Above: At my Ph.D. commencement in 2013 with advisor, Dr. Michael Paige, and my daughter (who I was pregnant with when I first started the program).
The field of intercultural education lost one of its founders—and I along with many, many others lost a wonderful mentor and friend—when Dr. Michael Paige passed away earlier this month.
You don’t have to look very far to find Michael’s impact on the field (and I highly encourage you to read his work if you haven’t; a few suggestions are listed at the end of this post), but I would like to use this platform to share a little about what I will remember most about him, and to create a space where others can do the same.
In 2006, I was working as an international student advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and had decided I wanted to pursue a PhD to further develop my capacity to help people and educational institutions maximize the learning opportunities inherent in intercultural exchange. As the first person in my immediate family to go to college and the only one to pursue a graduate degree—combined with the fact that I had completed multiple degree programs without getting the guidance I felt necessary—I looked to the literature for scholars who were doing the kind of work I wanted to do and to see where they were teaching.
That’s when I came across the name Dr. Michael Paige, who was not only doing amazing work in the area of intercultural learning within international education (one of the first to do so), but he was doing it just a short distance from where I grew up, at the University of Minnesota. In fact, he had co-founded a graduate program there in Comparative and International Development Education (CIDE). I applied and was thankfully accepted (because I had no back-up plan!). Michael (who was Dr. Paige to me at the time—I had trouble switching to Michael even when he insisted after I completed my PhD) became my advisor, and the first true scholarly mentor I had ever had.
I really put him to the test, showing up in August of 2006 to start the program six-months pregnant with my first child. I’ve heard horror stories from women about how pregnancy impacted their status in a graduate program, but Michael barely batted an eye, despite the fact I had also been hired as a Teaching Assistant in his new pilot program, an online course for undergraduates studying abroad called Maximizing Study Abroad.
Here are some of the things I will remember most about Michael Paige:
He was infinitely curious. Michael loved learning and saw everyone and everything around him as an opportunity for learning, including his graduate students. This also showed up in a love for restoring classic cars and playing trumpet in a jazz band. This curiosity meant he asked the best questions.
He was present. Another reason he asked great questions is because he listened deeply and was incredibly present. I would regularly sit down in his office and explain my research ideas either through brain dumps or thoughts I couldn’t quite put into words. Michael would listen intently, ask challenging and on-point questions, jump up regularly to grab books off his shelf that connected with what I was saying and he thought I should read (which he would then generously loan me), and ultimately summarize my ideas in simple ways that made me feel like a genius with a plan. And at the end he would smile widely, because my success was his success and he was genuinely excited for me.
He was full of joy, and it was contagious. Michael was a serious scholar who never took himself too seriously. He was not only smiling most of the time, but his laugh—which I heard often—could probably best be described as a giggle. That’s right, Michael Paige was a giggler.
He was humble, authentic, and generous. It seemed to me Michael never tried to be anyone but himself. He wore Hawaiian shirts in Minnesota. He was unpretentious and approachable. His scholarly work was about seeking answers to important questions that would help improve international and intercultural education, not about publications or status. He understood that while intercultural work is serious and important, what it’s really about is relationships among people.
Coincidentally, Michael and I both moved from Minnesota to Pennsylvania after I had finished my coursework and was writing my dissertation. We continued to meet virtually on a regular basis, but when I mentioned I’d like to make the two-hour drive to where he was to spend time in-person working through some of the issues I was facing in my research analysis and writing, he actually spent a full day with me, working on my dissertation, discussing my future, and sharing lunch together with his wife and a number of her fellow professors.
He was surprisingly ahead of the curve (well, ahead of me) with technology. Although Michael was several decades older than me and liked to remind me that he had to write his dissertation on a typewriter, he was also usually two steps ahead of me when it came to technology. For example, he’s the reason I finally joined Facebook about a decade ago (if he was on it, I had no excuse). The fact that he was technologically more advanced than I was may seem silly, but I think it speaks to Michael’s insatiable curiosity and desire to learn. He approached the unknown with excitement, rather than fear.
Leaving a legacy. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from Michael is what it means to make an impact in the world. While he is gone, so much of him remains—not just his research and publications, but more importantly, in the lives he impacted. I am just one of many people who have benefited from Michael’s mentorship, and he has inspired me to want to support and mentor others in this field. My success will continue to be his success. That is perhaps one of the greatest rewards of being an educator—we can impact the lives of others who will go on to impact even more lives. We can make this world a better place, one relationship at a time. And I will forever be thankful for my relationship with Michael.
For more information about Dr. Michael Paige’s career: http://global.umn.edu/awards/age/16_Paige.html
The following are a few of my favorite resources authored or co-authored by Dr. Michael Paige:
Paige, R. M. (1993). Education for the intercultural experience. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Paige, R. M., Cohen, A. D., Kappler, B., Chi, J. C., & Lassegard, J. P. (2002). Maximizing study abroad: A program professional's guide to strategies for language and culture learning and use. Minneapolis, MN: Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota.
Paige, R. M., Cohen, A. D., Kappler, B., Chi, J. C., & Lassegard, J. P. (2006). Maximizing study abroad: A student's guide to strategies for language and culture learning and use (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota.
Paige, R.M., Harvey, T.A., & McCleary, K.S. (2012). The Maximizing Study Abroad Project: Toward a pedagogy for culture and language learning. In M. Vande Berg, R.M. Paige, & K.H. Lou (Eds.), Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they're not, and what we can do about it. Sterling, VA: Stylus. [Included for obvious reasons—I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to co-publish with Michael.]
Vande Berg, M., Paige, R. M., & Lou, K. H. (Eds.). (2012). Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they're not, and what we can do about it. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
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