Zanmitay Collective is so happy to feature Eva-Maria Trinkaus, our first international scholar and educator dealing with feminism, agism, and intercultural education. Check out what Eva-Maria has to say about teaching intergenerational language classes in Austria and how this has shaped her approach to teaching and opened her mind up to feminism and age-ism in the field of education in Europe.
Eva-Maria Trinkaus is a doctoral candidate at the Center for Inter-American Studies of the University of Graz, Austria, where she also works as a project manager for academic intercultural exchange programs such as the Graz International Summer School Seggau. Since 2010, she has been working as a freelance English teacher, and since 2015 as a freelance translator and language coach. Eva is currently doing research for her doctoral studies in with a focus on food, body, gender, and place in the literatures of the Americas.
[Photo credit: Gerd Neuhold.]
What are three things you’re passionate about?
Education, feminism, and (in)equality
What leadership role/teaching/activism do you have/do in your community? Why? How did you get into this work?
Since 2010 I have been an English language teacher in informal education at a school for adult learners in my hometown. I was still at the beginning of my studies and looking for a job that was related to my field (English and American Studies) and being a language teacher seemed feasible. Little did I know at this point that my being a sole actor in this field soon changed into becoming someone who has the possibility of shaping and transforming my students’ lives. Teaching, in this context, can also be considered a kind of social activism and a step towards making high quality education accessible for people from various age cohorts and backgrounds. The school I work for provides funding for one course per semester which leaves all students with a feasibly low fee, and allows people from a variety of backgrounds to join courses. Independent of their social or cultural background, age, or ability, all people interested in learning languages are strongly encouraged to participate, and it’s the educator’s task to create an inclusive environment that pays attention to everyone’s individual requirements and needs.
What do you hope your students/community will be transformed by in your work/leadership perspective?
The school itself has existed for years and is a side project of the Austrian Chamber of Labor. However, including retired people into the learning process is a relatively new concept and not the institution’s primary goal. We create a space in which, apart from successful learning outcomes and the ability to communicate in a different language up to a high age, we encourage people to meet on a regular basis, discuss relevant social, political, and, also personal aspects through language education, and provide them with a space to raise opinions and share thoughts freely and openly with a community of like-minded people. Giving people, in my case especially women, a place in which they feel welcome, appreciated, and empowered is of high relevance, and transforms their personal roles within their families and communities.
What inspires you to continue this work?
Especially teaching in Graz means being in touch with people from all sorts of different backgrounds, cultures, and mother tongues and getting these people in touch through a shared interest which is learning a language helps breaking down the walls between them, helps fighting stereotypes and biased opinions, and creates a well-meaning and inclusive atmosphere. I have been teaching for eight years now and some people come and go. However, what inspires me most and is the reason I go on with my teaching despite other obligations in my job is the students’ commitment and eagerness to learn and contribute. I have one class of older women I’ve been teaching since 2010 and back then, we started from zero. These women are now at a level where they can communicate easily and have gained so much confidence by being noticed for their talent by family, friends, and often, very importantly, their husbands. Their position as housewife or retiree changed in the process of learning the language as now they are the ones who can be in charge of booking a holiday or shopping online without the help of their kids. We are, through teaching courses like this, actively countering stereotypes of aging and reacting to a decline narrative of language education, imposing the so-said impossible “teaching an old dog new tricks” doctrine on everyone beyond their forties. I strongly believe that working with intergenerational and intercultural groups in education is highly beneficial to everyone within the community and can dismantle biased opinions and negative stereotypes, and lead us towards a more open and welcoming mindset within our societies. I believe I am contributing to exactly this positive and welcoming notion by pursuing this kind of education.
What is the biggest thing you've learned about yourself doing this work?
That we are all allowed to make mistakes, and that making mistakes makes us more approachable and likeable as a person. Throughout our careers as learners – and I am not solely speaking about language education but all the forms of schooling and education that we go through throughout our lives – we are made aware of things we are not able to do, made aware of our mistakes, and things we don’t know (yet). Being in the role of the teacher, we need to steer clear of this mindset and trust in the competence of our students until they prove the opposite, not believe in their incompetence until they prove their worth and value. Teaching continuing education, with its benefit of having people who are motivated by their own wish to learn and gain knowledge, made me realize that we lack the focus on this essential quality in our teaching and learning trajectories. As soon as I realized that my own schooling used to be like that, I also realized that I needed to change my own approach and be a more appreciative teacher. It soon turned out to be a successful strategy.
What advice do you have for folks who want to transform their workspaces and build awareness of colonial and systemically oppressive thought patterns and practices?
Trust your gut feeling, not your supervisor/boss/whoever is responsible for supervising your teaching content. We can ask far more from our students than what we think we can, they are more open than we think they are, they are less biased than we think they are. We can confront our students directly with things we deem relevant for subverting hegemonic structures of all kinds, and not only can they deal with those, but they will eagerly come up with solutions and disseminate ideas and concepts within their own communities. We need to believe in the factor of multiplication when sharing our ideas with our groups. We need to trust our students to share their own vision with their peers outside class. That’s what my gut feeling told me. And it worked.
Where can we see more of your work and support you?
I am currently working with only one class, but am also working as a researcher and project manager at the University of Graz, Austria, where we have several projects going on that, among other things, deal with the question of aging, life narratives, and education in an intercultural context. If you are interested in the field of Age/ing Studies, Transcultural American Studies or Inter-American Studies here in Graz, and what we do on a broader scale, feel free to contact me via email.
Eva-Maria can also be found on Linkedin and on her professional page.