Almost all of them know who Michael Jordan is. But when it comes to ordering eggs in a restaurant – fried, poached, hard boiled, scrambled, over easy – they’re pretty much stumped by the terminology.
America is a complex and baffling place for UNC’s international students, most of whom come from China and India. That is one reason why several campus organizations have created the Southern Culture Movie Series, which, says series coordinator Becky Butler, a ESL specialist in the university’s Writing Center, “is some sort of introduction to North Carolina and the South, in a way that’s fun.”
Now in its second year, the series, which is open to the public, features documentary films about various topics, and speakers who lead discussions after the screenings. Last year’s series dealt with films from around the South, but this year it’s all Tar Heel, all the time.
The documentaries this year, for example, run the gamut of subject matter – from a work about two school friends whose search for an old teacher leads them to learn about the Lumbee Indians, to one about living as a transgendered person in the Tar Heel state, and another featuring the many regional dialects heard throughout North Carolina.
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Butler is hoping that these films, and others, will help foreign students “who have misconceptions about the South. They see how it is portrayed in feature films, the whole bumpkin thing. And the history of our state is very complex, it’s hard to keep up with, and there’s a big learning curve for them.”
Reactions to the films can also encompass a wide range. Last year “A Man Named Pearl,” a documentary about a self-taught South Carolina topiary artist, “was something people associated with, the ingenuity of one person, and it was something people could appreciate on a visceral level.”
But Butler has also discovered that political subjects, especially dealing with race relations, can be problematic. Last year the series screened “February One,” about the Greensboro college students who staged the first lunch counter sit-in.
“People seemed interested, but because they could tell it was a sensitive issue, they weren’t comfortable talking about it,” says Butler, who notes that Chinese students especially, raised under an authoritarian regime, seemed to feel this way. “Any film marginally critical of something political, there are places in the world where you have to be careful of what you say,” she says. “And people also feel it’s not polite to come into someone’s culture and criticize things.”
No matter what, Butler sees the series as a way to provide more social activities for the foreign students on campus. Many of them, doctoral and post-doctoral students, are stuck in labs all day, and this, she says, “is a way to get them out.”
What: The Southern Culture Movie Series
When: 6:30 p.m. May 12 and 26; June 9 and 23; July 7 and 21
Where: 116 Murphey Hall on UNC’s main campus
Cost: Free and open to the public