Archive for the ‘Forum ~ Culture’ Category

As you gathered with friends or family recently, perhaps vegetables, turkey, or fish graced your table. But lobster, seal, and swans? That trio played a role in our last international conversation gathering ~ because Pilgrims and native residents might have feasted on them back in 1621. That’s the view offered by history.com staff.

Did big turkeys and pumpkin pie play a part in the legendary meal? Likely not. We do know, though, that native guests brought deer to share and Pilgrims hunted for fowl. And that pie was likely missing from the menu given the lack of an oven or sugar to spare. Japanese maple

The day of mourning observed by some native Americans was also discussed. And I suggested participants consider attending the annual February powwow at NC School of Science and Mathematics. Mark your calendars for the 2nd of February.

Throughout our conversation, participants voiced opinions about current events. And some wondered how much snow the winter might bring us in NC. Accuweather is calling for “a very active winter” in the Southeast. Your thoughts?!
(photo by Rene D. Caputo)

Join us in our Duke International Conversation Café gathering this or next Thursday from 12:30 to 1:30 in Brodhead Center/West Union 248.

All the best to you and yours no matter the weather!
Rene D. Caputo
Duke University ESL Specialist


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In your wildest dreams, what’s the biggest pumpkin that you can imagine someone growing? Not in a science fiction novel. On planet Earth.

PumpkinsEvery year, amidst carnival rides, craft demos, and other activities, there’s one competition at our state fair for the biggest watermelon. And another for the biggest pumpkin. One of our International Conversation Café participants went to the NC State Fair last October. And at our Thursday gathering, he told us about the huge pumpkin he saw there.

(photo by Rene D. Caputo)

So how many pounds was it? The winning pumpkin last year weighed over 1,400 pounds! Hard to imagine. Do you want to see an award-winning pumpkin, jump on a few carnival rides, and watch some traditional craftspeople at work? There’s all that and more at the NC State Fair in Raleigh, running through October 21.

And here at Duke, check out a play that is set in a “ghostly mansion”! The live student presentation of The Addams Family musical comedy runs through October 21. And its style fits in well with Halloween.

Also check out the Latin American Film Festival, running through November 8. Some of the films are playing at Duke, others at UNC-Chapel Hill. All are subtitled and free.

Join in our conversation group this Thursday at 12:30 in Brodhead Center/West Union 248. Recent topics included the Supreme Court drama, adventures with stormy weather, and resources for improving pronunciation.

Enjoy your outings,

Rene D. Caputo
Duke University ESL Specialist



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Picture orange everywhere. About 750,000 celebrants were expected in a major European city for a national holiday bash over the last week. Many of them draped in different shades of orange. Where was that? And why? It was King’s Day in the Netherlands. And Amsterdam was expecting that larger-than-life crowd. light orange

I had never heard of that celebration. Nor had anyone else gathered at our International Conversation Café ~ except for our Dutch participant. But another member of our group was headed to San Francisco for the weekend. And guess what? There’d be a King’s Day celebration at Golden Gate Park then. Near a windmill!

So perhaps we’ll see orange-tinged photos of that San Fran celebration soon. And of orange tompouce, a Dutch pastry that looks a bit like a napoleon. Recipe for you here, from when Queen’s Day was the norm.

darker orange

What else did we talk about? Street foods and snacks in China, South Korea, the Netherlands. Food museums around the world. Interesting Raleigh, DC, and San Fran museums. Because participants are planning summer getaways. Sprinkled in our conversation were bits of international current events.

Join us this Thursday for our final conversation gathering of the semester. In the Griffith Board Room on the main level of the Bryan Center at 12:30.

Hope to see you there,
Rene Caputo
Duke University ESL Specialist, Thompson Writing Program

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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?

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 8.44.40 PM

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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