My parents will not read my dissertation

“Global citizenship” thus is an appropriate image to frame our aims and goals in educating our students. The set of items reflect all three domains of student development—thinking, seeking a sense of self, and relating to others. It relates to both knowing—how one decides what is important and true—and knowledge about different cultures” (p.2) *.

“Leaders and citizens of tomorrow need an understanding of the world’s cultures, languages, religion, economics, science and technology, and a sensitivity and respect for all cultural traditions” (p.3) *.

The author of this text, Larry A. Braskamp, has a very compelling argument about the need for a broader approach to education that considers the importance of self-knowledge, a deeper understanding of cultural differences, and the preparation of future professionals in an environment that is increasingly ‘global’. My question is: how far do we need to go to broaden our horizons? In my opinion, understanding different languages is one of the most solid bridges to the understanding of other cultures.

I think it is fascinating the way we can have different experiences abroad, amazing encounters with different cultures within and outside our society, but still remain so distant from the ‘other’. How can we develop global citizens if we ignore the barriers imposed by language? How can we share our knowledge and experiences with the world if we do not speak the “world’s language”? English is spoken in a lot of places, by a lot of people, but it is not everywhere. Have you realized the importance of ‘words’ in our society? Even though we have communication beyond the written or spoken language, how do we usually communicate what we know and what we think?

In my family, there is a handful of people (sister and cousins / my generation) who are able to understand English. My parents do not know English, and my grandparents have never learned how to read or write. I will write a dissertation that the most important people in my life will not be able to read. Should they learn on how to understand me? Should I try to make myself understandable? This makes me think about the connection between language and globalization. A book in another language is like a locked trunk. And knowing the foreign language is like the key to all the information that may contain in the book.

– 70% of all the readings I have done since my undergraduate course was in English. In my master course, I had at least 4 courses taught in English by foreign professors. I would not have been able to know what I know if it was not for the English course. There is almost no source in Portuguese in my field of study. I was wondering how this notion of ‘globalization’ suppresses voices, ignores what cannot be understood. Knowing the world while it is translated into English is not like knowing the world and the different ways people have to express themselves in their own languages. For example, I am two different persons, one in English and the other one in Portuguese. I think that in order to develop Global Citizens, we have to take into account the way language shapes people’s identity. How does culture and language impact the kind of questions that are being asked and the answers that have being heard?

Of course, I would not suggest that we all should be polyglots. What I suggest is that we should reflect on the privilege of English in the dissemination of knowledge. We should think about the way English became a ticket to the ‘globe’ (though it is not ‘global’)


* Braskamp, Larry A. (Sept. 2008). Developing Global Citizens. Journal of College & Character. Volume X, n. 1.

2 Responses to “My parents will not read my dissertation”

  • Kathy says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I am participating in a reading group (English Department, Rhetoric and Writing Program) this semester, and these are some of the issues we are discussing. Although we all agree that, yes, knowing English does seem to afford one a level of access that another person who doesn’t know English might not obtain, what to do–if anything–is the question none of us can answer.

    Would you mind if I share your post with that group? You articulate here in such a compelling way why the discussions we’re having are so important and for whom.

  • katie says:

    Great observations on how many assumptions we may make about others… especially us Americans, who are so much more likely to be monolingual.

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