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The Blu Jaz Cafe

Due February 20, March 20, April 10, May 1
points: 20
format: email. Not an attachment, just write your reflection with a text editor (not a word processor), save it, copy it, and paste it directly into an email.


Welcome to The Blu Jaz Cafe

A reflective or reaction piece is not an essay in the sense of having a thesis, supporting data, and explanations. A reflective piece is a thousand or more words about what you noticed and reacted to while you interacted with your conversation partner. What did you like or not like? What was the most interesting / compelling / odd / hard to listen to parts? How was it similar to what you already know? What did it make you feel / think?

These reflective pieces directly address the official course objective of your being “better able to communicate with reflection, sensitivity, and intelligence about the arts in non-U.S. cultures because of your increased awareness of cultural diversity.”

Spelling and grammar are important, of course, but a reflective piece can be structured any way you want. Insight means you saw below the surface and the obvious and that you made connections to other things we have been talking about and experiencing in this course. Flair means that you wrote with an engaging, vivid voice. Don’t write a stiff, formal thing for school. Don’t write a report listing all the web pages and videos you looked at. Instead, talk to us, one human to another. Write it like a chatty email to a friend who couldn’t be there.

I expect these reflective pieces to be as varied as the individuals who wrote them. When I read them, here’s the scenario I imagine. It is similar to the one I related on the course’s welcome page.

Have a seat!

Have a seat!

You and I are part of a semester abroad program in your country, you the student and me the faculty advisor. We go out with some people who were born and raised in that country. We go somewhere where we experience the art of their country — a museum or performance or gallery or club or just on the street.

Then we all go to the Blu Jaz Café for a bottle of Tiger, the local brew, as you can see on the menu boards in the photo above. Someone turns to you and asks, “What did you think about” whatever we just saw?

The reflective piece is what you would say to them, what you were thinking about when experiencing the art. So my question is whether your reflective pieces, in the words of our official course objectives, show that you can “communicate with reflection, sensitivity, and intelligence about the arts in non-U.S. cultures because of your increased awareness of cultural diversity.” Sensitivity and intelligence are the key words.

You will write one reflective piece for each of the four parts of the course. They are due on the same day your conversation logs are due, usually the week after we finish each round of group sessions. The four reflections should focus the four parts of the course as well as your conversations as explained on the page What to talk about. You are welcome to mine these reflections for material for your final essay.

Insightful and interesting means answering questions like these about, for example, a street performance of musicians and dancers:

Why was it worth your attention?

Describe it. What did you notice that was not obvious?

Compare it to something else.

Relate it to something else in a cause/effect relationship.

Explain a process it is part of.

Who? What people were involved?

When and where? What important events and places are associated?

How does it fit into the life of your country, for example, how popular is ? What influenced it? How old are the musical instruments and dancing style?

You will get full credit (5 points) for at least 1,000 words written with insight and flair. Think about the Blu Jaz and make the faculty advisor proud of you! You will get less than full credit for shorter, less insightful pieces.

You can also reflect on the conversation process itself by addressing some of the questions below.


Before you begin your conversations, take some time to reflect.

  • What do you think will happen? What are your fears? What’s the worst that could happen?
  • Would you rather talk to men or women? Why? What will you do differently?
  • How will their education be different from yours?
  • their living situation?
  • their opportunities for the future?
  • their use of technology?
  • They’re going to want to know about your life. What will you tell them about life in the U.S.?
  • life in Buffalo and Medaille? What do you want to make sure you get across? You can see how helpful YouTube will be here.

In general, the stereotypes that the foreigners have will be some variation on WEIRD:  Westernized, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic. Their society will be less of most or all of those. The people you talk to may or may not be happy about that.

  • Negative: How will you respond if they ask why we have so much poverty in the U.S.? Why we don’t have universal health care? Why higher education is a private good, not a public good? (That is, why do you have to pay tuition?) Why we still have capital punishment? Why we have so much gun violence? Why we have so many blacks in prison? Why we send soldiers and drones all around the world to kill foreigners? Why, in spite of all that, we think we’re so special?
  • Positive: How will you respond if they think that life in America is exactly like they see on our TV and movies, we’re all rich, we’re free, so we can go anywhere and do anything, we can buy anything we want, we have the best of everything, there’s opportunity on every corner, we all know the famous musicians, the U.S. is huge and endless, in fact, the U.S. is pretty close to heaven on earth? Not only that, they’re Yankee fans.


After you have spent some time talking to a foreigner, how’s it going?

The following questions are very general because I want them to apply to different situations. So adapt them to yours. For example, you can define high, low, best, worst, etc. in any way that makes sense of what happened.

  • What is the name and email of your conversation partner(s)?
  • How many times have you spoken? for how long?
  • What were the high points?
  • What were the low points?
  • What have been the best topics to talk about?
  • What have been the worst topics?
  • How have you used the wiki pages about your country?
  • Have you talked about the central question of the course: how has the English-language media affected the traditional arts in their country?
  • Were they any technical difficulties with the software?

Looking back at your pre-conversation reflection:

  • How accurate were your anticipations? For example, many of you expressed anxiety about inadvertently offending your conversation partner. Did that happen? Did he/she ever offend you?
  • Did you get your questions answered?

Looking ahead at the rest of the semester:

  • How many more times / hours are you going to speak?
  • What are you going to speak about?
  • What will your conversation partner(s) contribute to your final essay?


It’s next semester already. You get an email from someone who has just begun HUM 300. He or she has the same country you have this semester and asks for your advice about the conversation partners. Some questions to get you going, in no particular order.

  • What’s the best way to find a conversation partner?
  • What’s the best way to prepare for the conversations?
  • What are the problems to look out for?
  • What do you talk about?
  • How do you break the ice?
  • Is it worth learning some words in the foreign language?
  • How was their English?
  • What’s the worst that happened?
  • Did you ever offend them?
  • What did they think about the U.S.?
  • Could you talk about difficult topics?
  • Could you talk about the arts and other topics related to the course web pages?
  • What are the best ways to deal with the technology?
  • Is text enough? Is video worth it?
  • Did you share screens? How did that work?
  • What are some of the cultural differences?
  • What would you do differently?
  • How could you have been better prepared?
  • What did you learn about the foreign culture?
  • What did you learn about the perils and joys of communicating with foreigners?
  • Did you laugh a lot?
  • Anything else?

Give that student the benefit of your experience. Using your conversations for examples, tell the student everything you know that can help.