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April 26, 2001 Students explore culture through creative writing






Journalism teacher Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos teaches a course at Lonergan University College called Global Cultures.

Students read short stories from around the world, discuss the styles of writing and the cultural issues being explored. Inevitably, they contrast the actions and reactions of other cultures with their own.

Then they set out to write their own stories. (Arnopoulos, herself a writer, contributed one of her own.) This becomes a process of discussion and exploration, and a practical exercise in creating a readable text.

Once their stories were ready, Matt Friedman’s desktop publishing class of Journalism students provided the graphics and production work, and voila! a little paper-bound book called Crossing Customs.

The stories range widely, and reflect the writers’ own experiences. Here’s a sample:

From Eilis Quinn’s account of an encounter with Russian soldiers while she was in Moscow on a student exchange:

“You westerners and your human rights violations. Without bezpredel, we’ll get nowhere in Chechnya,” Volodya, one of the boyfriends, lectured me contemptuously back at the university.

“Bezpredel?” I asked.

“No limits,” Volodya translates for me, laughing. “No fucking limits, anything goes, violently and without consequences.” His friends whoop in agreement. “None of your western rules, none of your human rights conventions. I don’t give a shit if Russia signed them. I didn’t sign them, my buddies didn’t sign them. “

From Marc Guay’s account of an evening in the smoking car of a VIA train, as he travels from Ottawa to the Maritimes:

I suddenly realized that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know where I was going. These people who had let me into their little world were just as clueless as me — and in this collective lack of direction I found solace. The train had indeed moved in a straight line, but the people inside it were flying up, down and all around.

From Xu Zhao’s recreation of an incident in northern China in 1974, when she was told not to speak to a playmate:

On my sixth birthday Mom bought me my favourite canned fish for lunch, fish preserved in a glass jar, so delicious that I wouldn’t eat or drink anything hours after the dinner just to keep its taste in my mouth.

Before Mom left for her office after lunch, she said to me: “Be good and stay at home,” and then she added: “Some people are moving to the next room today. Don’t talk to them.”

* * *

“My mom said you are bad people,” I told Yingying.

“We are,” she lowered her head. “My grandpa is a landlord, so is my father, so am I.” “Where are your grandpa and your father?” I asked curiously. Yingying lowered her head: “I don’t know.”