Southern Views

Friday afternoon in academia usually means most faculty have left the building after attending the faculty meeting, assessments group or whatever academic bureaucracy has been scheduled.  I was probably one of the last ones to leave and was winding up what had been a more than stressful week.

I heard the hesitant knock on the door and the “Dr. D. may I ask you one question?”  The soft voice belonged to “Snow,” a student who is with us this year, earning credits to transfer back to her Chinese university.  Like a little bird on the windowsill, Snow is alert, always turning her head from side to side as she listens in class, but sitting still in my office, hanging on to every word.

It’s an introduction class in mass media in which she’s enrolled and sometimes it seems it’s more than she can comprehend.  Her English is much better than my Chinese, but she struggles sometimes to understand what is meant.  If it is a “fact” she has never heard or has heard the opposite, she comes back with more information she probably spent most of the night finding.

Today, she asked why newspapers were in “some much trouble.”  She couldn’t understand why newspapers in a country like the United States could be sliding so badly.  In China, everyone reads a newspaper, she said, and here we have papers like The New York Times and the Washington Post.

For the next hour or two our conversation meandered.  And, as usual, she was like a sponge – politely standing until I told her to have a seat – absorbing all I said and trying to understand this strange country where we have so many different possibilities.

We discussed the class, a hybrid, where part is in the traditional classroom and part online.  She needed her usual reassurance that she knew the next assignment and was I really combining newspapers and magazines when I discuss websites next week.  It wasn’t in the book, so did she understand correctly that I was discussing websites.

We moved to the Egyptian Revolution and she didn’t really know what to do.  She always reads The New York Times, but I had told her to expand her information seeking.  So, she went to Google.  Google is her favorite and she talks often of trying to find something on Google.  Now, she was depressed.  She put “Egyptian Revolution” into Google and found so much she didn’t know what to do.  She was confused.  How did she know what to read?

I suggested she stick with a few websites and gave her four or five to use over the weekend.  She politely repeated each after me, then asked if this was right.

Her big question: “couldn’t this happen to President Obama, just like Mubarak?”  To her, the people overthrowing the leader is tantamount to a coup, revolution and absolute chaos all rolled into one.  I told her no, that our Constitution would protect from that.  That we have a way to protect our government from being overthrown.  She took this in slowly, nodding in understanding, but then, “I don’t know.  Can you explain, if you don’t mind, what is a Republican and what is a Democrat?”

That’s a tough one.  How do I explain a political process in total disarray, but still works?  I explained the left, the right, liberal, conservative, big business, big government and people of all types.  Once again, she nodded slowly, then, “But, this Tea Party?  Where do they belong?”

Good question.  So, we discussed the 2008 election, the 2010 mid-year elections, and what people thought they wanted.  “Ah, the mid-year elections!  Didn’t President Obama lose the election?  He’s a Republican, no?”

Snow had read of people in Florida against everyone having healthcare.  It was totally beyond her comprehension why people would pay for healthcare and not agree for all Americans to have it.  I tried to explain the Federal government versus the states, but, I had myself confused and no, I don’t understand why old people in Florida don’t want healthcare.  “This Medicare?   You mean people get it free, but don’t want it?”

But, her real question was just like any student – what to do when she leaves.  She has one more year, including her internship, before she graduates from her Chinese university.  Soon, her department head will assign where the students will go for their internships.

She said “I thought newspaper, because everyone reads newspaper, but now you tell me it’s not doing good.  Maybe China has more readers, but my father knows someone in the big newspaper in the country, so I talked with her and she said no to newspaper.  It is very scary.”

I suggested radio, but, according to Snow, radio is not important in China.  “When people stand there for the bus or, how do you say, subway, they read newspapers.”

I asked what her family did at home.  “Oh, my mother has lots of DVDs.  We listen to music.”

“Do people in China ride a bus or subway to work or do they drive?”

“Oh, no, we don’t drive.  It makes congestion.  But if people in United States don’t ride the bus or train, how do you get to work?”

Most of us drive alone, I told her.  “Oh, then you have lots of congestion!  Especially in that Drive Time.”  She hasn’t been to Atlanta, yet.

“So I think I’ll go with wire service.  They are big.  What do they do?”

Finally, “I need to go now, but I don’t understand why United States doesn’t read newspaper.  We all like the United States in China.  I read The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times before I come here.  But, then you tell us in class about this USA Today.  It is a National newspaper you say?  Why is it national?  But, isn’t The New York Times international?  Doesn’t it have international paper?  What is it called?  The United? England?  Oh, United Kingdom.  We like United States in China.  Why don’t people watch TV news in United States as much?”

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Susan De Bonis

Susan De Bonis

I guess you always end up where you started. Although I was born at Duke, I actually grew up in Georgia, primarily in South Georgia. My daddy's family is from Fitzgerald, my mother's from Worth County. My husband, who is not a native of these parts, is convinced I'm related to half of the state. I've worked in TV, radio, and newspaper (including time at the AJC), primarily in management, but also in news and research.  For the last seven years I've taught at a regional university in GA.  Time to move on.  Academia isn't for me.  Where I land is anyone's guess, for sure I don't know.