Thursday, January 12, 2012

Introducing foreign grad students to US culture

Mike Sullivan of the Math Department suggested that I point readers toward a draft document he's prepared suggesting things that foreign graduate students, especially those planning on staying on in the US after their education, might want to bone up on. Compare the Beloit College "mindset list" meant to introduce faculty to their students--though that list is devoted to what humanities types call "little c" rather than "capital c" culture (i.e., popular rather than fancy pants culture). This is a nice diversion from our more divisive fare, so I'm happy to oblige.  Here's Mike:

This Summer I will become the graduate advisor for the Math Dept. A large fraction of our graduate students are from overseas. I started thinking about how to acclimate them to American culture. Many students in math, science and engineering are foreign but will stay here and become apart of our technological elite. Foreign undergrad students will be taking courses in the humanities, but foreign grad students in the STEM fields will not. So, I put together a web page I'm calling "An Introduction to American Culture for Foreign Graduate Students." It is just a series of lists of mostly books and movies that students or young academics could pursue when they have time over the next few years. It is pretty haphazard.

I'd like to get feed back on it either here or by e-mail (look me up). It is really a job for people in the humanities after all. I want to keep it short and be something a busy grad student or young academic could get through in a few years. I did not include recent movies that were widely seen overseas. I wanted to include both important literary novels and popular novels. So, here is the link, let be know what you think:

It is easy to think of things to add - but harder to decide what to prune. You may want to think about it yourself for a while before looking at what I have done.


  1. It's a notoriously difficult task, this. An invitation, in part, to a debate about "cultural literacy" and whose voices dominate in representing (a) culture(s). I appreciate the attempt at diversity in this list -- for some, it will be too much; for others not enough.

    The beauty of a web site like this is that it can be a living document, regularly changing and adjusting within such a protean project. A suggestion, though: I wonder if the folks who might best contribute to such a site are international students who have swum a bit in these waters. That is, a focus on what sojourners have found useful in understanding US culture and history rather than what we choose to project about ourselves.

    I can think of many things to add and, looking over this, a few that I would cut. But cutting in this context feels a bit too much like censorship.

    In order to make this comment at least a bit more useful to the project as conceived: I think an excellent addition under either "Popular History and Culture" or "Philosophy and Ideas" would be Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States or, alternatively, the 2010 documentary influenced by it The People Speak.

  2. Zinn's book is an excellent suggestion.

  3. Charlie Brown, Doonesbury, etc, Superman??, are also possibly additions, but people probably know about these already...

  4. Thanks. I've included Zinn.

  5. Anon 9:34,

    You should definitively read "The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" by Michael Chabon. From Amazon: "This brilliant epic novel set in New York and Prague introduces us to two misfit young men who make it big by creating comic-book superheroes."

  6. Thanks Mike, I'll check it out.

  7. Should I add "A Charlie Brown Christmas (TV 1965)" to the list of movies? If so, which one should I drop? Would it have been shown on TV in other countries?

  8. That sounds good, I doubt that it would have been seen in other countries. I would probably drop Fargo or Some Like it Hot; both good movies but they don't say too much about US culture.


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