By Colin Knight at A.C.E. at SPU–“What is the language most spoken in the world today?” asked Dr. Dong-gyn Ahn, the Vice President of International Affairs at Hallym University in Korea. “Mandarin,” one audience member suggested. “English,” suggested another. Dr. Ahn just shook his head. “No, no, no. The most spoken language in the world is ‘Broken English.’” The audience of SPU students and professors; A.C.E. administrators, faculty and students; and a variety of local and international scholars and guests broke into laughter.
This Memorial Day weekend Seattle Pacific University hosted a unique event: businessmen, scholars and public administrators from all over the globe convened in Gwinn Commons to discuss issues paramount to human society in the first part of the 21st century and forward. The event marked the 35th anniversary of Associates in Cultural Exchange. During its 35 years, A.C.E. has done much more than just English language teaching. Teacher training, study missions, and world languages are just a few of the areas they have made their presence felt in the U.S. and abroad, and the International Symposium on the SPU campus this weekend was a fitting exclamation point to 35 years of such essential work.
A.C.E.’s International Symposium consisted of five panels: Global Education, International Healthcare, Global Economics, Foreign Policy under the Obama Administration, and Religion and Secularism. Each panel was littered with gems of knowledge and wisdom, which the audience took to heart:
Ø Dr. Joseph Ferguson, during the panel ‘Foreign Policy under the Obama Administration,’ described the rise of the Beijing Consensus: non-democratic states that have direct control over economic levers and provide good stability for economic growth, exemplified in China.
Ø Ms. Tatyana Tsyrlina-Spady, Vice-President of the Regional Open Social Institute in Kursk, cannily pointed out that: “At least Russia and U.S. had the natural fear of each other in common. Nuclear disaster prep didn’t change across borders,” as she discussed the need for understanding between cultures. The paramount question when asking ourselves about developing intercultural education: “Do we want peace, or war?”
Ø Dr. Dick Hoistad described his annual mission to the Dominican Republic, where they provide gratis surgical care for the poor there; not only helping these under-privileged of the world, but also providing perspective in his own medical work here in the U.S.
The day’s discussions and ideas were most aptly expressed by key-note speaker Ambassador Raymond Joseph of Haiti in his address. Taking Dr. Ahn’s joke to heart—whose punch line is only barely just a joke (according to Wikipedia, there are 812 million non-native speakers of English, while figures show that there are 885 million speakers of Mandarin Chinese)—During his key-note address he described his use of ‘Broken English’ in his trip to the United States as a 17 year-old Haitian immigrant: He arrived in Key West, Florida in 1954, two years before Rosa Parks’ memorable objection to a racist bus system which required black people to sit in the back of public buses. Getting on a bus to Chicago, he sat in the second seat. The other seats on the bus filled, all the African-Americans in the back, and none of the white people sitting around him. Finally, the bus driver approached him and told him to move to the back. “I no speaka de English,” a young Ambassador Joseph told the bus driver. “Of course, I understood him quite well,” he pointed out to the audience raptly listening to his story. The bus driver looked at his passport in consternation, made some jaded comments about ‘foreigners’ to the people seated around him, and let it him keep his seat for the 1,500 mile drive. This was the beginning of a long and illustrious career in affecting social change through cultural exchange. Knowing a language, being able to navigate a new culture, explains Ambassador Joseph, is the first step in this process.