Building Walls and Happy Meals: My Call for Growth of Cultural Exchange

24 Oct

“Besides being fluent in Dutch, Chinese, German, and English, I also have a sound knowledge of French…”.

This is an excerpt from an essay of one of my Austrian students. She’s brilliant.

While the majority of Austrian students are not fluent in four to five languages, I feel safe saying that 90% are fluent in two: English and German.

When I say fluent, I mean they can talk about the Euro crisis, JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and the US primaries . They can hypothesize, navigate abstract spaces,  draw new conclusions. It’s incredible and I’m utterly impressed.

This has naturally led me to the question: what is the value in learning a language? Where do I make my argument?

Being here has strengthened my argument tenfold. It’s becoming difficult to see how learning language is not important.

Yet language study is not required in schools, nor do I think it should be (I am anti more national government regulations).

Language study should, however, be offered in all schools, especially European langauges, and here’s why.

1. The United States has embassies in almost every country, and US foreign wars are a hot topic of conversation for the world.

We’re dawdling in a ton of foreign countries. In some, we’ve placed tanks and troops. We are entering cultures and situations that perhaps, the United States’ culture isn’t the most well-equipped to understand.

Kids in other countries are talking about our involvement, and are developing strong opinions. Perhaps we should have more US ambassadors with the same – strong, well-developed opinions: in a non-native tongue.

So. Where can the average man start, in a space (foreign affairs) where the United States has been for a hundred years?

We could, as a society, put a little more cultural emphasis on the importance of understanding and embracing foreign cultures, instead of proposing ways to keep them out.

“Build a goddamn wall!”

Kids need the opportunity to stretch their minds, and all the good teachers I know, parents included, are helping them do this. Certain societal norms and expectations, however, need more than just good teachers to facilitate change. We need to challenge our own expectations and understanding at an uncomfortable level.

Yes. We need to be uncomfortable.

Ask any 14 year old boy or girl, and if a voice wasn’t cracking or crying, they would tell you that change is painfully uncomfortable.

But as we all know well enough, the forthcoming growth is a beautiful thing. Stretch yourself!

2. The European Union isn’t such a stone’s throw from the United States of America. Nor the Republic of China.

Issues are global -the environment, the economy, the wars. Furthermore, of the world’s 100 largest economic entities, 44 are corporations. That means 44 companies have bigger fiscal sway than an entire country. McDonald’s is the largest purchaser of beef, pork, potatos, and apples in the world. More than a single country.

That’s one big ass happy meal.

This means that global borders are slowly eroding. Money is exchanging hands on big levels, and with it, cultural values. If our youth are inheirating these corporations and values, and we desire progressive change, we better damn well give them the skills to tackle this task. Germany is Europe’s stongest economic power, and Austria is somewhere close behind. If we want good people making changes at big levels, we need to teach them how to communicate. Internships with German companies are invaluable and Germany’s leading progressive environmental change – we want to give kids positive international influence they can bring back home? Teach them German.

I am ever skeptical of a person’s abilty to feel or affect national or international change, but I should simply be skeptical of always being skeptical. I already can feel my learning curve steepening, and my abilities as a teacher and seeker growing. International to national to local, baby.


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