Friday, 28 February 2014

My Study Buddy

Biscuit's keeping me on task--I don't want to disturb a sleepy kitten, so I just keep typing away!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Learning from my students

In this round of marking, one of the essay topics was Americanisation. When we had the lecture & seminars on this, I have to admit that as an American who was pretty well versed in 20th century history, I didn't really get much out of it. America had done some bad things in the world, yes, but we're generally decent people, right? I admired presidents like Lincoln and Wilson--the eloquent, inspirational ones who believed in equality, self-determination, human rights, etc. I never really saw faults in capitalism, either. Growing up in the Seattle area, I was always quite proud of our big, global brands--Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco, Boeing, Amazon, etc. Seattle attracted a lot of clever, innovative, well-educated people from around the world with those companies, so I never thought there could be a downside. I even felt a bit defensive--I don't eat at McDonald's in Leeds. It's not my fault that it's popular here, therefore it's not America's fault that English people like to eat this crap, either. America will sell whatever sells. It's as simple as supply and demand, end of.

Some of these essays on Americanization have been a bit of a wake-up call, though. It's very humbling to read about your country through the eyes of others. These kids were born in the mid-1990's. They barely remember Clinton, and have mostly known George W. Bush's America. The America that brought their country into the Iraq War. The American TV shows like Friends and Frasier, The Wire and Breaking Bad. American tech companies like Facebook and Google, all based in Silicon Valley. The American brands that have spread substantially, even in the 7 years since I first came to Britain. I used to have a hard time finding certain American foods, and now the supermarkets are carrying them. There are several Starbucks locations in the city centre (although my favourite one in Headingley did close a couple of years ago, to be fair).It's fairly easy for me to feel at home here, and until I read these essays, I never realised that could offend others...that the growing reach of U.S.-based companies could damage local economies, that it could stifle the very qualities of creativity and innovation that I loved about Seattle. I never saw that the rules of international trade and global economics were so much more complicated than supply and demand.

As much as I like to laugh at some of the hilarious things students write in their essays, I have to admit that, on this point, I'm the humble student who's learning from them. And, in terms of the Fulbright Program, I just want to point out that it's taken me 7 years of living outside the US to learn this lesson--am I just a slow learner, or can 9-12 months abroad as a Fulbrighter really achieve the same impacts?