Friday, November 22, 2013

Coffee and Cross-Cultural Dialogue

By Nora Kirkham ’16

How to encourage students to explore conversations about cultural identity and international issues? Create the Global Village Café and give their imagination, experiences and ideas a voice.

Among the student programs geared towards fostering world-wide dialogue, the Global Village is a shining new avenue for students to engage in such discussions with their peers. Created by Gordon’s Global Education Office, the café is not a physical place or group but attributes its name to the atmosphere its dialogue provides. Its main goal is to encourage students to "step outside the Gordon Bubble." The café’s major launch took place earlier this semester in Chester’s Place with a discussion based on the popular TED talk, "The Danger of a Single Story" by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie.

The launch was sponsored by Global Education, the Office of Community Engagement and the student group Advocates for Cultural Diversity. Sipping on delicious fair trade coffee provided at the event, students watched the TED talk and then engaged in rotating student-led discussions. Chimamanda’s talk provoked thoughtful questions and dialogue.

The author of several critically acclaimed novels and short stories, Chimamanda recounted her story of growing up in Nigeria as a lover of English and American literature and the culture shock she encountered upon arriving to the United States for university. Chimamanda’s peers confronted her with a variety of presuppositions about what it meant to be African. Though she felt frustrated and alienated, Chimamanda eventually realized she herself had presuppositions about life in the western world and discovered how dangerous relying on a single story about a culture can be. The TED talk evoked questions such as: “How does the media affect our view of other cultures?” and “How does traveling abroad change our worldview?”

Seeking to address this latter question, Global Village Café held a second event later in the semester titled, “So You Want to Live Abroad?”, which featured a panel discussion with students who had lived abroad for part or all of their childhood. The purpose of this event was to clarify the term, "TCK," or "Third Culture Kid." As members of the International Student Organization, these panelists are American citizens who happen to have lived abroad and may or may not share a sense of belonging to one country alone. With a wealth of experiences to offer, these panelists shared their stories and struggles in hopes of encouraging students to consider thoughtfully their aspirations for an expatriate career.

The conversation is just getting started. With two successful events, the Global Village Café is serving as an eye opening catalyst for thinking more globally on campus.

Photo: Students dialogue as part of the year's first Global Village Cafe event.

Nora Kirkham ’16 is a sophomore history major at Gordon College and a writer in the Office of College Communications. She is a 'Third Culture Kid' raised in four continents and currently claims her home in Moscow, Russia. Her interests include history, international relations, literature and sustainable development. 

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