When Boxue (Dio) Zhang came to the University of Delaware from his native China to earn a bachelor’s degree, his goal was not just to become a mechanical engineer but also to learn about Americans and their culture.
That proved more difficult than he expected, he said, but an anthropology class he took this semester has done a lot to help.
“I’m an engineering major, so I don’t have a lot of free time to just hang out and talk with Americans,” Zhang said during an end-of-semester party held by the ANTH230 class. “Americans are very friendly, but they have their own slang and their own jokes, and it can be hard to be part of that.
“This class has given me a chance to learn much more about Americans — and also about other Chinese people, because we’re not all the same.”
The class, which has been titled “Peoples of the World” but which may be renamed “The Anthropology of Global Youth,” has taken a novel approach, said Jill Neitzel, who first taught the class last spring, along with Patricia Sloane-White. Both are associate professors of anthropology. Their goal was to have the students explore cultural differences through traditional academic readings, while also fostering both in-class and extracurricular interactions among young people from different cultures.
“The idea is to have a mix of international and American students — the international students have mostly been Chinese — who can learn from each other about the experiences they have,” Neitzel said. “The class is discussion-based, so we talk about a series of academic topics, and the students also share their personal perspectives.”
Each person in the class, she said, has had “a point of amazement, where they say, ‘I never realized that!’” in reference to cultural differences. Discussions have included such topics as how classmates spend their time and money, whether they have part-time jobs, the amount of influence their parents have over their choice of a major and eventual career, and their own sense of responsibility to their parents and families.
The class had a Facebook page, and all students were required to contribute their input on various readings and to comment on their classmates’ posts. This semester, Neitzel added another feature to the class: Students were paired up on a rotating basis and told to chat together before and after class and to take part in some social activities.
Some of the pairs or small groups went out for coffee or dinner, and at least one group did karaoke together.
“The whole idea is to provide an opportunity to really engage at different levels and to learn from each other,” Neitzel said. “The international students, in particular, are very eager to interact more with Americans.”
For Sophiana Leto, a sophomore anthropology major from Edison, New Jersey, taking the class last year was such a good experience that she returned this fall as a teaching assistant. She said she wished there were more such opportunities for American and international students to connect easily, for the benefit of both groups.
“I got the chance last year to meet a lot of students I probably never would have encountered otherwise, and I got to know a lot about them,” she said. “I feel like the class really opened my eyes.”
By discussing a range of topics, students also discover differences within the various groups, Neitzel said. Some U.S. students in the class, for example, might be children of immigrants themselves and have a family culture that is unlike that of the other Americans or of the Chinese students.
“I was unique in this class, because everyone else was from the U.S. or China,” said Saeed Alblooshi, a finance major from the United Arab Emirates. “So the class was great for me. I learned a lot about the Americans and the Chinese students, and they learned from me. We all come in with ideas about each other, but then we learn that everybody is different.”
The class will be offered during the spring semester and is not yet filled; for more information, contact Neitzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.