Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Thoughts from six time zones ahead

By coming to this posting fairly late in the game, I have the advantage of the particular time and place(s) from which I write.  I'm watching the moon rise over Basel right now (!), having earlier gone on a four-hour walk that took me from Switzerland to France to Germany and back with only a crinkled hotel map in my fist and twenty-five-year-old fragments of the German I once knew. (Luckily, the sentence "I can speak a little German" won enough basic understanding and good will to help me navigate a few questionable turns.)  In short, just before I read these articles, I lived a little global education, realizing once again how much getting out of our own rhythms and routines is vital, as well as how many languages interconnect once you are forced to pay attention, think on your feet, and attempt to make sense not of abstract lessons but the non-English speaker standing before you, staring blankly but smiling encouragingly.  And, as a surprising number of German words and phrases kept returning from long-buried places in my brain, I once again silently thanked my energetic and committed high school teachers for their work that stuck.


I also just finished reading Anne Fadiman's moving book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down about the culture clash between Hmong immigrants and western medical staff in Merced, California.  There, cultural obstacles to true understanding trumped the two different forms of healing offered to young Lia Lee, and though both her family and her doctors were clearly committed to helping cure her epilepsy, both systems ended up failing her.


How does this connect to our collective work at BB&N? Certainly, it all has helped reinforce my interest in other ideas, peoples, and cultural bridges, even as these "new" adventures always remind me of individual students (past and present) and specific class discussions back at BB&N.  I agree with those colleagues who say that we're doing pretty well already, even as we can keep reminding ourselves to find that next bit of global relevance.  Nothing in Reimers's opening definitions or the Asia Society's four concluding ideas is revolutionary, but they both provide good common-sense reminders on how to ground ourselves.  As I read other colleagues' postings, I agreed with Althea's specific wondering that if we cannot get students to appreciate their role in keeping their own commons clean, how can we get them to see themselves as stewards for a larger world?  I also hope that we keep advancing and broadening the good work done by the Environmental Club.  Finally, even as we strive to develop the new, let's not throw away what might seem to be entirely traditional or monochromatic.  On the surface, Moby-Dick might be dismissed as an American novel written by a dead white male from a century long past, but the Pequod's voyage and its specific crew were as much a global melting pot as anything else in Melville's day. The most "narrow" classic still forces its readers to look at the world through another person's eyes, and our students' discussions and writings only further that vital exercise. 


To close, we're on the right track, together.



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