Academic journal article Social Education

Other-Wise: The Case for Understanding Foreign Cultures in a Unipolar World

Academic journal article Social Education

Other-Wise: The Case for Understanding Foreign Cultures in a Unipolar World

Article excerpt

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, I hit upon an exercise I have used around the world ever since, but mostly with high school and college students in the United States. I have come to call this exercise "The Forced Migration Game," and this is how it works.

      Imagine that your government has decided that a certain percentage of
   your nation's population will have to move to another country permanently.
   (You might wonder why a government would want to do this. We don't have
   time to go into all the reasons right now, but take it from me, your
   government is a benevolent government, and it would not ask people to leave
   if it weren't absolutely necessary.)

      Now, since your government is benevolent, it would like to make this
   forced migration as painless as possible, so it has distributed a form
   asking you to list the three countries where you would MOST like to live.
   Do that now. And remember, you will live in one of these countries for the
   rest of your life.

      Do you have your top three choices? Good. Now your government wants to
   make sure you've selected these countries for valid reasons, so it has
   asked you to write, next to each of your three choices, a word or two
   explaining why you have chosen these countries. Please do that now.

The first half of the written exercise, focusing on positive choices, is now completed. (See an example of the form used with the exercise on p. 450.) The second half of the exercise runs as follows:

      Your forms have been sent to your government's Out-Migration Center and,
   much to everyone's surprise, there is a problem. It seems this process is
   much more complicated than anyone expected and it will not be possible to
   send everyone to his or her country of choice. But your government, being
   benevolent, certainly does not want to send you to a country you would not
   like to live in, so it has asked you to list the three countries where you
   would LEAST like to live for the rest of your life. Do that now, and next
   to each choice give two or three reasons for making the choice.

      At this point, I ask students to volunteer their responses. Any country
   that gets a minimum of five to eight votes, depending on the size of the
   group, gets listed on the board with its vote total. The recorded lists,
   positive and negative, along with the major reasons for the choices, serve
   as an overview of the group's responses and the basis for discussion.

Countries Most Like Their Own

As might be expected, American students most often choose Western industrialized nations for their positive choices--countries most like their own. Over the years, the consistently most popular choices have been Britain and Australia, followed closely by Canada, Switzerland, Italy, and Sweden. One might expect Canada to be the runaway first choice of American students, given its similarity and proximity to the United States, but American students often say they think of Canada more as an extension of the U. S. than as a foreign country. The late Canadian writer Robertson Davies made a similar point when he said, "Canada is the attic of North America."

The most common reasons students give for their positive choices relate to culture, language, economics, and geography: "lifestyle, language, strong economy" (Australia); "English, English, English" (Britain); "people are culturally similar to me, good economy, beautiful landscape" (Switzerland); "language, climate, beaches" (Australia); "I identify with the culture, the values, and I have family and friends there and speak the language" (Denmark); "familiar culture, proximity to family and friends in the U.S." (Canada); "studied there and feel comfortable with the culture" (Spain); "I have friends there and know the language" (Germany); "It's beautiful, I love Renaissance art, I speak some Italian, the Alps" (Italy); "friendly people, cool summers, open-minded society, English spoken everywhere" (Sweden); "quiet, peaceful country, high standard of living, similar culture and language" (New Zealand). …

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