“I want to know about Malaysia!”

“Because the school library is a central part of the school, cutting across classroom and grade-level boundaries, teacher-librarians are in ideal positions for effecting attitudinal change throughout the school. As a result, it is the teacher-librarian’s duty to create a culturally tolerant and accepting library collection and library environment to promote the acceptance of individual differences throughout the student body.”

As a school librarian and Media Specialist combined, I am always looking to improve the collection, the experiences, and the outreach of the service we provide.  Upon reading “Building a Multicultural School Library: Issues and Challenges.” by Denise Agosta, I questioned the question that has come up several times at our school.  Working in the American School in Mexico City, many automatically think diversity is a given.  This is true but to a short point, there is a wide selection of diversity in the individuals that come to ASF (American School Foundation), yet what do we do with that information other than acknowledge it?   Sure, we do represent a wide diverse ethnicity of backgrounds in the aspect that we have an amazing Debate Team that travels the world, the experience of MUN at our doorstep, an International Magazine that reaches to pull young artists in from all over, an IB program that represents world wide research and education, and student from countless geographical areas, and yet, wait.  We have these opportunities, yet, do we delve into them ourselves to truly realize and learn what we have, in the many individuals from other countries, or do we go through the motions?

I am as guilty as anyone, I often take for granted the knowledge from other countries we have until I delve into a casual conversation that often brings this out – so what can we do as Media Specialists, and Librarians to delve into this wealth of culture around us.  One – definitely start to take notice of what can be brought into the library that interestingly represents various influences from around the world, and tap into the students’ from other areas to find out what is missing that was a great representation of their culture.  Second – events and activities that are accentuated from the library, to bring this element of internationalism to everyone within the school – sometimes it is difficult.  We recently had a Chinese dragon dance for the Chinese New Year in Mexico City, it was AMAZING and yet, such a hard battle with the negotiations, payments, scheduling, yet was it worth it?  Absolutely.

Sitting among 9 students in New York at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have students from Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Malaysia, and eve more lands visited, and realized as Media Specialists and School Librarians, we need to tap into those possibilities and rely on those students to bring new and exciting information to those around us, making us all a little bit more culturally aware of the world opening up to us, beyond just the internet.  Ultimately, as I think on it, the comment was made, “I want to know about your life!” made by another student, and yet, as the student that contained this wealth of knowledge life and stated, “That is a little broad!”, we need to try and facilitate this conversation and knowledge in order to truly allow each of us to become more international in that information we have in each of us as individuals.

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2 thoughts on ““I want to know about Malaysia!”

  1. Your story of one student asking another about Malaysia reminded me of a time when I was about 11 years old and trying to make conversation with international students coming over to dinner from Knox College, where my Dad was an English professor. A Malaysian student sitting next to me at was smoking a cigarette and I asked him, “Do they have cigarettes in Malaysia?” He responded rather impatiently, “Of course! We are not monkeys in trees!” Fast forward a few years to age 16 when I lived in Italy and attended a local high school (not international except for me and my sister). Riding a bus with some students, one of them asked in Italian, “Do they have buses in America?” What the …? Had they not watched a single American movie in set in a city? I assumed they were just making conversation and my answer was “Si, ma non con arranciata:” (Yes, but not with orange juice.) I was trying to say “yes, but they’re not orange,” as every public bus, wastebasket, and mailbox in Florence was orange. Either way, the whole conversation was inane. All year long well-meaning students in my class would come up and say “Tell me about America.” I found that very annoying, both because the question was so broad and because I’d been attending school with them every day and would have appreciated some help in entering into conversations about the day-to-day stuff. As entertaining as it was to be asked “Have you seen Marilyn Monroe?” or to translate lyrics for them such as the song “She’s a man-eater,” it was actually my philosophy teacher who did the best job at framing questions that elicited useful dialogue (imagine that–we should expect no less from a philosophy teacher).

    I gave presentations to the class that revealed bits of America they might not have seen in the movies. I described Halloween where kids go from door to door (di casa in casa) for candy, and walk-a-thons, where people pledge to donate money to a charity based on how many miles you walk, such as a dollar a mile. I sweated out the translations with my Italian tutor, memorized my script word for word, and under Signora Cantelli’s watchful eye I delivered these oral presentations on exam days because i was in no way prepared to take a philosophy exam and she didn’t want me to to sit idle. My fellow students were extremely enthusiastic and urged me to take as long as possible at the front of the class, because it reduced the amount of time left over to call on them for the “interrogazione” –their term for an oral exam.

    Fast forward a few decades and I just submitted an application to be a maker at the Rome Maker Faire, doing storytelling with automated doll houses and the Goldilocks Home Security System, so the cultural exchange continues. Perhaps I should bring my Halloween candy dish with candy that flops around when you reach for it. After all, I worked pretty hard on that Italian “interrogazione” about Halloween. Might still be able to do that from memory. Di casa in casa…31 di ottobre…

    • I loved your insights back in October. I would like to know if you have a blog that keeps up with your experiences and such! Thanks so much for adding back then! Loved your reflections! WOW!

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