We Are So Afraid of Cultural Differences

Reading a foreign story in class was intimidating. It was something we were required to do growing up, and the connection with the words “requirement” and “foreign novel” gave every student the impression that studying non-American literature would be dreadfully tedious.  We would have to spend extra time trying to understand it, but the characters would always remain distant.  There was no effort in attempting to relate the plot to our own lives. The suffering of the Muslim girl was far away, and the natives in the Congo were never of our concern.  They made us uncomfortable because we couldn’t relate, so we didn’t try to understand.  So it only makes sense that if we students grew up with the idea that foreign literature is difficult and irrelevant, we would intentionally avoid it.

Our movies are everywhere, our music plays on radio stations in every country, and the American literature monopolizes libraries on a global scale.  We are undeniably becoming more globally connected.  But it isn’t fair to ourselves to close the door to the foreign literature that tells a different story.  If our novels spread to other countries, let theirs spread to ours.  While reflecting on this topic, I did research to see how significant foreign literature is to American education, and even when trying to find an article on this, I only came across things like “Why You Should Study American Literature” or “The Reason a Student Should Study English Literature.” Alas, after an hour of digging, I find the “Why Study Foreign Literature” article I was looking for.  It challenged my thought process in determining that actively understanding and participating in foreign literature forces us to not be passive in our global community, and it takes certain societal leaps to appreciate this.  We knew all about the American girls who grew up on the prairie, but didn’t think about the life of the young Germain until her diary was published and shared with the world.

So to say that we are limited to the stories to which we are exposed doesn’t seem fair, because the resources out there will prove that limitation incorrect.  But we are undeniably biased by comfort when choosing what we read and what we absorb; to whom we listen and with whom we relate.

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