April 20, 2015 at 2:46 pm

A Life-Long Passion for Language and Culture: Linn Forhan

By Tetyana Dovbnya
OPIE and College of Arts & Sciences International Student Adviser

As faculty and students approach the end of the semester and might start running out of steam, it is good to remember the joys and rewards of teaching and learning that we gain at the university.

Linn Forham

Linn Forham

Linn Forhan, Assistant Director of the Ohio Program of Intensive English, tells us her exciting story of teaching international students at Ohio University, which spans over four decades. She has been a witness to the myriad of changes and transformations in OPIE and the university, and now willingly shares her lifelong passion for culture and language with her students and colleagues.

Linn Forhan has been an asset to OPIE ever since her start as a teaching associate (TA) in the program in the late 1970s, gradually moving to her current position as assistant director. She continues to be an avid student advocate who impacts OPIE policies and safeguards the students’ and faculty’s teaching and learning satisfaction. At different points of her career Forhan served as the chair of TESOL’s* Socio-Political Concerns Committee, the president of Ohio TESOL, and the chair of the Ohio University Human Relations Committee. (TESOL Inc. is a professional association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.)

Helping Students Through Iranian Hostage Crisis, Polish Solidarity Movement

However, it is not the titles that make her a prominent teacher, active social rights figure, as well as an effective administrator. To name a few of the important thresholds of her professional life: she participated in the first International Week in the history of Ohio University; she organized the Safe-House initiative established for Ohio University’s international students in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian U.S. embassy siege and hostage crisis; she participated in a series of seminars and workshops for the members of the Polish Parliament following the Solidarity Movement, as the nation transitioned from communism to democracy; she also impacted the TESOL profession by leading a fight for the rights of non-native English speaking teachers successfully advocating that ESL (English as a second language) teachers be evaluated on the basis of their proficiency in English language rather than on the requirement that it be their native language.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Forhan became an avid traveler after her first study abroad experience. As a sophomore at the University of Detroit, she participated in a one-year study abroad program in Dublin, Ireland. During that year, she had a chance to travel throughout Europe, and was fascinated by the places she visited and the people she met. For that reason, after graduating from the University of Detroit with degrees in Psychology and History, she went back to Europe. Her friendships with some German students during her Dublin year excited her about the German culture and language. Hence, Forhan spent a summer in a little German mountain town, Nasau an der Lahn, working in a family business and simultaneously learning the language and culture. “I had a blast!” she exclaims, now remembering her first travels.

‘We Were Stereotyped’ Abroad

Adjusting to new cultures was not only exciting but also challenging, Forhan recollects. Some of the most striking things were the differences between the seemingly alike countries, the United States and Ireland. Her family encouraged her to explore her ancestral roots in Ireland, so she went there first. Apparently, she did not expect to encounter so many cultural differences. Only after her arrival in Ireland did she understand how wrong her assumptions had been. To a lot of her Irish peers, she symbolized America; the prevalence of anti-American feeling in that time took her aback. “We were stereotyped,” she says, “and at the beginning, Irish students were reluctant to get to know me, so I felt lonely.” However, very soon she became good friends with her housemates, which helped her feel more “at home” there. Linn also mentions how helpful and wonderful her professors were.

After graduation, Forhan went to Washington, D.C., to work for an anti-poverty project. Shortly after that, she undertook a fabulous hitchhiking tour across the Sahara and throughout West Africa, where she met a lot of Peace Corps volunteers. She says those encounters were eye-opening to her, so it did not take her long to become a Peace Corps volunteer herself. She spent three years in Peace Corps Morocco, learning both the Moroccan dialect of Arabic and Moroccan culture. She also learned the methodology of teaching English as a foreign language there, and during her third year in Morocco, she became a language teacher-trainer in the Peace Corps. Upon returning to the United States, Forhan went on to get a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics from Ohio University, staying “a willing captive” since then.

Forhan joined OPIE in the late 1970s and found this place a great fit for the realization of her passion for teaching and meeting people from different cultures. She remembers that at that time, OPIE was very diverse, with students from Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Venezuela, Brazil, and Iran, to name just a few. After getting her master’s degree, she was hired on a joint appointment by OPIE and the Office of International Student and Faculty Services as an English teacher and international student adviser. Soon, in the early 1980s, as international student enrollment at Ohio University continued to grow, both positions became full-time, and she moved to a full-time faculty position in OPIE.

Forhan remembers how different the OPIE program was during the beginning of her career in terms of curriculum and technology. She remembers having no photocopier, rather only mimeograph and ditto machines. She also recollects how in the listening lab students used to wear headphones while listening to cassette recordings. However, she also notes that OPIE has long been on the forefront of computer-assisted language learning, using computers and other forms of media for English language instruction. Another important dimension of OPIE, according to Forhan, was the strong and active OPIE faculty curriculum committee. It allowed the program to re-evaluate a five-day English language program schedule.

‘The students used to burn out toward the end of a quarter because of the intensity of the courses,” she says.

The program also realized the need to integrate students who were learning English in OPIE into the wider Ohio University community creating extracurricular programs such as Conversation Partners, OPIE orientation, and a series of lectures by guest speakers from around the campus and Athens community. This gave the students a valuable chance to learn the culture on top of the language and was an effective step toward their successful adjustment to life at Ohio University. A reading lab was also added to the other mandatory classes. Uniting three single-hour English language classes into a three-hour core class made it possible to integrate the individual language skills taught, thus enhancing the program considerably. Writing and Pronunciation labs were added in subsequent years, expanding the program and effectively addressing the students’ academic needs.

Forhan notes another more recent milestone in OPIE’s growth after Dr. Gerard Krzic became director of the program. He reconsidered the criteria for undergraduate students’ advancement to the next level, adding class grades as alternatives to TOEFL and composition exam scores. Standardizing OPIE syllabi and ongoing standardization of assessment rubrics have made the program more consistent and transparent to the students and their future alma mater. Overall, Forhan says, the core of OPIE has not changed much; the program has always addressed the changing academic and socio-cultural needs of the international students.

‘The rewards of teaching among creative, generous, and caring colleagues, as well as wonderful students from around the world are the things that have kept me feeling grateful and very happy to be a part of OPIE,” she concludes.

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