Wow! MSU students produce a guide to America in 70 days!

A NOTE from ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm:
We crowed last year when Michigan State University School of Journalism students produced an important book, The New Bullying, in just 101 days. Those 101 days were counted from the original idea, through extensive nationwide research, to writing, editing and final publication. Well, this year, another MSU class has trumped that accomplishment by producing a valuable new guidebook to America, written to help newcomers from abroad feel welcome in the U.S.—in just 70 days!

ReadTheSpirit Books works regularly with the MSU journalism teams to produce these books and, today, we’re celebrating with this latest group of talented students. Even more importantly, we’re celebrating on behalf of the thousands of visiting international students who will be helped by this book!

(Want to get your copy now? Here’s the Amazon page for 100 Questions and Answers about Americans.)


NEWS UPDATE DEC 11: Xconomy business news magazine’s Sarah Schmid covers the launch of the new guide. Schmid describes the guide as evidence that “Michigan is poised to become a hot spot for global talent because of its popularity with international students, particularly those studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” (Read the entire Xconomy story.)

NEWS UPDATE DEC 11: Center for Michigan’s BRIDGE magazine’s Kathy Barks Hoffman says this guide fits perfectly into Michigan’s push to welcome newcomers. She writes: “Gov. Rick Snyder is pushing for more international students to study and stay in Michigan. The Global Talent Retention Initiative, funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and a grant from the New Economy Initiative of Michigan, is bringing together Michigan universities, economic development groups, ethnic chambers of commerce and professional organizations to help retain top international talent in the state by finding them jobs with Michigan companies.” (Read the entire BRIDGE story.)

And here is Joe Grimm’s story about the launch, posted December 9:



Some Michigan State University journalism students spent the last day of classes, Dec. 6, giving copies of their semester’s labors to international students at a book launch.

In just 10 weeks, the students published a 60-page guide, 100 Questions and Answers about Americans.

Their aim was to use journalism to help international students better understand American customs and behaviors. The need for this kind of outreach has grown. International enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities has gone up for seven years in a row and was at 819,000 in 2012-2013. Michigan State, with more than 7,000 international students, is in the top 10 among American universities.

The project was proposed and supported by a grant from MSU’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. The guide is the second in a series of guides to cultural competence published by the MSU J-School and Read the Spirit Books.

Several more guides are in the works for 2014.

The class of 16 students asked students from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North and South America for their questions about life in the United States. The answers were researched, written and vetted. The students added a glossary of idioms and slang.

The guides are created with a four-dimensional approach that stresses respect, accuracy, authority and accessibility.

Powered by proprietary Read the Spirit publishing technology, the guides are available on paper, Nooks, Kindles and e-books. The entire process, from getting their assignment to having the guides appear on Amazon, took just 70 days.

Some of the questions:

“People in the United States smile at strangers for no reason. Why is that and what is the meaning?”

“What does ‘How’s it going?’ mean?”

“How can I connect with people here if I don’t understand cultural things like old TV shows, celebrities or sports?”

“When should I tip and how much should I leave?”

“What is included in a date?”

Do these sound like simple questions? Not if you come from a culture where customs of hospitality and relationships are quite different. As our American university students researched these guides—and talked to a wide range of people in their reporting—they wound up with many new insights into the challenges newcomers face in the U.S. Common phrases and small gestures that “we” take for granted are confusing, and may even seem offensive, to people who are trying to form new friendships but don’t understand “our” signals.

Student Marlee Delaney wrote, “The project was really eye-opening for me, as a student and as a journalist. I was really surprised to hear some of the questions that these international students came up with. I had no idea international students felt intimidated by Americans because oftentimes we feel intimidated by them.”

Merinda Valley expressed similar feelings. “As I asked and answered questions for our guide, I realized that many international students have trouble starting conversations and forming friendships with Americans. Though I feel that I’m attuned to the difficulties of living in a foreign country, this really surprised me. So, if our guide can take away some uncertainty about American culture, I think it will be valuable to a lot of people who want to interact with Americans and simply enjoy their experience here.”

Joe Grimm is the Michigan State University School of Journalism instructor in this course and series editor for the cultural competence guides project.

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