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Which news stories caught the attention of our International Conversation Café participants lately? Hurricanes and their impact, Las Vegas and gun laws, the inauguration of Duke’s new president, and politics.

One issue raised today was in what situations you could safely discuss politics in the U.S. Could an MBA student express a dislike of the U.S. president in most situations? Why or why not when there’s freedom of speech?

Several participants suggested using caution even though you wouldn’t be arrested here simply for saying something critical of the president. They noted that back home, they’d only criticize the government privately with friends. But that even in the U.S., you’d want to consider the impact of talking about politics. And what impact might a new mayor have for Durham?  An interesting question. Answers, anyone?

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Talk of local events bounced around the table, too. Among the activities:

~ Third Friday Durham ~ Wander around downtown on October 20

~ Concerts at Duke ~ Duke jazz, djembe, and Afro-Cuban ensembles (Oct. 20). The Duke Chorale, symphony orchestra, & wind symphony (Oct. 21). Each show $10 admission; free to Duke students. Tickets online and at the Bryan Center box office.

~ Duke women’s basketball scrimmage (Oct. 22)

~ In Raleigh, the NC State Fair and the International Festival are this weekend

~ Halloween events in DurhamChapel Hill, and beyond

Happy fall. Enjoy the music and other activities!

Rene D. Caputo
Duke University ESL Specialist and Lecturing fellow

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Whaddya say?

The wonderful world of our international conversation gatherings has begun again. We’ve had participants from Germany, China, Brazil, and India so far this semester. With me, the U.S. representative, facilitating and teaching. My roots are Italian and Japanese.

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News of world events peppers our conversation, as does talk of intercultural similarities and differences. And of local events. Music festivals have been popping up in the Triangle area, so they’ve been bandied around the conversation table ~ Durham’s Centerfest, the Hopscotch fest, the Carrboro Musical Festival, and Raleigh’s La Fiesta del Pueblo. Those have all concluded, but the annual International Festival returns to Raleigh in October.

Last week, in addition to discussing local music festivals and world events, our focus turned to language. And I taught our group about understanding some reduced speech. Whaddya gonna do fa fun this weekend?

Why is understanding reduced speech important? Because if you’re struggling to understand the style of speaking here in the U.S., particularly by students, it helps to know how their words might sound as they become squashed together.

We coulda, shoulda, woulda gone to the music festival if we’d hadda ride.

Here is more information about reduced speech if you’d like to take a look.

If you’re a member of the Duke community, feel free to join us on a Thursday afternoon at 12:30.  Look us up on events@duke: International Conversation Café.

I hope to seeya (see you) there,
Rene Caputo
Duke University ESL Specialist and Lecturing fellow

Signs of spring

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(photo credit:  Rene D. Caputo)

March Madness is in the air around the country ~ and definitely here in North Carolina. Many fans are watching collegiate basketball as teams compete to be national champion. Just around the bend, the men’s and women’s tournaments will hold games featuring their Final Four teams on April 1, 2, and 3.

Another sure sign that spring has arrived in our corner of the word? Pollen’s in the air, on trees, cars, our hair, and everywhere. Clouds of yellow dust are floating through the air. The rain thankfully knocks that yellow to the ground now and then.

In addition to basketball and pollen, March and April bring the New Year to some cultures. If you are celebrating in this season, we wish you the best in your new year.

And April Fool’s Day is just around the corner. Be ready for some silly pranks on the first of April. In France, the day is known as Poission d’avril, or April Fish. Children there apparently sometimes tape a paper fish to the back of their friends’ clothes…a bit of lightheartedness in the midst of other seriousness.

Join in our international conversation gathering this Thursday. We tend to cover the spectrum from silly to serious as the hour goes by. We’ll be in the Bryan Center’s Griffith Board room starting at 12:30. See you there!

~ Rene D. Caputo, Duke University ESL Specialist

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(photo credit:  Rene D. Caputo)

Happy solar and lunar New Year to all!

Our International Conversation Café is back in full swing for the semester. In our two opening gatherings, topics discussed included the election, the inauguration, other current events, and New Year’s celebrations.

The tradition in the United States is to celebrate the New Year’s arrival on January 1, but for many cultures here and around the world, the year begins on other dates. Celebrants of lunar New Year (sometimes called Chinese New Year) ushered in the year of the Fire Rooster this weekend.

Duke University has some belated celebrations of the Lunar New Year in February.

Other New Year’s festivities around the world include a Sri Lankan solar festival in April, Rosh Hashanah in September/October, and Diwali in October/November.

Wishing you and yours well no matter when you celebrate.  Join us this Thursday at 12:30 in the Bryan Center’s Griffith Boardroom for our next discussion group.

~ Rene D. Caputo, Duke University ESL Specialist

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      (photo credit:  Rene D. Caputo)

On the heels of the presidential election debate, our International Conversation Café participants were curious about voting issues, asking: When can someone vote in the U.S.?

We learned that the voting age is 18 in France, Japan, and the United States, but is 19 in South Korea. I asked participants if Koreans are still considered one year old on the day they are born. And the answer was yes! Thus, the Korean age of nineteen closely aligns with the eighteen of some countries.

On what day do French and (most) Japanese citizens vote? Sunday. And in France there are no political ads on television, we heard. Just slightly different from in the U.S.

Can you name a state with many electoral votes? Our participants correctly identified California and New York as states having a large number of electoral votes. This site shows how many electoral votes (of the 538 total) each state has and forecasts who will win where.  Other predictions are here ~ click on a state for details.

And what’s a swing state? The majority of voters in a swing state might vote for a Democrat in one presidential election and a Republican in the next. That’s what happened in North Carolina in the past two presidential elections. In the maps linked above, swing states are those not in dark blue or red. More on North Carolina’s voting history.

That’s a snippet from today’s conversation.  But when might you travel to the NC mountains to see beautiful autumn leaves before they? That came up last week. Look at this forecast on where to visit when for seeing peak fall leaf colors.

And come join our conversation next Thursday. Griffith Board Room, on the main floor of the Bryan Center, 12:30 to 1:30.

Rene D. Caputo, Duke University ESL Specialist
Thompson Writing Program and Writing Studio

The leaves are falling as rain showers continue here in Durham, NC. And two gas stations near Duke University show a price of $0.00 in bright numbers. No, it’s not a dream world, but instead is due to the pipeline break further south. And life continues on…

Speaking of continuing on, our International Conversation Café gathering resumes its weekly run tomorrow. Join us in Griffith Board Room, Bryan Center main floor, at 12:30!

We recently hosted 10 participants whose homelands included Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, and South Korea. We chatted about the Centerfest street fair and the Durham farmers market, held year round. Duke’s own farmers market came up as well, but that’s now wrapping up for the season.

Participants traded ideas about studios offering Pilates and yoga, then discussed several beach destinations (Wrightsville Beach, Topsail Island, the Outer Banks) to consider for coastal adventures. Other topics jumped in along the way.

Upcoming conversation gatherings: Thursdays, September 22 and 29th, then October 6 and 13. Duke University students, visiting scholars and researchers, staff, faculty, and spouses are welcome.  No registration is necessary. Griffith Board Room, Bryan Center main floor, 12:30 to 1:30.  Come join us!

Rene D. Caputo, Duke University ESL Specialist
Thompson Writing Program and Writing Studio

Our International Conversation Café got off to a great start on Thursday, with nine participants from around the world ~ plus me. What came up?

Romance Studies: A Parisian participant talked a little about his field. And about how some people were not sure what “romance studies” actually meant. Laughter ensued.

Labor Day: Participants were used to celebrating in May. And without classes! Chinese participants said that workers there would typically get one day off in addition to the weekend (and that the holiday was previously longer).

How to improve speaking & conversation skills? After various conversation opportunities were highlighted, I suggested using a Writing Studio handout I created. http://twp.duke.edu/uploads/media_items/listening-conversation.original.pdf

And how about writing skills? Two student attendees learned about Writing Studio appointments: http://twp.duke.edu/twp-writing-studio

We wrapped things up with by chatting for a bit about various street fairs and other entertainment in the area, including:

Happy fall semester, Rene

Rene Caputo
Duke ESL Specialist, Thompson Writing Program
Instructor, English for International Students