Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Crossing Cultures

Tonight, we had three Chinese grad students in our english conversation class. It was a relaxing and fun time as we shared our impressions of each other's countries, learned about each other's histories and cultures and plain old laughing. Other tutors ask us how we get international students to talk. I don't know, really, what it is that we do. I think basically we just like to talk and make jokes. A sheet of questions is usually prepared, the tutors take turns making the list based on different topics. Our groups always stray into other tangents and we always follow the "rabbit trails". For example, if we had stuck to the assigned topic, Dennis and I would never have heard about the significance of dragons in China (they are good, not evil) and we would have never have known about the one and only female empress 1500 years ago.

Our class is an advanced class. Usually that means they know how to converse easily, might have some pronounciation problems (not many) and understand most of what they hear. But they might not know everyday slang, idioms, cultural knowledge or why certain things are done the way they are. I was explaining health insurance to a Chinese woman, about my 35 dollar co-pays and she thought it was too expensive. I said that the insurance company covered several thousand dollars worth of tests during that cardiology visit. She didn't get it--she comes from a communist country with socialized medicine. We also talked about urban planning, drug addictions and how to act on the EL public transportation through urban Chicago. Tons of questions about the homeless people downtown.

And we talk about movies, tv shows and the screen writer's strike. I found out that my favorite movie from China "Hero" is generally hated because the Chinese feel as though the movie reinforced false stereotypes about them. I kept thinking how could that be, like, what stereotypical things do I believe because of that movie? We talked about the same things about how American tv shows protray false things about our country. Our group laughed about their shock when they came to Lansing, MI and didn't see skyscrapers.

The more English as a Second Language classes we volunteer for, the more we learn from it from the students we talk to. All it takes is just being there. To talk. To listen. Carefully.

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