Single Stories

After listening to Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk (via SPELTAC Course 2) about the dangers of the single story, I was in awe of the power of this notion, how it can at the least hurt and the worst destroy a cultural dignity. This need to show balance, “to create a paradise”, as Adichie stated, led me to interview students I work with at a local children’s centre just outside Ulaanbaatar. Some of the students are local Mongolians while others are young university members visiting Mongolia from various parts of the world.

I was so intensely moved by Adichie’s personal anecdotals (particularly, her meeting her college roommate in the USA and when she visited Mexico for the first time) explaining how she herself moved beyond single stories, that I needed to know how this idea would come through to young people I work with on a global scale.

I set out by prompting each interviewee these stems:

1.Describe a personal experience in which you went into it with a preconceived idea and throughout the experience, changed your mind about “x”.

2.What individuals or groups of people helped you change your perspective, or add to your prior knowledge?

3.Other questions depended upon the story the person being interviewed was sharing.

I will share one student’s response:

Jackie is a Canadian business student who discussed her experiences in France and thoughts about getting to know French people…

An excerpt:

“…I had gone to France when I was in high school and experienced what I considered at the time rudeness and snobbish behaviour. A few years later, while with a friend in Thailand, I talked with a French guy who changed my mind about those first impressions, although not in Thailand. A year later, I moved to Paris for work, a job I could not pass up. I reconnected with him as he was the only person I knew there. I learned over time that the initial coldness I felt from the French was their cultural way of filtering where a person fits into the social class scheme. Relationships while I have been living in France are never superficial. There is a lot of substance, not a lot of fluff to make a person simply feel good. At parties, French people may not seem so outwardly friendly on the first meeting, but with more time, deeper understanding, with a lot of frankness, of individuals is sought. Relationships at all levels it seems are not of convenience for the French, but of a sort of approval of your being…”

With Jackie’s story and all of the others I interviewed, I intend to share them with my students this coming year. We implement a 40 book challenge (idea from¬†Donalyn Miller’s ” The Book Whisperer”)¬†in grade 5 at ISU where students make goals to read from a wide range of genre, authors, time periods in history, etc. Sharing these single stories and their extensions will serve to demonstrate the need for multiple perspectives, open-mindedness, balance, and as Adichie stated in her Ted Talk, “stories matter.”