The BCM, the awesome student ministry I’ve been a part of since coming to OU, hosted an American Culture Club for five weeks earlier this semester. The club’s goal is to welcome international and exchange students and help them learn about American culture. I’ve been eager to spend more time with international students at OU since receiving such a warm welcome as a guest in Central Asia this summer, and making new friends and helping facilitate discussions at ACC was a perfect opportunity.
Each week, we had time to chat and eat snacks and then discuss a set of questions over topics like culture shock, family differences, and U.S. holidays. In seeing American culture though new eyes, I ended up not only learning more about my own culture but a little bit about everyone else’s cultures, too.
One afternoon at ACC, when we were discussing family structures, a student from Cambodia shared that in her language there are five different ways to address people and five different grammatical forms based on their rank of seniority. A student from Sweden said that there were no distinctions in seniority in her country — everybody is on a first-name basis. However, despite this cultural difference, I observed that in every culture, some things are common between everyone. In every culture, people love and treasure their families.
(Not really related to American Culture Club, but I found this infographic illustrating East-West cultural differences the other day. It struck me as a creative illustration. Do these illustrations accurately represent the cultures without making too many broad generalizations? What do you think?)
American Culture Club made me realize that it’s difficult and quite funny to explain American, Southern, and Oklahoman slang. “Hit the sack?” “Twister?” “Fixin’ to…?” “Pitch in?” Where do these phrases come from, and how do they find our way into the regional collective consciousness and stay there? I don’t know. One week, our small group’s assignment was to write a short story using all of these terms. Hilarity ensued.
One weekend, a group of us went camping at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area near Sulphur. It was my great pleasure to introduce my international friends to the s’more, which is officially the most purely American food of all American foods and also undeniably the most delicious. It was also great to sing songs and talk about our favorite music, our philosophies and spiritual beliefs, our hometowns, our goals and dreams. Something about sitting around a campfire draws people together.
I made some wonderful friends at American Culture Club, and though I wish it had lasted longer, I’m glad we’ve still been able to hang out since then.