Last Thursday, I was leading a tenth grade class where I spoke a bit about globalization. I presented the sentence, “The world is becoming more global”, and asked the students to discuss and talk about this statement and what it means in Bangladesh. First, the students decided that it also made sense to say that the world was becoming smaller, in additional to global. We listed several factors of America, for example, that are present in their country as a result of the world becoming globalized: KFC, Jeans, Burgers, Music (Eminem, Linkin Park, etc.), the microwave, etc. Following this, I asked them to think about what Bangladeshi influences may be seen in the West, which in general was agreed to be none. Rather, we saw how their neighboring country, India had more influences over the world than Bangladesh (they talked about Indian stars being part of Hollywood as an example). This was followed by talking about Bangladesh’s concerns and development. There was a lot of pessimism in the class about their country and how it “can’t go forward” and thus become part of this statement about the world becoming more global.
The discussion turned towards foreign policy and if Bangladesh should be concerned about the outside world, like the United States. I asked them to get into groups to discuss for two minutes and give me an answer. It was overwhelmingly agreed by the students that before Bangladesh can contribute their culture to the globe (as part of globalization), the country needs to develop. People need to be more concerned about their own country and its well being rather than what is going on outside because there are too many pressing issues that needed attention. Some of these issues were listed as corruption, the environment, poverty, children’s education, and the economy. Bangladesh simply could not participate in international relations unless it took care of such domestic issues. The students were very serious in discussing this matter. I was actually a bit surprised that they had such strong opinions about their country and why they are able to take in Western influences, but could not contribute back. One student said that before fuchka (a popular snack in Bangladesh, where flour and spiced shells are filled with chick pea beans, tomatoes, onions, and spicy sauces) can be seen in fast food chains in America, Bangladesh needs to eradiate corruption in general elections.
I also asked the students whether they thought that these Western influences were a good thing. Some hesitated but overall agreed that no, they would rather be Bangladeshi and hold onto their Bangladeshi roots. Everyone agreed that they wanted to go to the U.S. for higher education and come back to their country. This was really interesting since from my personal observations, it seemed like this new youth generation wants to be Western. They are adopting the American English accents, they prefer to eat French fries and burgers these days, and wearing American band t-shirts are cool. They are eager to associate being modern with being more American.
The classes are only forty minutes long so I could not press them more on the subject, but after class, two of the students came into my office to talk about what had happened. They wanted to talk to me in private and seemed to be nervous. They told me that the class sentiment was false- they do want to become Western and love to participate in wearing Western clothes and eat fast food. They want to go to American not just to study but to get out of Bangladesh and experience “freedom”. It is very much part of their culture. One of them said that she was afraid that in a few generations, Bangaldeshi youth will no longer be, “Bangladeshi”, but being Bangladeshi will mean being more “American”.
The class was fascinating because these students- aged around 15 to 16- never get a chance to talk about these topics in school. They are highly intelligent kids that are engrained in a memorization culture where they are following a national curriculum and studying various subjects in a factual format. But they still had strong opinions despite spending so many hours of their daily lives in school studying and putting on a serious face about scoring well on national exams. Critical thinking- a popular sentiment and highlight of the American education system- was something that I thought that I would struggle in installing. It seems like students are eager however to be challenged in this way, while at the same time nervous about being right and not wrong with responses.
Leading the class itself required some special attention. It really is hard to get them to start talking, or get more than just the few energetic ones to talk. I have to remind myself that they are young, but not too young and do have the ability to express opinions. I think a new challenge is trying to convince them that it is okay to have differing thoughts and it is appropriate to debate, disagree, and just talk about what you think openly.