Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Global Collaboration

One of the joys and benefits of technology developments in the past decade has been the ability to connect, communicate and collaborate with people from all over the world as part of our shared learning experiences. We have benefited from having a number of schools in the USA interested in video conferencing with our students and working together on collaborative projects. However, because we have some shared history from Europe a few hundred years back, we can be lulled into thinking that we need to be doing 'projects' together rather than spending time finding out about how each other lives and sees life.

After two weeks in the USA enjoying the unfailing hospitality and kindness of people across the six states we visited, I have been reflecting again on the many cultural differences between Kiwis and North Americans. Many times I have reminded myself to not be deceived by the fact that we speak different versions of the same language. We have very different cultures, influenced as much by factors such as geography and climate as by our forebears.

I would urge both Kiwis and Americans to make the most of these digital communication opportunities to explore (and enjoy) the real cultural differences between us and not make presumptions based on what we glimpse on television ( NB: Kiwis) or how Peter Jackson and other movie directors portray us (NB: Americans). This is the first time I have visited the USA when more than 50% of the people I have talked to have complimented me on my soccer team! And even more have told me that visiting NZ is 'On my bucket list'.

I have been taking notes as I have travelled around, mainly via photos on my phone, of things that have intrigued / amused / astounded / informed because we don't experience them in New Zealand. In no particular order, here are some snippets - Vive la difference!
items with an ** are illustrated in the photos below....

First item has to be: everything is larger than anything New Zealand has ever experienced - you name it, it will be much bigger :)
  • Portions and malls; trucks and land; holiday houses - 4 bedrooms seemed minimum- and campers; fishing lines; airports
America has great roads - huge roads, fast roads, well maintained roads. Lots of toll roads to pay as you travel on. And they drive fast on them.
  • Everything on the the roads seems to be huge. The trucks, the cars, the SUVs, the boats being towed.
  • People tow amazing combinations - fast eg a ute towing a very large camping trailer towing a car towing a boat. All in one long line. Going fast.
  • Motor cycles don't seem to require helmets - even on the freeways going fast **
  • Radio station frequencies are advertised on the sides of freeways dedicated to giving you information about the area you are traveling through
  • Sign on the back of a passing truck: "My USA - no comfort or aid to the enemy".
  • Every state has different laws about seat belts. They change as you cross state borders eg Virginia says " Buckle up Virginia - It;'s a law we can LIVE with!"
  • In some states the speed limit is enforced by aircraft!
  • On a very fast freeway we all screeched to standstill while a state trooper shooed a family of ducks across the highway
  • We saw 3-4 dead bambis on the side of busy roads. Maybe cars are more lethal than guns nowdays
National pride - you have to experience July 4th in the USA to really get a picture of people who know how to do national pride.
  • Every house on the street flying the flag and sporting bunting. And if you go to church over the weekend you get to see it in the church context too. **
  • The food in the supermarket came flag-themed with masses of red/white/blue food for sale on July 4th **
  • Interesting the way they sing "God Save the Queen" on July 4th - kinda nice
Other stuff
  • Inside a decadent ice-cream eatery, Cold Sone Creamery, there is a sign on the counter outlining all the ailments that these icecreams will NOT cure! We thought we were just out to get an ice-cream, not to cure cancer! **
  • People kept telling us that Virginia Beach was 'very strict'. We discovered that you get fined for swearing in public, for appearing drunk while walking etc there **
  • The visual pollution: power lines and billboards cluttering the sky in remote parts with beautiful scenery
  • We were quite surprised that we could not eat outside when we were having meals in beachside cafes in North Carolina. The waitresses said it was against the law.
  • A long public pier put over the sea was gated off and payment of $10 was required to fish and $1 to walk out onto it. **
  • The air conditioning units - you need a jersey to wear inside on very hot days or you freeze
  • Pennsylvania billboard: "We treasure our country, our cows, our children" - we passed it too fast to get a photo :) However, in all the miles of farmland we never saw a single cow outside on the farms. Maybe the cows were all inside somewhere….
  • Bathrooms have long been a fascination of mine and this trip I saw an effective method of controlling graffiti; they placed a board inside a picture frame on the back of the toilet door - and it worked - all the messages were contained within it. But the dreaded gaps are still there! **
  • Cheese - well, there is nothing that resembles the cheese we eat in NZ
  • Coffee - Funny how something that you would think would be the same the world over can be so different!
  • Tipping everyone, everywhere; the price appears to have gone up and they have started publishing notices to 'foreigners' that we HAVE to tip 18% of a meal bill **
  • Visitors are no longer called 'aliens' - now we seem to be 'foreigners'
  • Cafe menu have appetisers, salads etc but the entres section turns out to be the main course?? Asked waiters about it but they didn't understand the question (or the accent!)
There is lots more, but I think that we need to take time with our students to help them connect with each other and try to put themselves in each others' shoes. I believe it is easier to have a quality learning experience with kids from countries who speak a different language because we don't make presumptions that they are the same as us - just with a different accent.