Women of the Northwest

Elizabeth Cole-Cultivating Skills and Cross-Cultural Connections

September 05, 2023 Elizabeth Cole Episode 77
Women of the Northwest
Elizabeth Cole-Cultivating Skills and Cross-Cultural Connections
Show Notes Transcript

Elizabeth's wide variety of international experiences have led her to believe that we don't have to let our differences divide us. We can find common ground and develop relationships.

  • [00:29] Jan and Elizabeth discuss Elizabeth's diverse background and experiences.
  • [04:28] The conversation takes a turn as Elizabeth talks about the challenges of the year 2020 and its impact on her career.
  • [07:44] Elizabeth shares her decision to transition into nursing and the reasons behind it.
  • [09:46] Jan and Elizabeth discuss the challenges faced by educators during the pandemic and its impact on students.
  • [11:36] The conversation shifts to the value of nurses and the rewarding aspects of the profession.
  • [13:25] Elizabeth talks about her interest in mountaineering and how it has influenced her decision to pursue nursing.
  • [15:35] Jan asks Elizabeth about her favorite job from her diverse career.
  • [17:50] Elizabeth shares insights from her experience working with refugees, highlighting the importance of empathy and understanding.
  • [21:37] They discuss the impact of cultural experiences on individuals' perspectives.
  • [26:09] Elizabeth reflects on the importance of recognizing and respecting diverse worldviews and values.

Subscribe to the Women of the Northwest podcast for inspiring stories and adventures.
Find me on my website: jan-johnson.com

[00:29] Jan: So I just know a little bit. Your mom keeps telling me all these things, oh, best doing this and best doing that, and it all goes, oh, that would be a great interview, but tell me.
[00:41] Elizabeth: Yeah. In college, I did my junior year in Ecuador, and then after college, I spent the summer in Chicago volunteering, actually a Catholic Order of Liberation theologists. I lived in a convent. I worked in a area that had gang gang violence, and then that way I did that over the summer. And then in the fall, I went to Mexico, and I had an international internship at a bilingual school. I came back and just started working in Portland and had different jobs working. One was with severely emotionally disturbed children and youth, and I was a translator for Early Head Start. And then I worked for the library doing bilingual outreach. And then I went to Korea for a year, and I taught English there. Came back, lived in Wyoming at a national park, worked in a concessionaire. Then I started studying Chinese and Korean for a year, and then I did graduate school. And then I got my master's in Tsaw teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. And then I worked at Portland State University and Portland Community College as an adjunct. And in 2010, I got an English language fellowship from the State Department. And I went to Algeria for a year. Where? I was in Constantine. Algeria? And in that role, I was teaching some classes and doing cultural programming for the American Coroner, which is another embassy program and also doing activities for the there's another US. Embassy program under the Culture and Education branch of the State Department that is working with at risk youth and doing youth programming called the Access Program. And then I came home, and after a year, it was a year long position, kept being an adjunct. And I had various other roles that I did, like I was community based learning faculty specialist and things like that, along with being an adjunct. And then I finally got a full time job at Pacific University. But unfortunately, that was working well. Tell the good part first. That one was good. Where I was working, interestingly enough, it was in the College of Optometry. There was a program where it was a joint initiative with Pacific University and some universities in China to create this program, where the students in China would do the first three years of a bachelor's degree in China in vision using designed curriculum prepared by Pacific University. Then they would complete their last year in Pacific University in the United States. And I was doing the english language portion of it. So the language skills they would need to do this, which was great until 2020.
[04:28] Jan: When everything fell apart.
[04:30] Elizabeth: When everything fell apart. And obviously no more students came from China because of what happened, that program was already canceled because they couldn't complete their prerequisites, they couldn't travel, they couldn't even because we had all these things like take the IELTS test, there was no IELTS testing. Things like just it all fell apart immediately within two, like, this is not going to happen next year, even sooner. It was like, this is just it's just not going to happen. And then, of course, it ended up hitting the United States as well. Kind of nailed the nails in the coffin. So anyway, then I could have just had unemployment. But it was kind of freaking me out because we had no clue what was going to happen. I was just sitting at home, very stressful, so I just applied once jobs came available. And the first one was I got offered, I took, which was teaching in a pre K. I was actually setting up a pre K program in a title school with a large number of bilingual students or Spanish speaking dominant students. So again, I could use my language skills and set up the program to run virtually, which actually had some really good I mean, obviously that's not ideal, but there were some good aspects to it, such as the parents are really able to be involved, the ones who are not working right. I made these packets for them where we had these hands on activities so they could be doing these literacy and math activities. And it was really fun, actually. They loved it and really able to be engaged in their child's learning. Yeah, I think that part was positive. And for parents with young children, a lot of them had younger babies and things, and they would not have been able to be volunteering, I don't think. There was one family that had adopted a little boy and all the rest had four children or more, and then the babies and little ones would join in and singing.
[06:53] Jan: And so you were teaching them the parents as well, to give them the skills of things, too?
[06:59] Elizabeth: Yes, and of course, we're learning from the know and getting all this information from the then, but then when we came back in person, it was very chaotic, and I ended up leaving and going to work at Roosevelt High School, Portland, the year before that. And then last year I worked at McDaniel High School, which both title one schools. Very diverse schools. Great. I really enjoy my time at McDaniel working with an ESL. And then while I was doing that last year, I took the prerequisites for nursing. And in the fall I'm starting. That brings us up to the present day.
[07:44] Jan: Wow. Okay, well, what language are you most fluent learned?
[07:51] Elizabeth: I studied French in Algeria. So I became kind of intermediate level and then I studied Chinese, Korean and Arabic, but I've forgotten a lot of it. Even French I've forgotten a lot of, but had a year of Chinese, two years of Korean.
[08:09] Jan: So by the switch to nursing well.
[08:15] Elizabeth: The time of teaching in those schools during the pandemic was really challenging. When we were back in person and dealing with the surge, well, even just coming back and the burden placed on classroom teachers was really high. They were dealing with so much and having those young children, they were always sick, but they wouldn't get sent home because it wasn't COVID enough. And then we were just dealing with this constant strain of not enough resources, but not like normal people would quit that day and not come back or people would run out their sick time just because they were frightened. And rightfully so, actually, because then the surge happened and by that time what I was doing in between the pre K and the high school was filling in. So I worked for the school district, just trying to patch up the holes. That was Forest Grove. I was trying to patch up the holes. Well, we all were because there were so many absences, just so many absences. And the kids were very they were struggling a lot with their mental health and it was very stressful for them because everyone just put them back into this situation.
[09:46] Jan: Yeah, and then they had lost a couple of years, basically.
[09:49] Elizabeth: In some case they've not even been.
[09:50] Jan: To school and they start yes.
[09:53] Elizabeth: And then maybe lost family members. And I was in the middle school one day and there were just so many problems, not like behavior challenges like oh, these kids, but just mental health issues happening. And there was a school shooting threat one day and the kids were just panic stricken and afraid, terrified. So I just saw all these challenges and I did think, well, why am I working as a teacher and this is my working condition. And also the pay I was making because I had to start back at the bottom of the pay scale because they wouldn't accept my previous experience because it wasn't licensed. And so then I just was like, this is just I don't want to be dealing with this acuity mental health and physical illness where we're trying to keep this young children socially distanced. It's just not even developmentally appropriate. You're just doing all of these things. And I just decided that I wanted to go into nursing to work at the problem in a different manner that was more health based and maybe I know that healthcare has its challenges and of course, a lot of nurses got burnout same time. But also, I think you would at least get overtime for all the work that you did.
[11:32] Jan: You get paid what you're worth when you nurse.
[11:36] Elizabeth: Yes.
[11:38] Jan: My daughter Sydney was nursing at OHSU, for six years, her starting salary was 30,000 more than my retirement teaching.
[11:47] Elizabeth: Oh, my God. Yes. That's kind of what made me I worked so many extra hours I know, money and then I'm making the starting wage, dealing with these situations that are very challenging and they don't really think are first year teacher type, normal situation. First year teacher and I wanted to go into mental health nursing. So behavioral health. Well, I don't think we all know that there is a major crisis right now in youth mental health. And then I do a lot of outdoor stuff. Also I do mountaineering. And that has led me to also have an interest in the medical field because there are a lot of injuries that occur in the accident that's another thing kind of different and probably would not have pushed me into. Nursing in the way that or not pushed me, but led me in the way. That's been a big part of my life. And I wanted to be more useful in the outdoor community with some medical skills. Yeah, because there's just not a lot that well, there's still not a ton you can do because you don't have a hospital there. But at least there's more that we could do if we have medical knowledge than no knowledge.
[13:22] Jan: You do rock climbing and that too.
[13:25] Elizabeth: Yeah. So that's what another thing I was doing was just kind of working my way through building my skills and learning a lot of technical skills for mountaineering and climbing. But I think the working full time for an extended because I had to get a teaching license during that time in an online program while I was teaching online, and then I was also teaching a night class for a while during that time. So it was just the three years of chaos and working 60 hours at least a week or working so much to try to keep the school together, classroom together, and just working a lot extra for three years. And then last year with the anatomy and physiology and microbiology at the same time and teaching full time, it just really stressed my body out to the point that now I have these injuries.
[14:29] Jan: Where are you doing your training for your nursing? OHSU, but also with your knowledge of languages, it'll be good for you to be in there because there's so many times where you're drawing pictures and trying to get to the language barrier.
[14:49] Elizabeth: Well, I taught ESL all those years, so what I was doing a lot was teaching this very beginning level for immigrants and refugees. So I have a lot of experience working with languages. I can't speak, but making information, I won't say comprehensible, but at least maybe more comprehensible than it otherwise would be. Yeah.
[15:21] Jan: And those skills will go right into your nursing. All that I mean, my gosh, you've had so many experiences. What was one of your favorite jobs in that whole list of things.
[15:35] Elizabeth: I liked working. Okay, the favorite one, it's hard to pick, but I really liked teaching level one. I did not like being an adjunct. It was really hard. It's exhausting. But I did like working with that group. It's a very special class to teach. It's really unique because for a lot of people, it might be their first contact on what their process was of joining our country. And so the people who were refugees, they're probably referred by one of the Urco or Catholic Charities or Lutheran Family Services. We've worked a lot with those people. But then also for some people, it might be their first point of contact with any kind of institution. And you're doing a lot with just also with some people's, maybe first contact in a long time or very sustained educational tuition involvement because some people do not have prior education. And so usually now people will have had some school, but it often might not have been very much like it might have been intermittent or just some minimal thing in the mountains of Guatemala. Like know, that's a unique situation. But then you can have a doctor in the same room and you could have a lawyer, know, especially when we had all the Iraqi refugees, a lot of them were educated, know? And so it's also a place where if you do have the recent refugees, which a lot of them are like, I would get their first days in the you know, and so they're coming with their like, we had someone from Syria. We had just people who had been through something that we just really can't know.
[17:50] Jan: Don't you think too with I think it's the same thing. I think everybody should go to a third world country anyway just to understand how some other people live a lot of the world lives. But also when you have that kind of direct experience with refugees and then you hear people's opinions of what should happen with refugees or whatever, it's just like you just kind of want to go, wait, let me tell you about how it really is. I just thought that why to come to a point where you feel like, I really have to pack up and leave everything I have and everything I know to take a chance on going someplace else. I mean, that's huge.
[18:35] Elizabeth: Oh, yeah. I mean, people were smuggled across. I know more about the people from Iraq. They had very dangerous escapes from a very dangerous situation. And we had a young man who had been paralyzed. And some of this was the direct result of American action, you know what I mean? Like bombs falling on their houses, destroying their house, killing family members. It's really something that we need to I wish the United States would just take in more refugees because these people need to, like, without us taking them in. It's just putting more burden countries. We're definitely meddling in a lot of places and even if not, it's just the kind thing to do. What if we had a situation? We were refugees, then we would be taking other people to take us.
[19:45] Jan: Yeah. Yeah. I had done a play with the high scores for it involved in Tapata and the mean, you know, Napa kids that don't haven't been outside of their area and know very little about any people of color. So I took them to Portland and with Erco and we went to one of the high know and they welcomed us in and know, sat and visited and had conversations, had lunch together, whatever. And it just totally changed who they were to have that experience.
[20:21] Elizabeth: Yeah, that's a great activity. And even reverse bringing urban kids to see a rural area and have them meet each other. I think that's great because we do have that divide, that rural urban divide. And obviously I grew up in Napa so I it's challenge right now in this country that there's a lot of division but it evolved that way. But I don't think it needed to happen. I think that people could get along and have more similar ideas.
[21:01] Jan: Yeah. And it means having conversations and building relationships with people because that's where you find out that you're not really someone else, you're just people, you know, you don't have to have all of those and you enjoy, learn to enjoy the differences. I started writing books, but one of my books was focused a lot on a nonprofit and doing things with refugees and that kind of I think because of that experience too. What was that like, working with the gangs?
[21:37] Elizabeth: Well, I didn't work with them. They were present.
[21:41] Jan: They were present but you were not.
[21:43] Elizabeth: Working with them directly. There was an agreement brokered between the gangs, the church and the police. And so where I was volunteering, the counselors were police officers and there were these youth like peer mentor type counselors. And then there was one art teacher and me and the police were just to create safety and security for the kids to be able to play. They were older kids. It was supposed to be for middle schoolers and high schoolers, but it was mainly the kids that participated were middle school to maybe freshmen more like the older high schoolers didn't participate in it and maybe even fifth graders. It's been a long time now. It's in 1999. Yeah. So it was interesting walking. So I would take the bus. Taking the bus in Chicago was really different than Portland and really different than we just do not have something like that out here. You ride on the bus and I lived in a predominantly Mexican immigrant. They sometimes people use Mexican as like a catch all, but people tend to move in groups. Like one person goes and another person gets a job at the supermarket. And now you have five people from the town at the supermarket, and now you have the whole town, you know what I mean? And so a lot of people were from Maurlia, where we lived. And anyway, then you would ride, and if you just kept riding, pretty soon everyone on the bus, it would just shift, and the people would become all black and American, and it was these very distinct regions. Then if you went in the other direction, pretty soon now more and more Caucasian people on the bus, and so that was very different. So I would take the bus, and it was in this area. It looks kind of rough or whatever, and then you get out and cross through the Gang area to get to the park. But there was this truth, and so if they knew you were affiliated with this, they wouldn't bother you because it was for the kids. Then there was a heat wave that year, which now it's like, okay, that's like anything at the time, it was like, Whoa, it's 95. Now it's like, that's dystoria heat wave. So we did play a lot of sports and do art activities. It was a sports camp, but then it just got so hot. They lived in these complexes and didn't have air conditioning where I lived. I lived in a convent. So hot. The kids just laid down. We would go into the pool. They had to have hair nets. Got to have swim caps or hair nets. I don't remember one of the two, I think swim caps. They never have their swim caps. Some people don't have their swim caps. You have to walk, and that would be like, kind of like, whoa, we're leaving this area, and to walk, to buy a swim cap at a little store. They were very sweet kids, and I enjoyed working with those kids. They were all almost all except for one exception, like the children of the immigrants. And there were some foster kids that were not but other than that, they were all yeah, all Spanish speaking children.
[25:50] Jan: Of the if you could say something, what was something that you've really learned about working with different cultures or, I don't know, maybe a philosophy of life or something you've come to through all those different experiences?
[26:09] Elizabeth: A philosophy of life? Wow, okay, let me think on that. So I think I had a lot of training through the different programs that I did when I studied abroad. We had a week long orientation and then continuing orientations and education while there, and same for the other programs. And then my master's degree had a full term on intercultural communication. And so I've had a lot of combined with all that experience and professional development, I think really trying to realize that there are these other worldviews and ways of seeing things and you might not be able to understand it, but they're there. And it's just as important and real to the other person and valid as your way is. So we do have a lot in common and we can make connections with people. Like, I was in a taxi once with the driver was a Muslim and we just ended up singing together, you.
[27:22] Jan: Know what I mean?
[27:23] Elizabeth: And I had a friend that was an imam and we went to this big I don't really know what it was. I didn't really understand can then read the words because it was all in Arabic and I understand it well enough, but there's a bunch of religious figures and I'm sitting with them and they're smiling at me and I smiled at them. I don't know really what was going on, but we were there and having a moment of yeah, so basically they're on the one hand, you can make these connections, you can come to understand each other. On the other hand, we can't say, oh, we're all alike, because there are differences, which we were just referring to with that rural and urban divide. And there's worldviews on how you perceive reality that we've been shaped and it can change, they can shift, but that person can understand something in a fundamentally different way than you do. Right?
[28:33] Jan: Yeah.
[28:34] Elizabeth: And that's the origin of so much conflict and so recognizing our commonalities and seeking to understand how a viewpoint might differ and why it's different and what are the underlying values, because we might have like hospitality is a shared value perceived, how that's enacted could be very different. That's going to be here or maybe just how you conceptualize like we're seeing this right now. Some people conceptualize gender in a different way than other people and we're not aligning on that right now. And so that's like a worldview that's different. And so how do you interact with people when you have these differences? I think, yeah, a lot of different views than my students. Some of them had really very and they had very different views from each. So we're not going to have exactly the same view as them, but how do we still connect?
[29:49] Jan: Oh, well, elizabeth, thank you.
[29:51] Elizabeth: You're welcome.
[29:52] Jan: This is really interesting. Anyway, thanks again.
[29:58] Jan: If you enjoyed or any other of my podcast episodes, it would be amazing.
[30:03] Jan: If you would take a few minutes.
[30:04] Jan: To leave a review so others can find it. Transcripts are available on my website@janjohnson.com. Please join me again next week.