One of the classes Dr. Andrew Garner was asked to teach at Universitas Diponegoro (UNDIP) was titled “Multiculturalism in America”. While not exactly his area of study, he did grow up in the American South and that is a region that many Indonesians are not familiar with. Yet instead of simply presenting a PowerPoint lecture, as the students were expecting, he asked them to break off into 4-5 groups and answer, among themselves, two simple questions.
“When you hear about American culture, what things come to mind?”
Then, more importantly, he asked them to think about this question – “Where did your idea about American culture come from?” After about 15 minutes of discussion, in which he bounced around from one group to the next, he asked people from each group to share their thoughts and ideas.
Few of the answers were surprising. Among the lists of American culture included McDonalds and KFC, rock music, individualism and lack of community connections, sex and violence, and so forth. And most of the students cited similar sources for their perceptions – television shows like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, popular movies (Deadpool seemed to be a favorite), and advertisements of American products.
They then discussed cultural differences across three different regions of America – the South, the Northeast, and the West. One of the biggest surprises for students was the influence of blues music and its origins from poor African-Americans during segregation in the South. For about 30 minutes, they listened to songs from a variety of artists influenced by classic blues. Afterwards Andrew played a song and asked the students to guess which genre or even artist they were listening to. Many of the students guessed 1970s blues, others thought it was early heavy metal, and still others thought it was 1980s rock. It was not until the lyrics began that they realized they were listening to “Hey…Bung” by Slank, an Indonesian rock band with a heavy blues influence. This area of the country which many of them had never heard about was the birthplace for one of the most influential (if not the most influential) genres of music ever created in modern history.
As the class progressed, the discussion touched on a variety of topics ranging from racism and discrimination, religious differences, and regional variation in types of food and political culture across America. They had gotten the point – there is no “American culture”. There are many different and interesting cultures spanning multiple geographic regions across a large and expansive country, each one very different from the others. Just like Indonesia.
This discussion was not really about America. It was about how we, as human beings, perceive each other and where these perceptions come from. It was about recognizing and valuing our differences while simultaneously recognizing the universality of humanity. And the last third of the class involved students from different parts of Indonesia sharing information about their hometowns, their regions, and their backgrounds. Each person spoke with pride about the unique foods, music, and traditions of their regions. Most of the students invited Andrew to visit their hometowns and experience these places and people for himself and he promised that he would do so sometime in the future. Those are promises that he intends to keep in the coming years when he returns to Indonesia.
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