12 October 2005

American Culture Classes

Today I has a discussion with the English teachers at one of my husband's universities about education in America. He has been teaching them legal English and legal issues in these classes, but they also wanted someone to talk about American culture (rather broadly defined), so I was volunteered.

I has a good time. It is a small group, so it wasn't at all intimidating. Since they have varying levels of English, I had to keep it simple. We talked about the American university system since it is quite different from the Russian system, and we also talked about public schools (and homeschooling) in the US.

I'll be doing this every other week. I'm planning on talking about religion next time, and then marriage and family. I think politics would be good too. Obviously it's interesting for me too because they volunteer a lot of information. I have lots of questions to ask about different things.

What questions would you want to ask these teachers if you could?


  1. How many universities does your husband have?

    I would probably want to know about their personal family history, how they handled life under Stalin and the evolution of the society.

  2. My first thought was personal family history as well - diasporas and political movement/cultural fringe influences affecting the family.

    I am curious why you plan to talking about religion before family and marriage because if you talk about family and marriage, it may be easier to side step into religion, and say - well, I can prepare for that next week. I'm sure many will be fascinated with your varied background (BYU, living in a country where there is freedom of religion, your Jerusalem studies, and your knowledge of Arab culture).

    An amazing calling Amira - it has to be amazing to connect with the youth at the university.

  3. Clarification: I don't want to come off as "why not do family first..." (see above).

    I really AM curious why you chose the order and if you got an impression from the students to do religion before family.

  4. He teaches at two universities.

    I very much want to talk about live under Communism and how it has affected them. I just have to figure out how to work all these questions in since this is supposed to be on American culture. :)

    CS, I'm doing religion next because I brought up a few of the topics that I was thinking about, and one was very excited about religion. So we're going with that.

    And a clarification- this is with English teachers. The point is for them to learn more English and about a variety of things. Many of them really haven't had much contact with Americans. Mostly with Europeans.

  5. I think this sounds very exciting, Amira.

    Please keep us posted, not just one what you talk about, but on what you learn as well.


  6. This is a major issue for foreign language teaching because although it is easier to learn the linguistic forms of a language than cultures in which that language is used, foreign language students will assume compentency in the former automatically implies skill in the latter.

    The risk, then, is that foreign language teachers (as the English teachers are in this case) are going to be invested with authority by their students to represent and interpret target language cultures (in this case likely the USA).

    As a result, one of the primary things asked of prospective foreign language teachers in the states is to learn how to challenge their own stereotypes so as to walk their future students through the same process.

    A simple beginning point is in pointing out the degree in differences in opinion between the students in the same classroom on a subject--and then use that to point out that the impossibility of defining an "american" culture. To a certain degree, I always like getting my students' back up about being stereotyped themselves as a preventative against them automatically assuming that about another culture.

    Long post, but in a nutshell, my question would be how the English teachers are planning on making themselves and their students confront the easy stereotypes that we usually don't think of questioning.

  7. What does he teach?

    My Russian professor here in Utah was a communist, a personal friend of the Gorbachevs and Nikita Kruschev (did I tell you I saw him as a young girl, he came through the tiny town in Nevada where I lived? Very disappointing, I was expecting a prince in a gold coach)...

    anyway, I was talking to the Russian husband of an American girl who was a fellow student and he expressed disdain for the professor and her claim that she became a communist out of necessity, not ideals.

    He talked about how hard his parents had it as non-communists, but, he said, "they came out clean." I was stunned silent.

    My professor is a very charming woman who makes no secret of her communist party affiliation. She was ordered under the guy before Putin (I can see his face) to return to Russia for a time, but she lives here. In a beautiful house in a rich neighborhood.

    Her father was a general under Stalin who, as I recall, was killed in a purge.

    Very interesting story. But yeah, how would you do that when you are teaching? Get their stories, I mean. Perhaps you could tell them these are things Americans wonder about, in previously Russian countries. I wonder what they wonder about us.

    Sometimes I pretend I'm doing a documentary for Russian people, showing them how truly wonderful our shopping centers are. Sometimes I pretend I can't speak English, sort of smart alecky. I say, "I don't understand you." In Russian. It's an old lady way of entertaining myself.

  8. Nathan, I'm thinking it would be a good idea to talk about some of those stereotypes about Americans and why they often don't work. They really know so little about America (there is far more contact with Europe here). I'd be very interested to hear what they have to say. Thanks.

    annegb, he teaches constitutional law and construction management.

    You really should come here. You'd have a great time talking to people and could stay till your supply of Charmin runs out.

  9. Oh I am behind. I would discuss the value of news agencies as a means of transporting information. Is it the same there? Is the media as easily manipulated or is there a free press mentality at all?

    Family structure would also be a good discussion . It could lead to weeks of discussion things such as Amreican vs Euraop vs Soviet Union vs personal value systems.