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Cultural exchange

April 2, 2010 - Nikki Younk
I hope you all enjoyed The Daily News’ annual exchange student edition, which came out this week. As a reporter, it’s something I look forward to working on every year.

I have a fascination with other cultures. Usually, I can only learn about them through books or the internet. Having a face-to-face conversation with a real person from another culture is a rare treat. It’s amazing how many differences (and similarities) there are between groups of people. It really opens your mind to different points of view.

Since I’ve been working here, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Silja from Finland, Iren from Armenia, Ivanna and Olha from Ukraine, and Yoon Yi from South Korea.

Although each of these young ladies had a unique story to tell about their lives and their experiences here in the U.S., I’ve noticed that they also had a lot in common. Examples include:

-proficiency in English. I knew that the U.S. is a world super-power and that English is a world language, but I was still amazed that each of these girls started studying English at such a young age—usually in kindergarten or first grade. The only time in my life that I was ever required to study a language was for two years during college. Hardly enough time to learn to speak a language fluently. Are we Americans missing out on something by being largely uni-lingual?

-schooling. Without exception, all of the girls attended school more often than American teens do. More hours per day and sometimes, more days per week. Who has the better system? I couldn’t say. I certainly wouldn’t want to go to school more than seven hours per day, five days per week.

-demeanors. All of the girls I talked to said that people in their own countries were more reserved than Americans, that Americans were outspoken, especially regarding political issues. Maybe we’re more outspoken because we have the protection of the first amendment? Perhaps.

-American stereotypes. Many of the girls mentioned learning about American culture through TV shows or music. I shudder to think that kids in Ukraine or Finland are watching “The Hills” or “Jersey Shore” and imagining that the shows present realistic views of American life. Although we understand that these TV shows depict a select slice of (likely fictionalized) society, people from other cultures may not.

Yes, some of you will say...”who cares about what other cultures do or what they think of us?” Maybe we shouldn’t care, who knows. All I know is that a little understanding and tolerance can go a long way.


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