Archive for the ‘Forum ~ Culture’ Category

After glancing at the NY Times headline, our conversation group briefly discussed the recent Florida shootings. The international participants found it hard to understand why the U.S. federal government seems to do little to limit shootings. National news would suggest that many feel the same. Yes, we did also talk about the second amendment. As we sat in our room with its glass wall of windows.

We soon switched to a lighter cultural topic. Hanuman, the famed Hindu deity. A participant explained that Hanuman has a monkey face and tail. And are there many gods in Hinduism? Millions was the estimate!

International films were next. A Chinese participant had seen Three Idiots, an Indian blockbuster. Others chimed in that Cary theaters feature Indian films the same week they open in major Indian cities. I noted that a little Hindi from films is sinking in even as I read English subtitles. One such word is bas, meaning enough or that’s enough. Typically said by strong patriarchs. Interesting that the word is so close to its Castilian counterpart. ¡Basta!Hindi Medium

Duke shows the film Hindi Medium Friday, Feb. 23. On East in White 107 at 5:30. A free screening “in Hindi with subtitles.” About 3 hours long, not unusual for an Indian film. Plenty of time to empathize with characters.
Dream Empire

Chinese films also travel the globe. And guess what? Duke will screen Dream Empire, a 2016 film “in Chinese with subtitles,” tomorrow. Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 7 pm in Bryan Center Griffith Film Theater. “Free and open to the public.”

Enjoy your week and perhaps a film or two!  Join us in the Griffith Boardroom (Bryan Center) this Thursday at 12:30 for our International Conversation Café gathering.

See you soon,
Rene D. Caputo
Duke Lecturing fellow and ESL specialist


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Several celebratory days are coming up fast, so they had our attention during the International Conversation Café on Thursday. The first is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) on February 13th.  Durham has its annual parade downtown. Perhaps you’ll come out and join in the fun?  Music starts around 6 pm, the parade runs from about 7 to 7:30 pm, and then there’s free music in several Durham venues. Scroll down on this page for details.

Valentine’s Day takes center stage on Wednesday. Our conversation participants mentioned seeing red hearts, chocolates, and flowers taking over grocery stores. One participant mentioned that this celebratory day is protested in some cultures, sometimes rather humorously (because love can be rather fickle) and sometimes violently. Wishing you a peaceful one whatever you do.

And then there’s Lunar New Year! Shows featuring Duke ASA LNY18music and dance to celebrate the year of the dog will be hosted by the Asian Student Association this week. If you have a Duke id, you can RSVP.

Our next International Conversation Café is Thursday, February 15 at 12:30. Come join us in Griffith Boardroom, the Bryan Center. Sponsored by the Thompson Writing Program & Studio.

Enjoy your celebrating ~ and see you soon!

Rene D. Caputo
Duke Lecturing fellow and ESL specialist

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Relationships took center stage in our conversation group this Thursday, prompted by an IndyWeek article about local restaurants to consider for dates. Participants decided that on a first date they would opt for a quiet place without messy hamburgers. Top criteria for choosing a restaurant for the occasion were: atmosphere, cost, music, noise level, and type of food.
IndyDish 2018Jan.png

In our group, we learned:
~ Blind dates are popular in South Korea, as is inviting single people to a dinner gathering in case they might like each other

~ A few couples we knew around the world who met on WeChat or online dating services ended up getting married

~ Some women in China might look for attractive, rich partners who have a house, car, and high education, a few participants opined. Where else in the world might that be true?! Might men want the same in a partner?

 Zero or one?
~ In some countries, including India and the U. S., you are considered to be zero years old when you are born

~ In South Korea and China, you might be considered to be one year old at birth (this tradition might be fading, though)

~ United Nations’ data (2015) finds the mean age to marry is:
30.8 Brazil     25.3 China     22.8 India     27.9 United States

Interested in talking about life, culture, and current events with us? Join us from 12:30 to 1:30 on Thursday afternoons. We’ll meet in West Union 216 on February 8 and in Griffith Boardroom (Bryan Center main level) on February 15 and 22.

See you soon!
Rene D. Caputo

Duke University Lecturing fellow and ESL Specialist






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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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daffodils photo

(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


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