(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



      (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

In our International Conversation Café gathering today, we talked about everyone’s spring break, the basketball craze, and upcoming holidays.

March Madness…Yes, the craziness surrounding the basketball tournaments of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is back! If you want to play with brackets for the games, below are links for you.

ESPN bracket website for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament: http://games.espn.go.com/tournament-challenge-bracket/2015/en/game  You likely need to create an ESPN account to participate.

Men’s basketball bracket to print:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/15/march-madness-2015-bracket_n_6874646.html

Women’s bracket for you: http://fansided.com/2015/03/16/printable-2015-ncaa-womens-tournament-bracket/

After discussing why Duke University’s team was in a group that did not include the University of Carolina, among other things, we moved on to answer questions about our springtime holidays. Below are links to local events that you might want to attend.

If you’re in the mood to check out an egg hunt (suitable for children), here’s one in Hillsborough, March 28 or March 29, depending on the weather: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/town-hall/departments-services/parks-recreation/festivals-events/children-s-egg-hunt

Easter sunrise service, Duke Gardens:

Duke Chapel events: https://chapel.duke.edu/events

Passover events at Duke: http://bestevents.us/durham-passover-at-duke-2015/320460

Our conversation group will be back in two weeks, on April 2!   Next week, I will be busy giving a presentation at the TESOL International Conference with a colleague.

All the best,
Rene Caputo
ESL Specialist, Thompson Writing Program
Instructor, Duke Graduate School

A lively group came together for our International Conversation Café gathering yesterday. Ten participants, from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, Turkey ~ plus me, from the United States via Italy and Japan. We started off by playing with idiomatic, metaphorical language related to food and eating, including: He’s a peach (he’s nice, sweet), that’s a piece of cake (that’s easy), and that’s not my cup of tea (I don’t like that). Then we got to a good/bad apple or egg. In Japan and South Korea, we learned, an orange might be mentioned instead.

In South Korea, a watermelon would represent someone who was untrustworthy, as the colors inside and out are so distinctly different. The big cheese, someone important, would be a big bowl in Turkey.  And someone who eats little could be a bird (U.S.), a rabbit (Australia), or a turtle (China) while someone who eats a lot might be a bear (Turkey) or a wolf/tiger/dog (China).

I love these peeks inside other cultures. Ready for more food idioms? Check out:

We then talked about how food has shifted in the Triangle of North Carolina. Years ago, it was impossible to find sushi here!  And fresh bagels were unheard of; there were only Lender’s Bagels, found in the freezer section of the grocery store. This history offers details on bagels from ancient times through to the Lender family and today: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2008/11/a_short_history_of_the_bagel.html   Short: http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/bagelhistory.htm

Finally, in touching on the Super Bowl, one participant mentioned being told he’d have an 1.5 hour wait to get “buffalo wings” that day.  He ate something else, not surprisingly!  In wrapping up, we learned that Australian football is different not only from U.S. football, but also from soccer. Check it out on YouTube, our Australian participant advised.  I might just do that!

Perhaps we’ll see you next Thursday, when our group meets again in Duke’s Bryan Center, Griffith Board Room, 12:30.

Until then, Rene

Rene Caputo
ESL Specialist, Thompson Writing Program

The International Conversation Café had its third gathering of the semester today. Our participants, from China, Japan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam, learned about Groundhog Day traditions. And about how the unusual event is celebrated in Raleigh: http://naturalsciences.org/programs-events/groundhog-day-2015

We then discussed traditions of welcoming spring in everyone’s cultures. Did you know that throwing roasted soybeans is part of that tradition in Japan? And that you should throw the same number of soybeans as your age? You can read more about that here: http://goasia.about.com/od/Events-and-Holidays/a/Setsubun.htm

Another tradition related to food comes from Ukraine, where pancakes/crepes are eaten with plenty of butter, celebrating the end of the Lenten fast period. More on those pancakes: http://www.wumag.kiev.ua/index2.php?param=pgs20093/148

From Turkey, we heard about having a morning picnic and later dancing around a fire to celebrate. And our participants from China and Vietnam told us about Tomb-Sweeping Day, which is of course observed at our Duke Kunshan University campus.

Other topics on the table today were interesting places to visit in North Carolina: http://www.visitnc.com/ and in Durham, http://www.durham-nc.com/ and http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g49092-Activities-Durham_North_Carolina.html

And yes, of course we touched upon the upcoming Super Bowl. We watched a new ad featuring a cute young dog and some horses. You can perhaps guess whose ad that might be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAsjRRMMg_Q

Our topics for the past two weeks have included current events (Martin Luther King Day, the expected blizzard, Paris) and cultural differences and similarities. Join us next Thursday for perspectives from around the world. Bryan Center, Griffith Board Room, 12:30 to 1:30.

Until then, enjoy the game (and/or the ads) as well as predictions from groundhogs around the country.  And keep your eyes open for the sight of green daffodil leaves sprouting up. http://thetrustygardener.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/daffodil-sprouts.jpg

All the best,
Rene Caputo
ESL Specialist, Duke Writing Studio & Thompson Writing Program