Friday, April 18, 2008

Oh, Canada!

Obviously, living in another country different from your own brings about the inevitable exposure to cultural differences. Latin American culture is very different from North American culture, as I have experienced and described in other posts. Even within Colombia there are differences in the various regions of the country. However, in some ways, I don't even need to leave school to run into myriad cultural dealings different from my own.

I remember when I moved from Minnesota to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for college, I was surprised at how different life had been for my friends right across the border. Getting money from Tyme machine instead of the ATM and going to bars with your parents when you were under 21 was a strange new world for me. Later, moving even further into the state for my first teaching job in Manitowoc brought new "cultural" discoveries. In north eastern Wisconsin, for example, a "hot tamale," for some reason, is a sloppy joe sandwich, and the use of the non-word "yous" is common and acceptable both in spoken and written communication (as in "can yous give me a hot tamale?").

At Colegio Bolivar I am blessed to be working with a richly diverse faculty of Colombia, American, and Canadian teachers. With this cornucopia of backgrounds and experiences, it is not surprising that terminology and ideas are influenced and melded together.

I was reminded recently, after passing back an exam to my 9th graders, of how confusing these differences in terminology from the different import teachers can be for the students. Aside from saying "eh," Canadian teachers bring a different pedagogical terminology to the academic table.

For example, when I was in school, I "took" tests; my students now "take" tests. In Canada, students "write" tests. This is confusing for obvious reasons because, in my mind, I write the test and the students take them. Why would a student write a test? I suppose a Canadian could rightfully argue that it would be inappropriate for a student to take a test though. "To where are they talking it, eh?" I imagine would be legitimate question.

To further compound the student's confusion, when I "grade" an assignment or exam, a check mark or a slash through an answer usually means the response was incorrect. When a Canadian "marks" an assignment or exam, the same checkmark or slash means it is correct. Maybe that is why some students don't break down in despair when they get an exam back full of red checks; they probably think they aced it!

With there currently being 5 American teachers, 5 Canadians, and 15 Colombians in high school alone, I do not envy the confusion I'm sure many of the students face on a yearly basis learning a new language and deciphering the nuances of Canadian and American phraseology. Maybe next year the school can hire a couple Brits and an Australian so we can continue to confuse everyone.