Last week I taught my students about cultural differences. I started class by showing them clips from God Grew Tired of Us (I shared the same clips with you recently). [In case you missed it, I’ll stick it at the bottom of this post.] I explained to them what a refugee is. This particular documentary follows Sudanese refugees from a UN camp in Kenya to the United States and allows us to see some of their transition process. I asked my students to imagine what it would be like to be one of these men. How would it feel to move from one culture into another that is very very different? What would the challenges be? What about it would be exciting? What about it would be sad?
I find that students here often have never tried to imagine any life other than their own. They have little concept of anything outside of their box of living. I’m determined to open their eyes to more of the world. And when they begin to see, it delights me.
I asked them to imagine that they were, again, themselves – but someone had told them that next week they would move to the United States. I asked them how they would feel. Most of them said they would be very nervous and afraid. A few of them would feel very excited and ready to get rich and conquer the world, because apparently that’s what you do in America. I said, “Okay. Well, if you are going to move to America next week you need to prepare! How would you prepare?” I knew what at least one of their answers would be. “We will come talk to you!” “Okay. I will help you to prepare. What questions do you have? What do you want to know about life in America?”
Their questions were interesting, humorous, and revealing. Let’s talk about some of them…
“Will I be invited to all the parties?” “What parties?” “The parties. Americans always have parties. You know, like on Desperate Housewives.” “Ohhhh. Do you think that Desperate Housewives is really what life is like in America?” [I knew the answer to that. They do. They think all of us are crazy Desperate Housewives characters. I. Hate. That. I am constantly trying to correct that view. Really guys. This is what people think of us. Have you SEEN that show? It’s embarrassing.] “Yes. Of course. Our teachers always tell us to watch that show to learn about what everyday life is like in America.” I wanted to ask for names. Who are these teachers? I need to talk to them. But, I didn’t. I just told them, “Well, as an American I can tell you that there are very few people whose lives are like Desperate Housewives. Most of us do NOT live that way!” Every SINGLE person in the class GASPED! “What?????????? No. I can not believe it!” “Yes. I promise you. Do I seem like a person who would be on that show?” They thought about it. “Ohhhhh… Well, no. So it’s REALLY not like that?” “No. It’s really NOT like that.” They are always pretty bummed at this point and even more bummed that I do not even LIKE the show.
“Can I find rice in America?” “Yes. Americans eat rice. Not as MUCH as you do, but we do eat it. You can find it at any supermarket.” They are so relieved by this.They now know they could survive.
“What kind of Asian girls do Americans think are beautiful?” “I don’t know. It depends.” “What do you MEAN it depends?” “I mean, there is not ONE type of Asian girl that all Americans think is beautiful. Every person has their own opinion.” In some ways, this can really be a foreign concept to them. [More on that later, probably.]
“In America, every state has different laws, right? When you travel from one state to another, how do you know what you are supposed to do???” At this point, I could very vividly imagine my students walking across a state border and being in complete and total fear and panic mode because they do not know the expectations and requirements of the law. It really cracked me up. “Well, most of the differences in the laws from state to state do not affect your daily life, especially for visitors. If they do affect you, they will make sure you know when you need to know. For example, there are different laws for driving in different states. In California, you can not talk on your cell phone while driving, but in most states you can. There are signs that tell you this though when you drive across the border. In general, you do not need to worry about it. If you are not sure of something, you can just ask.”
Other questions included: “What if a man tries to kill me? What do I do?” “Where do I go to buy a map?” “Will they have squatting toilets?” “On what occasions will I need to show my passport?”
And my personal favorite: “What if I go to LA to see basketball games and my heroes? But when I get there, I have no money left. How can I find a family to let me stay at their house and feed me?” I think he’s really thought about trying this. I told him he’s probably going to need a plan BEFORE he gets there and has no money. Silly boy.
[To be continued…]