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Angry Executive: Taking the time to broaden your horizons


Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 08:02

Anyone who knows me will tell you I like learning about new cultures and meeting people of different cultural and national backgrounds. It might have something to do with where I went to high school: Houghton Academy is a small private boarding school where the ratio of American students to foreign students is probably almost 1-to-1. I’ve taken Spanish and Japanese language courses, but I don’t speak either of them well enough to be considered bilingual and I consider it one of my biggest failures in life. I listen to Korean music and I’ve watched a few Korean shows and dramas, so I was excited to hear that three top Korean directors would be making films in English this year.

According to an article in The New York Times, Park Chan-wook, Kim Ji-woon and Bong Joon-ho, all well-known Korean directors, will be releasing films in English in 2013. While I know the language won’t broaden my horizons, I’m hoping the films still maintain that sense of … well … something not-American. After all, films are (usually) art, art is an expression of self, and sense of self is created, at least in part, by culture. 

Of course, the best way to explore a culture is to physically go to the place it originated and literally explore it, but we can’t all go jetting off to other countries. So if you’re stuck here in ’Murica, why not broaden your taste in media to include the foreign and exotic?

That wasn’t really a suggestion. You should just do it.

Learning to appreciate (not just learn about) other cultures is important. Not important in that vague “you should be a well-rounded, tolerant part of society” way, but in a personal way. True, movies aren’t all that personal, but don’t stop at movies. Have you read anything by a modern foreign author? No, J.K. Rowling doesn’t count. I can tell you, I haven’t. I need to.

Do you know what art from other cultures looks like? Have you ever listened to music that didn’t have English lyrics? Do you know what themes inspire people of different nations? Do you know which stories they grew up with? What monsters were hiding under their beds? Who their heroes are?

I only have satisfactory answers for some of those questions, and even if I had studied every drop of paint on foreign easels and read every word written in foreign ink, it wouldn’t be a proper substitute for actually visiting the places that inspired them. Secondhand experience can never replace a firsthand glimpse into another world, but to know how people interpret their own culture has its own worth. 

In the U.S., valuing other cultures seems to have taken on this tenuous, “nice” quality, almost as if it isn’t necessary. People treat it like learning to play the violin, like unless you’re the next Itzhak Perlman, it won’t get you far in the real world. It’s just a “nice” thing to do to round off the corners of your education.

Of course, I believe music has more inherent value than that, but having an appreciation for other societies is on a different plane entirely. Language courses should be given just as much priority in schools as math and science courses, because let’s be honest, knowing a second language has infinitely more practical, everyday uses than knowing how to solve -35x + 7y + 63 = 0 for y.

But I digress. I’m not suggesting you become an ardent student of any and all foreign art or demanding you singlehandedly change perceptions of language learning in this country. I’m simply saying you should consider the possibilities.

We have a fairly significant number (by Brockport standards, that is) of foreign students this year. They have left their families, friends and comforts behind to study here. If you were to bump into one of them, would you know the first thing about their culture? Compared to their level of commitment, suggesting you watch a foreign film or two or read a book you can’t find in the paranormal romance section doesn’t seem so serious, does it?

“No, Carly,” you say. “I guess that doesn’t seem so serious. But just one thing: This doesn’t seem angry enough for your ‘Angry Executive’ column.”

Well, dear reader, just wait till someone tells me everyone in the world should just learn English. Watch how angry I get.

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