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Barnhart: DSU sets Global Table

By Margaret M. Barnhart

When I first read the email that began, “Hello, Ma,” I was somewhat taken aback. The message was from a student, not from one of my children; not even my own daughters refer to me as “Ma.”

I wondered at the student’s audacity to address his instructor so familiarly. Only later did I realize this student was showing me respect. In his country, the word “Ma” — a form of “ma’am” — is the polite form of addressing a woman.

Often, being unaware of different customs and cultural experiences leads to misinterpretation. In turn, such misunderstanding can result in prejudicial assumptions about people and places different from one’s own.

To help reduce such assumptions, several members of Dickinson State University’s faculty, staff and students have formed the Multicultural Committee, dedicated to addressing some of the needs and issues of a diverse campus. One of the committee’s most successful and captivating endeavors is the Global Table, a series of lunch-hour presentations by students or faculty and staff who represent different cultures.

The first of this semester’s Global Table presentations took place Oct. 9 at Stoxen Library.

Three students — Brenda Charles of Antigua, Delano Lilly of Jamaica and Trai Pratt of the Bahamas — shared their experiences growing up in the Caribbean Islands.

One of the first points of clarification came from Brenda, who informed the audience of 80-some that most people don’t pronounce her country’s name accurately.

“We pronounce it ‘Antiga,’” she said.

All three students indicated that education in their home countries is very rigorous, both in discipline and academic expectations. Every pupil knows about “the principal’s leather strap,” Brenda explained, adding that corporal punishment is prevalent in both the home and school. It is a matter of discipline, “of teaching respect and humility,” according to Trai, and not a situation of abuse, as it is often described in the United States.

Regarding academics, students go through levels of learning and must pass a series of difficult tests in order to move to the next level. In the courses of study, there is no “extra credit” given. Teachers establish high standards and it is up to each student to find a way to reach those standards.

Upon entering college, students know exactly what they want in life. “There is no ‘undecided’ category,” Delano said.

One of the differences the students have found in coming to the U.S. is that people are more “laid back” about education.

Here, Delano said, “teachers bend over backwards to make it easier for students,” while in the Caribbean, “teachers bend over backwards to make it hard.”

Trai remembered that a student who fails a levels tests would be “the laughingstock in school.”

All three students admitted to the discomfort of both the discipline and the demands, but echoed that they have come to appreciate the challenges for what they primarily teach: respect for others as well as for oneself.

“Disrespect is the biggest no-no in my culture,” Brenda added.

Another social difference the students noted in coming to North Dakota was finding stores and eating establishments open on Sundays.

In the Caribbean, they said, no one eats out on Sunday. It is a day reserved for church and dinner with the family, and then trips to the beach.

The Global Table was only the first of several slated for the semester. The virtual table was set again on Oct. 23, featuring student presenters from South Korea. They were Yoonmi Jeong, SeongIm Yu, Kilah Lee, and HaeRi Hwang.

They shared information about their culture’s food, social etiquette, education, and attitude and experiences regarding North Korea. One cultural aspect very similar to that of the Caribbean students was an overall respect for elders.

DSU’s Multicultural Committee will continue offering Global Table presentations throughout the fall and spring terms. Central America will be the focus of a presentation at noon Wednesday, followed by Eastern European culture on Nov. 20, and a presentation from Mongolian students on Dec. 4.

These events are not just for DSU staff and students. The public is encouraged to attend these lunch-hour sessions. Not only will they be enlightened and entertained, but they will also be treated to some snack specific to the presenters’ country or culture.

The audience munched on plantain chips while listening to the Caribbean students, and many tried the dried squid offered by the South Korean students, learning that it is a movie treat much like popcorn is to Americans.

What can they look forward to in future presentations? Take a seat at the next Global Table and find out.