Second Language Studies Professor Shawn Loewen Reflects on His Fulbright to Polish University

From October 2021 to February 2022, Dr. Shawn Loewen served as Distinguished Chair in the Social Sciences and Humanities in the Faculty of English at Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU) in Poznan, Poland. While there, he taught one semester-long seminar for undergraduate students and one for graduate students, with both seminars focusing on an introduction to second language acquisition (SLA). During his time at AMU, he also collaborated with faculty and doctoral students, engaged in research and scholarly activities, gave talks and ran workshops, and had opportunities to meet with researchers for consultation and mentoring.

In terms of teaching, Loewen outlined how he would apply pedagogies from his MSU courses to those at a Polish university before he even began his Fulbright experience. Loewen noted several differences between the two educational systems, with Poland having a generally more teacher-centered approach compared to the US. Another contrast was that the Polish students typically had much more language learning experience than their MSU counterparts, which helped them make connections between their own experiences and the theoretical concepts of SLA. One highlight of the semester was the opportunity for MSU and AMU students to interview each other about their L2 learning experiences and to hear firsthand about L2 learning in the two different contexts. Loewen introduced his more interactive style of instruction, while his students provided lots of information about Polish culture and language. In the end, Loewen remarks that it was a great cross-cultural experience, saying,

”In both my undergraduate and graduate courses, one thing I said was, “I know I’m not a Polish professor, and I know you’re not American students, so we’re going to meet in the middle and we’re going to have class differently than I’m used to but also differently than you’re used to”.

Shawn Loewen

Loewen was also able to participate in several research projects at AMU. One ongoing project examines Polish EFL teachers’ attitudes towards research, as well as other factors that influence their teaching practices. Taking a qualitative approach, EFL teachers from primary, secondary, and university contexts, were interviewed as part of the data collection process. Loewen is continuing this research into the Fall of 2022 with additional data collection, building on his collaborative work with his co-researchers from AMU, Dr. Pawel Scheffler and doctoral student Karolina Baranowska. Loewen praised Fulbright’s commitment to encouraging long-term research collaborations, and the opportunities it affords researchers to learn from each other’s work.

Loewen also had the opportunity to give multiple talks in Poland on topics such as the effectiveness of online language learning, the research-pedagogy link in second language teaching, and the alignment of testing and second language classroom instruction. He also attended the Bialystok-Kiev Theoretical and Applied Linguistics Conference, where he gave a talk entitled “Language learning apps: Do they really work?”.

Shortly after receiving the invitation to apply for the AMU Fulbright position in January 2020, Loewen set out to study Polish, in an effort to combine his professional and personal interests. He comments,  

“It was fun to be a language learner again. I think it’s always good for applied linguists to remember what it’s like to learn a language so we can identify with our students a bit more. It was fun, challenging, and frustrating to be a language learner there, but it was a terrific experience.”

Shawn Loewen

Overall, Loewen said the Fulbright experience was an excellent opportunity to engage in cross-cultural exchanges, extend his own SLA research, and foster relationships between faculty and graduate students from the two universities.