Gry Brøndum had been a journalist working for Denmark’s national broadcaster (DR) for seven years before she joined DIS as the instructor for the Communication program core course, Cross-Cultural Communication. In this edition of Face to Face with Faculty, we ask her what her professional experience allows her bring to the classroom – and we find out what her plans are for the Social Justice Living & Learning Community.
Gry Brøndum: We examine communication between majority and minority cultures, how the media frames stories about other cultures, and how this framing can create unwanted conflicts. We experienced this firsthand in Denmark in 2007 when a Danish newspaper printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed that led to a diplomatic crisis between Denmark and the Middle East. The curriculum aims to challenge the students on a personal level making them understand how their cultural identities are just a lens they see the world through and one which shapes their communication and their ability to fully understand and cooperate with people from other cultures.
DIS: What does Denmark and Europe have to offer American students in terms of Cross-Cultural Communication?
GB: Coming from a young multicultural nation such as the U.S., studying in Denmark can give you a unique perspective on how the citizens of a highly developed socialistic state – with a very homogenous population – perceives and communicates with other cultures in a globalized world. I believe it is an amazing opportunity for students to study cross-cultural communication in Europe today: We have a weak European Union, an unresolved financial crisis, high unemployment rates, and the region is under pressure due to issues surrounding migration from Africa and the Middle East. Parties with very nationalistic views are on the rise many places, including in Denmark, and the debate around the integration of the Muslim minority is ongoing and heated.
DIS: The short study tour during Core Course Week takes you and your class to the south of Sweden – what new perspectives does this give to students?
GB: Sweden’s welcoming approach to immigration is the total opposite of Denmark’s strict policies and that in itself is very interesting to observe. We visit SVT (Swedish Television) to talk to the journalists in Malmö, a city known for its many immigrants, and we visit the suburb of ‘Rosengård’ (The Rose Garden) that went from a modernist utopia to a stigmatized ghetto.
DIS: One focus of your course is nationalism. How do students engage with this concept?
GB: One of the core questions of the class is how the concept of nationalism – as a narrative communicated to us through language, symbols, and traditions – is so strong that people all over the world are willing to die for their nation, tribe, or religious group. The study tour to Ireland makes this problem come to life – students meet former soldiers from paramilitary groups and hear their stories about terrorism during ‘The Troubles‘ – a period that still fuels hatred from both sides of the conflict today.
DIS: Is it difficult for American students to grasp the issues so deeply entrenched in the Irish psyche that underpin the social and religious divisions there?
GB: During our trip to Northern Ireland last fall, it made a deep impression on my students to see the so-called peace walls in Belfast segregating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. An official in the city council told us that they estimated the walls would not come down before 2040 at the earliest. Their reaction, a sense of sorrow and disbelief, reminded me of my own when I experienced the wall in Jerusalem in Israel. But the more we learned about the history and met people from both sides of the conflict, the more we understood how strong and longstanding a narrative becomes when it is built on bloodshed.
DIS: You have worked in the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) for seven years: What do you feel you bring from your professional career into the DIS classroom?
GB: I bring insight and knowledge about the media, its discourse, and Danish society as whole. My teaching methods are also journalistic: I try in a way to move my radio studio into the classroom or to the field when we are on trips. When I am framing the debate or topic, I am the curious reporter and interviewer, and I provide the students with background information to help them understand why they should listen. I use interviewing and storytelling in the classroom setting and challenge my students to debate under time pressure. I make an effort to use the student’s different backgrounds, and I tie their contributions together in our classroom discussion, very much in the manner in which I would do in a radio show. As a good old-fashioned public service journalist I firmly believe ’enlightenment’ and entertainment can be the same thing.
GB: The Social Justice Living & Learning Community is a group of DIS students who have chosen to live together in Copenhagen and spend time exploring the Danish activist scene and studying the best practices of various organizations advocating justice and human rights – i.e. victims of trafficking, prisoners, LGBTQ, and other marginalized groups. I think it will be very interesting for them to experience how the Danish welfare system frames these issues compared to American society – and I can’t wait to debate some of the fundamental questions about equality and rights with them.
My involvement in both a Living & Learning Community and in leading a core course this semester will give me a better understanding of the students and their needs in general because of the more informal relation I will establish with my LLC students. This will make me a better instructor for my Cross-Cultural Communication class. I also hope it will lead to closer cooperation with other DIS faculty, through shared projects and events involving students we have in common.