So far, we have had five sessions of the English Conversation Club, where we have discussed the film industry, the US education system, the US medical system, driving in the US, and the political system. I feel as though each week I learn something different about aspects of US culture that I have come to take for granted which participants see and think of differently. For instance, the role of public education and higher education in the US provides a higher level of access to opportunities than in other countries, which is commonly called the American Dream. While I considered education as one of the factors contributing to a widening income gap and a shrinkage of the middle class, participants in the English Conversation club mentioned that effort to complete higher education provided easier access to a comfortable lifestyle than might be possible in other countries. Participants cited that films and other forms of media helped them form these ideas of life in the US, while I figured that my perspective was different having lived here my whole life because I did not have experiences in another country with which to readily compare. Consequently, I came to revere my own views of the pursuit and benefits of education a little more critically.
As far as similarities, we have discussed the prevalence of compulsory education across different countries as well as the presence of similar forms of media due to such brands as Hollywood. In small group discussions, I have been able to bond with participants about the Marvel franchise, discuss the subtleties of political activism and engagement, and look at how transportation methods affect travel for leisure. Through these conversations, I have been able to gain insights into new perspectives from participants’ lives and form connections that I am excited to go to every week and continue to grow in a learning environment.
Through these experiences in the Global Fellows Program, I have learned about this common thread that connects different people to Durham. From graduate students to spouses of graduates, to general community members, each of the participants has something of value to add to the conversation. One of my favorite aspects has been engaging through listening and allowing space in the conversation. As a fellow, and thus a representative of American culture, I have learned how my own understanding of the US can be limited at times allowing me to reflect on the learning that I still must do.