Making Sense of the American Experience Small Group Discussion

Perhaps some international visitors to State College receive a formal orientation to American society and culture before they come here, and perhaps others have taken courses in American studies. In general, it is more likely that there are gaps in what such visitors know about the complexity and diversity of their host country.

The Global Connections small group Making Sense of the American Experience is designed to help fill those gaps. Each week, we discuss an issue inspired by current events, a participant’s question, or a national study. Our topics have ranged far and wide: gun violence and gun control, elections, the opioid crisis, immigration, the American dream, and freedom of expression, just to name a few.

Each session is a forum in which American residents in our community and people from other nations living here exchange views. In this way, everyone becomes a learner, hopefully better informed about the world and the diversity of views and values that motivate all of us.

Occasionally, we invite a guest speaker to lead the discussion. A Native American who works at Penn State and her teenage daughter told us about life on reservations and current concerns. An African American undergraduate shared her insights on race relations. The director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center (now Centre Safe) told us about domestic abuse. A “native’ Pennsylvanian explained who the Pennsylvania Dutch are.

I would like to think that by-products of the discussion are greater empathy and sensitivity to perspectives and cultural values of others. We welcome any and all to join us on Tuesdays, noon to 1:00 PM, at the Municipal Building. Sessions have been paused for the summer, but we will start up again in the fall. 

  • Bob Persiko

English Teaching for Global Connections

There are many reasons people attend my English class on Tuesday mornings at the Municipal Building. Most are professional women who had careers in their home countries and are in State College because their husbands are studying at Penn State or working. Since accompanying spouses are generally not allowed to work, they are looking for ways to spend their time meaningfully. Most are already quite proficient in English grammar but don’t have the occasion to practice speaking.

Olga is a dermatologist in her home country who wants to improve her English so that she can pass the tests needed for certification to practice her profession in the US. J likes the fact that other women from her country are in the class because it provides an occasion to socialize while honing her English. M is a visiting scholar and takes English to enhance her ability to speak and understand outside of her academic duties. X likes it when we read articles about current events and US history. A enjoys exercises that focus on pronunciation – always a challenge in English!

Sometimes everyone brings food and we party! Discussions may revolve around comparing cultural values and customs. This kind of class is designed to foster mutual understanding, which is a key objective of Global Connections, and bring our international community together.

A new arrival is always warmly welcomed. At the end of the class session, I will see her/him exchanging email addresses and phone numbers with others.

During the summer months, we substitute playing a round of mini-golf at Tussey Mountain for sitting in the classroom or attend a Spikes baseball game. Family members can tag along on those occasions. The aim to have fun while learning. I think most of my students would agree that they do! 

-Bob Persiko