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Foreign exchange students share cultures during panel

Alicia Smith | Thursday, November 19, 2009

Saint Mary’s foreign exchange students spread their knowledge of world culture, sharing details such as debunking stereotypes about foreigners, during a panel discussion held in honor of International Education Week at the College.

The discussion, called “A Bridge of Misunderstanding,” allowed international students to teach their fellow classmates, as well as faculty and staff, about their native countries. Each student gave a short presentation about their country, dismissing some common misconceptions of the American mindset.

Saint Mary’s sophomore Chen Chen spoke about China, offering insight into what it’s truly like to live there.

“The Internet has really changed China a lot. In my opinion, North Korea is more like a hardcore communism country,” she said. “I think most people in China they believe that communism is actually dead in China. They’re practicing the policies like free market in China. It’s interesting to see how it actually goes.”

Chen was able to correct several misconceptions that students often hold about her country. Contrary to how some view China, she said rights are not withheld from minorities.
“Another misunderstanding about China is that minorities, they live a hard life in China. I think institutionally China has a lot of privileges, a lot of favors they give to the minorities,” she said. “The well-known ‘one child’ policy — it only applies to the Hun which is the majority and not any other minorities.”

Following her presentation, Chen showed a short film depicting daily life in China. 
Another Asian country discussed was Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma. Sophomore Shwe Yee Phyoe spoke generally about Myanmar, outlining basic information about the culture. She contrasted her culture’s respect for age with what she has experienced in the United States.

“We really pay respect to our parents and the elders,” she said. “When I come here, it’s hard for me to call the professors names, like the names directly who are older than me because in our culture, if you call your names directly that’s regarded as rudeness.”

She also discussed some of the common misunderstandings about her country. Phyoe said many people often confuse Myanmar as a part of China, when in fact it is an independent country.

Min Hee Lee, an exchange student from South Korea, discussed some common questions she frequently hears. Lee said South Koreans are not as frightened as the media portrays them to be, although the tension between the two nations is real.

Junior Cristina Posadas spoke about Mexico, her native country. Posadas said although some Mexicans do have moustaches and sombreros, it is not the norm.

“Mexico is a very mountainous country, and many people who immigrate to the United States from Mexico tend to be people who come from rural communities from the countryside who have lived in isolation from cities or from other towns,” she said.

The presentation ended with Amira El-Serafy, an Egyptian student. She said Egypt has advanced cities and many other features in common with the United States.