By LINDA MARION
Given the global aspect of
the 2002 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, the Universitys International
Center seems an ideal resourcein the form of the 3,000 individuals
who make up the Us international community of professionals
and scholarsto assist with these long-awaited events.
The International Center helped set the scene for the Games by pinpointing
bilingual volunteers and native speakers of various languages for the
Salt Lake Organizing Committee. These 15 to 17 volunteers will work directly
with the delegations of the various countries represented at the Games.
The center is also collaborating with the Salt Lake Tribune in establishing
a corps of foreign correspondents, composed of former Utes, who will provide
input for a column, A View from Abroad. Correspondents will
read local newspapers and relay what is being reported in their respective
regions during the Games. In this way, various interpretations of each
days sporting events and related activities will ultimately make
their way around the world and back to Utah.
Additionally, the International Center organized a cross-cultural awareness
training session for about 500 National Olympic Committee (NOC) volunteers,
who will provide language and other services for international visitors.
Anyone who has volunteered
will probably already have some sensitivity to diverse cultures,
notes International Center Director Bill Barnhart MS71, so the training
was designed to build on that knowledge.
Trainees heard first from former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson BS64,
director of the Hinckley Institute for Politics, who tongue-in-cheeked
his way through a presentation on Those Strange Utah Ways
that included jabs at some of the local traits and traditions. Wilson
took aim at targets such as regional colloquialisms (fer ignernt,
meaning rude, rather than uninformed), and the shenanigans in the local
Moving from the local to the international scene, Mike Allcott, associate
director of the International Center, talked about How Americans
Are Perceived by Others, using the culture of ice as
a theme. The idea of iced tea in many cultures is an oxymoron, he said,
and Americans are often identified by the amount of ice in their drinks.
This is just one example of innumerable differences in culturehabits,
traditions, norms, values, and languagethat is at the bottom of
the question, Do Americans have a culture?
Its difficult, Allcott observed, to have your
culture examined; its easy to become defensive. He broadly
characterized American culture as the belief in individualism and privacy;
free-market capitalism; equality and the rule of law; informality (built
on assumptions of equality) and friendliness; being direct and assertive,
genuine and honest (the John Wayne syndrome); the notion of
staying cool, or remaining unflappable in difficult situations;
and being factual, not emotional. Generally, he said, Americans tend to
be optimistic and forward-looking.
Hopefully, Allcott concluded, well have many of
those breakthrough moments when we feel the texture of cultural difference
not as a hindrance or a stress, but as a pleasure or a beauty that lets
us rediscover something as simple and extraordinary as ice.
Valerie Green, international advisor for Student Outreach and Programming,
discussed Cross-cultural Adaptation, using her and others
experiences living and working in foreign countries as an example of how
easily assumptionswhich often lead to stereotypesare made
about cultures different than ones own. People who stay in
a place for two weeks, she noted, might come home and write
a book about it; those who stay two months return and write an article;
and those who remain in another country for two or more years dont
write anything because they realize that they have only scratched its
The training session addressed language issues as well. David L. Rowe
MS91, dean of students at Salt Lake Seminary, took on Communication
Challenges, specifically the use of idiomatic expressions in language.
Rowe presented a thought-provoking dialogue with an international
guest, using such American English expressions as tickled
pinkwhich the guest interpreted as developing a rashbutterflies
in the stomach, glued to ones seat, and raining
cats and dogs, among many others. The message was clear: opportunities
for misunderstanding and miscommunication are limited only by the number
of idiomatic phrases contained in ones language.
In contrast, Steven Sternfeld,
associate professor of linguistics, dealt with The Silent Language:
The Unspoken Word, or how people communicate without speaking. Sternfelds
primary message: You dont have to worry about the language
the silent language is the culture. People communicate on many levels,
he said, and language is just one of them.
Bringing the training session to a close, Nancy Lyon BA73 MS74,
assistant vice president for governmental affairs, urged volunteers to
have a great time
All human beings respond to kindness, generosity,
and good will, she said. You are all Utahns, no matter how
long you have been here, [and] the important thing is to establish connections.
Linda Marion BFA67 MFA71 is managing editor of