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Top Posts of 2012 #3: The Cultural Nuances of Language

In the few days before 2012 ends and 2013 begins, we’ll be looking back at some of our top posts from the past year, starting with number five and counting down to number one. If you missed these articles the first time around, now’s your time to see why we’ve found these particular pieces so compelling.

#3
The 'Wrong' Way to Answer 'How Are You?'
by Zita MF

Do you know how to answer when an American asks, “How are you?” Zita discussed the slightly confusing protocol in another post that garnered quite a bit of attention in 2012.

Photo by Nick Hoang
Photo by Nick Hoang


It’s not a real question, she explained. "I’m expected to respond, 'Good' or 'Fine,' and ask the other person how they are, to which they will also respond, 'Good.'"

Read it: "The Wrong Way to Answer ‘How Are You?’"

"To this day, this style of greeting strikes me as an abuse of a question with which people show care and concern to one another in my culture," Zita wrote, but it says something important about American culture:
In general, people from the U.S. do not like to express their emotions to strangers or acquaintances. They prefer to put on a permanent smile and mask their other feelings. The U.S. culture is based on individualism – the idea that one should only rely on one’s self and family – and this often leads them to avoid getting too close to others, including by using meaningful expressions in ways that might seem superficial to foreigners.

Zita decided, "[O]ne of the challenges and the beauties of living abroad is embracing the peculiarities of the host country. To me this means learning how to speak not only the language but also the culture."

Learning to speak both the language and the culture takes practice, and a willingness to make mistakes, a fact Anil was kind enough to share in one of our most brutally honest and funny posts of the year.

Read it: "Anil Explains Why You Should Never Be Embarrassed to Speak a Foreign Language"



With aisles like these, finding what you want in a supermarket isn't easy, especially if you're too shy to ask for help (Creative Commons photo by Kerry Lannert)
With aisles like these, finding what you want in a supermarket isn't easy, especially if you're too shy to ask for help (Creative Commons photo by Kerry Lannert)


When he first arrived in the U.S., Anil wrote, he kept to himself, worried that his English wasn’t good enough to communicate with others. But that all changed after a trip to the grocery store when he had to ask a staff person for help finding an item:
I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t remember the word: raisin. I felt my face was burning, but I also knew I had to cope with the problem.

First I told her, “I want to buy some grapes which are not full with juice.” She threw me a gaze and said she couldn’t understand me. I tried another way. I said, “I am looking for the opposite of fresh grapes.” She was just shocked even more by what I had said and repeated, “I don’t understand.” I decided to take my last chance: “Do you have wrinkled, dried, ugly grapes?”

After the staff person stopped laughing, they got to talking and eventually became friends. "Just try to express yourself," Anil concluded. "It is the perfect way to improve yourself, and creating your own way brings laughter, new memories, and stories to share."

"Just express yourself" was one of many pieces of advice Sava gave in his in-depth look at techniques for improving English fluency, one of our most useful posts of 2012.

He also suggested listening as much as possible, including by eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations ("which is great until you get caught"), and using a mirror to watch yourself as you speak.

Read it: "Crafting Your Art of English Fluency"

"Watching yourself as you speak helps you visualize the way you’re moving your mouth. One thing I personally realized is that in English you have to hold your tongue a very particular way to pronounce certain words," Sava wrote.

"Watching and listening to myself as I practiced speaking also helped me notice that I project a better sound in English when I use a lower and deeper tone with my voice."

Still want more tips on improving your English? Shree wrote about his approaches, adopted while studying for the TOEFL exam earlier this year. He built English study into his normal routine, using things like talking to friends or listening to the radio as opportunities to practice his language skills.

Read it: "Why the TOEFL is More Important Than Just One Test, and How That Can Help You Succeed"

As Zita noted, "One of the most challenging aspects of being an international student is that you not only have to master a foreign language, but also to recognize the meaning that hides behind the words." But reaching that point is "all about finding the approaches that work best for you," said Sava. "Like art, learning a language is something that different people experience in different ways."

Other top posts of 2012:
#5: Navigating and Defeating Negative Stereotypes
#4: The Surprising Links Between Food and Identity
#2: Keeping Standardized Tests in Perspective
#1: Taking Responsibility is the Key to Academic Success

See all News Updates of the Day

Survey: Social integration, career prep are important to international students

FILE - FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.
FILE - FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.

A recent survey of international students in the United States found that before starting school, they were concerned about personal safety, making friends and feeling homesick.

Inside Higher Ed reports that international students want specialized orientations, peer connections, career preparation and job placement to help make their college experiences successful. (July 2024)

US advisory council ends Nigeria visit, signs student exchange deal

Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.
Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.

Members of a U.S. presidential advisory council have approved a student exchange deal between an American college and a Nigerian university as part of the council's effort to strengthen collaboration on education, health, entrepreneurship and development between Africa and Africans living abroad.

The council also visited a health facility supported by the United States Agency for International Development in the capital.

Nigerian authorities and visitors chatted with members of the U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement as they toured a healthcare facility in Karu, a suburb of Abuja, on the last day of the council's three-day visit to Abuja and Lagos.

The facility is one of many supported by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, to improve the management of childhood illnesses, family planning, immunization and delivery.

The tour was part of the council's effort to promote African diaspora-led investments in technology entrepreneurship, education and healthcare delivery.

"They're doing a phenomenal job there, it really gave us a sense of what the healthcare system is in Nigeria," said Deniece Laurent-Mantey, executive director of the advisory council. "This is our first trip as a council to the continent and we chose Nigeria for a reason — the diaspora in Nigeria is very active, very influential, and they're really a source of strength when it comes to our U.S.-Africa policy. And so for us coming to Nigeria was very intentional."

The council was created by President Joe Biden in September to improve collaboration between Africa and its diaspora in terms of economic and social development.

Akila Udoji, manager of the Primary Healthcare Centre of Karu, said officials in Nigeria were pleased that the council members were able to visit.

"We're happy that they have seen what the money they have given to us to work with has been used to do, because they have been able to assist us in capacity-building, trainings, equipment supply and the makeover of the facility," Udoji said.

Earlier, the council signed a deal for a student exchange program between Spelman College in the southern U.S. city of Atlanta and Nigeria's University of Lagos.

Laurent-Mantey said education exchanges are one of the council's top priorities.

"In Lagos, we had the president of Spelman College — she's also a member of our council — she signed an agreement with the University of Lagos to further education exchange programs in STEM and creative industries between those two universities," Laurent-Mantey said. "And I think for us it's very important, because Spelman College is a historically Black university, and so here we are promoting the importance of collaboration between African Americans and Africans."

In March, the advisory council adopted its first set of recommendations for the U.S. president, including the student exchange initiative, advocating for more U.S. government support for Africa, climate-focused initiatives, and improving U.S. visa access for Africans.

The council met with Nigerian health and foreign affairs officials during the visit before leaving the country on Wednesday.

American Academy of the Arts College announces closure

FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.
FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.

The American Academy of Art College in Chicago announced it would be closing after 101 years of preparing students for careers in art and illustration.

WTTW news reported that like other art colleges, the academy saw enrollment drop after the pandemic, and officials made the decision to close the college last month. (July 2024)

update

5 killed, dozens injured in clashes over Bangladesh jobs quota system

Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.
Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.

At least 5 people were killed and dozens injured in two separate incidents in Bangladesh as violence continued Tuesday on university campuses in the nation's capital and elsewhere over a government jobs quota system, local media reports said quoting officials.

At least three of the dead were students and one was a pedestrian, the media reports said. Another man who died in Dhaka remained unidentified.

The deaths were reported Tuesday after overnight violence at a public university near Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. The violence involved members of a pro-government student body and other students, when police fired tear gas and charged the protesters with batons during the clashes, which spread at Jahangir Nagar University in Savar, outside Dhaka, according to students and authorities.

Protesters have been demanding an end to a quota reserved for family members of veterans who fought in Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971, which allows them to take up 30% of governmental jobs.

They argue that quota appointments are discriminatory and should be merit-based. Some said the current system benefits groups supporting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Some Cabinet ministers criticized the protesters, saying they played on students' emotions.

The Bengali-language Prothom Alo daily newspaper reported that one person died in Dhaka and three others, including a pedestrian, were killed after they suffered injuries during violence in Chattogram, a southeastern district, on Tuesday.

Prothom Alo and other media reports also said that a 22-year-old protester died in the northern district of Rangpur.

Details of the casualties could not be confirmed immediately.

Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.
Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.

While job opportunities have expanded in Bangladesh's private sector, many find government jobs stable and lucrative. Each year, some 3,000 such jobs open up to nearly 400,000 graduates.

Hasina said Tuesday that war veterans — commonly known as "freedom fighters" — should receive the highest respect for their sacrifice in 1971 regardless of their current political ideologies.

"Abandoning the dream of their own life, leaving behind their families, parents and everything, they joined the war with whatever they had," she said during an event at her office in Dhaka.

Protesters gathered in front of the university's official residence of the vice chancellor early Tuesday when violence broke out. Demonstrators accused the Bangladesh Chhatra League, a student wing of Hasina's ruling Awami League party, of attacking their "peaceful protests." According to local media reports, police and the ruling party-backed student wing attacked the protesters.

But Abdullahil Kafi, a senior police official, told the country's leading English-language newspaper Daily Star that they fired tear gas and "blank rounds" as protesters attacked the police. He said up to 15 police officers were injured.

More than 50 people were treated at Enam Medical College Hospital near Jahangir Nagar University as the violence continued for hours, said Ali Bin Solaiman, a medical officer of the hospital. He said at least 30 of them suffered pellet wounds.

On Monday, violence also spread at Dhaka University, the country's leading public university, as clashes gripped the campus in the capital. More than 100 students were injured in the clashes, police said.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked railways and some highways across the country, and in Dhaka, they halted traffic in many areas as they vowed to continue demonstrating until the demands were met.

Local media said police forces were spread across the capital to safeguard the peace.

Swapon, a protester and student at Dhaka University who gave only his first name, said they want the "rational reformation of the quota scheme." He said that after studying for six years, if he can't find a job, "it will cause me and my family to suffer."

Protesters say they are apolitical, but leaders of the ruling parties accused the opposition of using the demonstrations for political gains.

A ruling party-backed student activist, who refused to give his name, told The Associated Press that the protesters with the help of "goons" of the opposition's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami party vandalized their rooms at the student dormitories near the Curzon Hall of Dhaka University.

The family-of-the-veterans quota system was halted following a court order after mass student protests in 2018. But last month, Bangladesh's High Court nulled the decision to reinstate the system once more, angering scores of students and triggering protests.

Last week, the Supreme Court suspended the High Court's order for four weeks and the chief justice asked protesting students to return to their classes, saying the court would issue a decision in four weeks.

However, the protests have continued daily, halting traffic in Dhaka.

The quota system also reserves government jobs for women, disabled people and ethnic minority groups, but students have protested against only the veterans system.

Hasina maintained power in an election in January that was again boycotted by the country's main opposition party and its allies due to Hasina's refusal to step down and hand over power to a caretaker government to oversee the election.

Her party favors keeping the quota for the families of the 1971 war heroes after her Awami League party, under the leadership of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, led the independence war with the help of India. Rahman was assassinated along with most of his family members in a military coup in 1975.

Police open hazing investigation after Dartmouth student found dead

FILE - A student walks on the campus of Dartmouth College, Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Hanover, N.H.
FILE - A student walks on the campus of Dartmouth College, Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Hanover, N.H.

Police have opened a hazing investigation after a Dartmouth College student was found dead in a river in early July.

Police received a tip that hazing was involved, and there was evidence that alcohol might have been involved in the death, USA Today reported. (July 2024)

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