Tuesday, October 26, 2021

"Exploring Intercultural Communication"

Butte College Communication Studies instructor Tom Grothe (pronounced "gro-tay") spent pandemic lockdown time writing a textbook about the pleasures and pitfalls of communicating across cultures. What's more, he's made it free to the public.

"Exploring Intercultural Communication" (published by LibreTexts, free at bit.ly/3mc3DnZ) is accessible as web pages or a PDF. In ten chapters Grothe moves from the "what is it" to the "how to do it," offering fascinating insights along the way.

For example, Grothe reminds us two words with same dictionary definition may be used differently in different cultures and even within a culture. "The word 'amigo' in Spanish is equivalent of the word 'friend' in English, but the relationships described by that word can be quite different. During my travels in Guatemala, I experienced 'hola amigo' as a common greeting, even among strangers. Just as in English, a Facebook 'friend' is quite different from a childhood 'friend.'"

Or take the offer of coffee. In some cultures, that means the host is suggesting guests stay a bit longer. In other cultures, "an offer of coffee after a meal is generally recognized as a polite way to indicate to the guests that they ought to leave soon." It's easy to think one's own cultural tradition is the way everyone does it. (Not true, of course, as the section on what counts as an obscene gesture demonstrates.)

Defining culture itself is notoriously difficult, in part because scholars no longer see it as something fixed. Culture "is influenced by historical, social, political, and economic conditions." Older books about the cultural norms of South Korea, for instance, are likely significantly out of date.

Grothe writes from an inclusive perspective, bringing non-Western and indigenous research to bear on examining the "power structures" inherent in cultural assumptions. From the experience of migration and identity to racism, privilege and stereotyping, the book does not shy away from considering, in a calm and reflective manner, some of the most divisive issues of our time.

Sections on intercultural conflict management, romantic relationships, communicating with people with disabilities and nonverbal communication all provide a comprehensive but friendly guide to the diversity--and ambiguity--of human interaction.

Tom, would you like some coffee?

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

"Where The Light Fell: A Memoir"

Ten years ago author Philip Yancey spoke at the El Rey in Chico, part of a series of talks sponsored by Bidwell Presbyterian Church. The best-selling author of  "What's So Amazing About Grace?", Yancey chronicles how "God chooses to make himself known primarily through ordinary people like us."

Now comes autobiography, a "prequel" to his other books. "Where The Light Fell: A Memoir" ($28 in hardcover from Convergent Books; also for Amazon Kindle) focuses on his early life through college days, a stunning tale of growing up in Georgia, of racism and white poverty, and of a mother visiting her own dashed dreams onto her two sons--with irreparable harm.

In 2007, in the aftermath of a life-threatening car accident, Yancey thinks that "in the face of death, old fears would come surging back. An upbringing under a wrathful God does not easily fade away. Instead," he says, "I experienced an unexpected serenity. I had an overwhelming sense of trust, for I now knew a God of compassion and mercy."

It wasn't always so. A year after his birth in 1949 his father, convinced God would heal him, succumbs to polio. Mother (that's what she wanted to be called) dedicates Philip and his older brother, Marshall, to become missionaries, a dream she and her late husband would never fulfill. "My brother and I are the atonement to compensate for a fatal error in belief."

Raised in fundamentalism, Philip and Marshall learn how to move audiences with tearful testimonies even as they imbibe racism. Over time Marshall is estranged from Mother, trying out new lifestyles every week, buying into hippie and drug culture, and Philip becomes the sneak and "trickster." 

"Like Marshall, I fully expected God to crush me someday--the threat Mother held over us. Yet from the Bible I am learning about a God who has a soft spot for rebels...."

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle, Yancey writes. "Only over time does a meaningful pattern emerge. ... In retrospect, it seems clear to me that my two life themes, which surface in all my books, are suffering and grace." Readers will find both in abundance in Yancey's unforgettable story.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

"Tiger Mom Wisdom: U.S. College Admissions Success Through Creativity, Character, And Community"

With a business degree from Chico State, an MBA from Pepperdine, and her College Counseling Certificate from UCLA, Elizabeth Venturini advises Chinese and American parents on how to get their student into prestigious American universities. 

Her advice is distilled in a comprehensive new guide called "Tiger Mom Wisdom: U.S. College Admissions Success Through Creativity, Character, And Community" ($16.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle). "Tiger Moms are the ones who run the household, take care of the kids, and supervise their children's education and extracurricular activities." They've been frustrated with China's "intensely competitive education system, where students can have their entire future determined by a single college admissions exam--the Gaokao."

And so Tiger Moms look to the U.S. American moms are more flexible regarding higher education and value creativity. By contrast, Tiger Moms believe in "academic discipline," that "the right degree from a prestigious school is ... one of the main factors determining a student's future economic and social standing." Venturini, in her book and website (collegecareerresults.com), blends the two perspectives. Prestige is important, but so is realism about the student's "inner spirit."

Her primary audience is Tiger Moms wanting to know what they can do to prepare their student for life in America. They should have encouraged their student early on to explore careers, think about their own talents, what they want to do with their degree, and "develop personal traits such as creativity, character, and community--all in anticipation of presenting them on their résumé for any future opportunity."

But if that hasn't already happened, Venturini has detailed guidance on what to do in this era of Covid, online learning, and in the wake of the Operation Varsity Blues admissions scandal. From boarding schools to how to write a good college essay (it's not enough to come across as smart; one must strive for "unique"), to community service, to what to do when the school says "yes" (or "no")--it's all there. She covers art, music, and film schools, athletics, paying for school, and college etiquette ("the art of charm").

In the end, she writes, "We are a Tiger Mom sisterhood!"

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

"Witness: Hearing The Voice Of God: A Spiritual Autobiography"

Chicoan Terry Hunt remembers being at the hospital bedside of a woman who had come to his talks at St. John's Episcopal Church. Dying, she didn't know what to do. "Maybe," Hunt said to her, "it is just like being born: there is nothing you have to do." Then he added: "Actually there is one thing you can do when it is your time to die, you can watch for Jesus and when He comes you follow him."

And then Hunt thanked her for trusting him "because you thought I might have a connection with God. I have wanted so deeply to be His priest, and you have recognized me as His man. Many others have not. Do you see now what a great gift you have given me?"

This spiritual longing suffuses "Witness: Hearing The Voice Of God: A Spiritual Autobiography" ($17 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle). The book is at times shockingly confessional as Hunt, now in his eighties, recounts his ordination as an Episcopal priest and the rocky relationships at the churches he served; business choices that went south; the painful ending of his official priesthood; and the divorce from his first wife.

Through it all, God was speaking "through events, or through the voice of friends, and sometimes enemies; through dreams, and other strange and luminous metaphors; and I mean He sometimes spoke in a quiet voice: one I heard, not with my ears, but in my mind." But though these "messages were not always easy to recognize or decipher," Hunt calls such moments "spiritual seeds," "opportunities to become more fully self-aware and responsible beings."

Married to Carol Jean since 1975, the couple since 1990 a fixture in Chico, Hunt has found that self-awareness can come powerfully through writing. Teaching workshops in spiritual autobiography, he has invited others to discover God's presence.

A series of epiphanies in Hunt's life (one with rattlesnakes) revealed his deep anger (especially at his father), showing him the wilderness he must go through in following Jesus. It's the way of becoming a disciple, "recruiting people to the union," to "spiritual transformation." 

And, for Hunt, the journey continues.