or featured speaker is opaque. I know people who just seem to get invited because they are well-known, and others petition for years to be invited to speak at conferences. So maybe speakers can share how they got to be speakers?

Efi Tzouri (@efitzouri)

My personal experience has shown that women’s determination is the greatest source of inspiration!


Fiona Mauchline (@fionamau)

Thinking about it, many of the more prominent women in ELT/EdTech are from or in Greece…. you must be doing something right 🙂 Perhaps it’s a sense of community that helps and encourages?

Here are the answers to Fiona’s question for Greence-based ELT researchers:

Julie Moore (@lexicojules)

I’m speaking at a corpus linguistics conf next month, includes some ELT and I’d def say tech-ish … 2 out of 3 plenaries are female and at a rough glance, probably more female than male speakers overall.

Dimitris Primalis (@dprimalis)

We have a good record in Greece! As Tesol Greece chairman, I invited Eva Buyuksimkesyan to present on LT on TG’s very first webinar in 2013. The tradition continues with many excellent women LT speakers, some of whom often present at big international conferences .

Inviting excellent teachers to share their experience with the rest of the community encourages them to present their work. It usually takes one or two presentations and after that they act autonomously.

ChristinaC (@Kryftina)

We do see many women here giving f2f talks & workshops on tech/elt. I think encouragement starts during training and shapes further during practice. 

Community is certainly very strong here and there is great support, both from associations and individuals 🙂

jenjdobson (@jenjdobson)

There’s quite a lot of healthy debate currently about positive discrimination in ELT. I ‘grew up’ as a young adult in a 1980s London culture when this was the norm in my work circles. Am slightly perplexed why people don’t get it. #elttechwomen

Also use #womenintech just got retweeted by @womentechbot created by @sarahmorris926. Maybe outside of ELT they can give us some insights?

 

 

Diversity at JALT and the JALT Code of Conduct

Diversity at JALT and the JALT Code of ConductAdd subheading

After this incident my life changed completely. Now, I actively give talks about the real Iran and the Iranian people behind the news, and blog about the Iranian identity at https://beyondyourstereotypes.wordpress.com/. I am dealing with smiling depression and social anxiety. To heal myself and learn how to respond to micro/macroaggressions, I participate in events/workshops on harassment. I became an active member of JALT GALE SIG. I joined SIETAR Japan. So, I am trying to create something positive out of a horrible experience.

BTW, I added “An Equity Advocate” to the title of my blog, and a couple of emojis to my Twitter account! I also tweet randomly and quite irrelevantly about the unseen Iran!

I just finished writing a report on Gifu JALT event in January 2018 about diversity at JALT and the JALT Code of Conduct, which was developed due to several unpleasant incidents at JALT conferences (including the incident that happened to me –> That was the reason I did not quit JALT and decided to stick around and make little changes, and I am pushing myself to feel belonged to JALT, as inclusion is not the same as involvement).

Gifu JALT

Here are my sketchnotes:

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p.s. Recently, I have realized that there is no “JALT National Conference” but there is a “JALT International Conference”! Well, it is time to dispel stereotypes about JATL, too 😉 I am working on that 🙂

Here is the link to the report in JALT GALE Newsletter:

http://gale-sig.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Spring-Gale-Newsletter-2018-May-16-FINAL-small-5.31.pdf

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