We are the world
Weekly international forums focus on global issues
Bangladesh is home to the world’s longest beach, Venezuela has a penchant for producing Miss Universes, and if you’re planning on visiting the Sultanate of Oman during the summer, prepare for temperatures reaching 122 degrees.
These were a few facts shared by 20 educators from 18 different countries and five continents at Chico State University Tuesday afternoon (March 5) at the latest in a series of weekly international forums open to students and the community. The forums are organized by professor Quirino de Brito on behalf of the university’s Department of International Languages, Literatures and Cultures (ILLC).
Last week’s forum was titled International Teachers: Regional Perspectives on Culture and Society, and the presenters were participants in the Teaching Excellence and Achievement program. Through TEA, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State, educators from around the world visit select cities for six weeks in order to study the American educational system and share regional educational perspectives with local teachers and students.
Though the latest forum ostensibly was focused on education, time constraints turned it into more of an around-the-world-in-one-hour experience. The presenters, many dressed in the traditional garb of their home countries, were each given a few minutes to share photos and some simple facts about their country’s geography and culture.
The visitors represented such far-flung locales as Cambodia, Bolivia, Nepal, Ukraine and Jordan, and presentations varied from simple PowerPoint displays to livelier showings. For example, a woman from Kazakhstan gave an impromptu musical performance on a chang-qobuz, one of the oldest instruments in the world and a close relative of what American’s know as a jaw harp.
The liveliest presentation was the last, by a group of women from South America. Rather than each telling a little about her own country, they grouped together to give a brief overview of all the countries of South America, complete with music and some dancing.
“We are Americans, too, only from farther south,” one of the women said to kick off their address.
After each teacher spoke, the women fielded questions from the audience that focused more on education, though this was cut short as students entered for the next scheduled class. An audience member asked about perspectives in former Soviet countries, which a representative from Ukraine answered.
“Mine is the first generation of students educated in an independent country, and we are already very different than the generation before,” he said. “The young people in Ukraine and other former countries are very focused on independence and their own identity, so I don’t think we’ll ever see another situation [like the Soviet Union] again.”
The man from Nepal also spoke up, giving a perspective that proves it really is the same all over.
“Our young people are obsessed with modern technology and modern society,” he said. “They think they know better than their elders, and better than ancient cultures. This is not always true.”
Professor de Brito, a native of Brazil with a doctorate in international education, has been organizing the forums since 2011, though he said a group of internationally minded professors has been holding similar but less-frequent gatherings for the past decade.
“The forums keep with the CSU system’s mission to internationalize our students and expose them to issues taking place around our world,” he said of the meetings’ purpose. “By inviting and including the public, students from outside the university and other people, we also feel like it’s bringing that mission to the greater community.
“By including professionals, educators, and people from other countries, it creates an interdisciplinary approach to looking at and better understanding the rest of the world.”
Other forums this semester have focused on topics ranging from human trafficking to tools to help translators. Upcoming forums include discussions about reform and change in Iran, and the perspectives of international youth.
De Brito doesn’t shy away from controversy or current events for forum topics. With the recent death of Hugo Chavez, he is putting together a panel to discuss the Venezuelan politico’s legacy.
“There’s a lot of controversy over Chavez’s tactics in applying a Bolivarian approach to Latin American policies,” de Brito said. “People can get very upset on both sides, but what I’m hoping to do is work through the disagreements to focus on what legacy he’s left behind, and if this philosophy has done anything to move society forward.”