Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Global Family Initiative

Not only do I interview former teachers and students for this oral history project at Pilot Mountain, I also interview current high school students who are applying to go abroad as exchange students on the NSLI-Y program. Those letters represent National Security Language Initiative-Youth, a US government program designed to train young people (our future) in strategic languages not usually taught in American schools. I’ve met some fantastic students this way, self directed, goal oriented young people that will one day lead the world.

In connection with this, last spring I attended a Global Family Conference in Washington, DC. We made plans for international exchanges and how our students could adapt in a new culture. In break out sessions we participated in these cultures, not only in the food and dance, but in the nuances of daily living in each country. The more sessions I attended, the more I realized one thing. These people, in describing their homeland, were describing the southern culture that I had grown up in, the one that is fading away. I see it in the Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse era, too, and hear it in their voices as they describe life fifty, sixty years ago.

Never lock our doors.

Sit on the front porch and visit friends.

Talk indirectly.

Time is secondary to family.

Children respect elders without question.
Of all those on the list, I think the “talk indirectly” is the most difficult for our students to understand when they live with a host family. If there is a problem, they expect to be blunt and discuss it, that’s the modern way. They don’t expect to talk around the problem for an hour and then hear a parable or fable connected to the problem. But that’s what happens. And that’s what happens even yet in southern culture, if you go far enough back into the recesses of the mountains where neighbors still sit on the front porch and visit friends and where time is secondary to family and talk is indirect.

My concern is with the next generation from these cultures. Will their presentations change because their way of life has become global, influenced by the internet and mass media? Will all culutres melt away and lose their identity in one giant melting pot?

Catch of the day,



  1. Hmmmm, great food for thought, Gretchen! I speak conversational Macedonian. One of the challenges I had when learning the language was finding a word to express a particular emotion, as in English. Many of these words simply didn't exist, with one word being the catch-all. So, okay. When I spoke English with an English-speaking Macedonian, the person loved to talk about the abstract. When I spoke Macedonian with the same person, abstract sublities faded into that catch-all word, as if the sublities didn't exist. When we lived in Hawaii, I studied Japanese for several years. Yuko, my language exchange partner, said she and her friends loved to share their feelings in English because the words didn't exist in modern-day Japanese. So, they reverted to Japanese custom when speaking Japanese.

    I've also given thought to what you posted today and wonder if change is there, nevertheless. I wince when non-English speakers glob onto English curse words, throwing them around like candy. However, within Macedonia certain words we'd take for granted are whispered (even tho there is very colorful cussing) and Macedonians will hush you back away if a non-speaker uses the word (not realizing how taboo it is.) Soooo, don't know, don't know. Sorry this is so long; really enjoyed your post!!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kittie. One of the students I interviewed recently said he appreciates how his school "facilitates diversity without erasing individuality." That's what I think about the ideal global family concept - Not losing a culture while experiencing the diverse cultures of the world. Possible? Impossible? Time will tell.

  3. I think celebrating culture is great, as long as the cultures do not conflict and can assimilate (live together in peace). Common values of life, liberty and love seem very important.