Migration—with its emphasis on mobility, encounter, and interdependence—could be considered the human face of globalization. This course treats migration as a global issue, but focuses locally on the essential roles that language, translation, and community play in the lives of those who move through and settle in unfamiliar places and cultures. Linguistic differences shape many aspects of migrant life, while a range of community-based endeavors—including language-learning programs and translation work, both formal and informal—ensure that intercultural communication and exchange occur. Our seminar will explore these issues through readings and discussion, but also through engagement with local NGOs, government entities, and migrant populations.

Our course builds through three interlocking sections. In the first, we gain insight into the issue of migration by reading academic articles, memoirs, and fictional representations of migration. We also meet with local groups working with migrant populations on a range of topics (legal, health, and education issues, story-telling, demographic mapping, etc.). Based on these preliminary readings and local encounters, students will begin to define individual interests in a class report and short reflective paper.

The second part of the course concentrates on language and translation as essential if often overlooked elements of the broader experience of migration. Linguistic abilities and access to translation services can affect an individual’s likelihood to effectively negotiate legal frameworks, or even at times to survive. Even when migrants have successfully resettled, language and translation can influence their ability to reach their human potential. Language learning and translation also allow migrants and host populations to effectively converse, share ideas, and articulate cultural identities. Through readings, meetings with interpreters, and hands-on work translating documents for local NGOs, we will learn more about how issues of language and translation affect migrant populations, as well as the populations to and through which they move.

In the final part of the course, we bring together what we have learned about migration, language and translation—both globally and locally, academically and experientially—to consider the difference a local community makes in the lives of new arrivals, and vice versa. Using our seminar readings and discussion as a foundation, each student will pursue an independent project with a chosen NGO or government entity and write a final paper reflecting upon this experience. The results of these projects will be shared in our seminar before they assume their final form.