Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Undergraduate Thesis Defense

Today I took part in the oral thesis defense for graduating English majors at our college. I was given very little preparation about what to expect (for example, I was given some of the papers a few minutes before the presentations, and I wasn't told that I'd have to conference with some of the students until it was time to do so), but overall I was really impressed. These guys had to write papers that would be difficult for native English speaking students to write, and some of them did it with great aplomb. One student even carried out his own empirical quantitative study, which I can't imagine doing as an undergraduate English major. (Maybe that's just me, though. After all, my undergraduate thesis was a sprawling, formless 50 pages about religious themes in J.D. Salinger's Glass family stories.)

Many of the students wrote about cross-cultural communication, and they referred to "English culture," "English people," and "English countries." I tried to challenge one student to explain what she meant by those terms, and she gave me the run-around. A popular theme in this kind of paper is the difference between "western countries" or "English culture" and China. The same kind of oversimplification that we "English people" make when we do cross-cultural comparisons?

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