Flower

Cultures Meet in Canada

The first Syrian refugee family to land in Toronto (9 Dec 2015). Photo by Domnic Santiago, via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The U.S. government recently decided to end temporary protected status of 2,500 Nicaraguans living in the United States and is deciding whether it will do the same for tens of thousands of refugees from Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras. As a result, Canada is receiving a new wave of immigrants from those communities and expects these numbers to grow.

In contrast to its southern neighbor, Canada’s government is planning to increase its already generous immigrant acceptance policies and the majority of Canadians are on board. One went so far as to sponsor 50 Syrian refugee families, and others have participated in family-to-family sponsoring programs.  Such programs have largely been successful, but the struggles they do face often point to the importance of cultural education and understanding. And the more diverse Canadian society becomes, the larger the need becomes for refugees and Canadian citizens alike to learn about the other.

CultureGrams can provide a starting place for groups encountering each other for the first time, including a framework for exploring questions such as the following:

  • What ethnic groups are present in a country?
  • What languages do people speak?
  • What are the most prominent religions? And how might someone’s religious belief affect their daily behavior?
  • What common attitudes and values are shared by people in the country?
  • What do people in the country commonly wear?
  • How do people greet each other?
  • What gestures are potentially offensive?
  • What foods are typically eaten in the country? What customs are there that accompany eating?
  • What games and sports are popular?
  • What family structures and gender roles are common?

Explore these questions in relation to countries like HaitiSyria, and Canada today, in addition to delving into the history, culture, and society of specific Canadian provinces.

What are you celebrating today?

Christopher Columbus photo via Wikimedia, indigenous Guatemalan girls photo via CultureGrams.

 

Today, or on a day soon to come this month, countries throughout the Western hemisphere will mark some aspect of the European encounter with the Americas. Which aspect they choose to celebrate depends on their perspective. And in fact some cities within the same country (namely the U.S.) will be celebrating under different titles.

In many Latin American countries, this October holiday is called Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) in an effort to highlight the indigenous cultures Columbus encountered when he arrived in the Americas. However, some indigenous groups, such as those in Chile, find nothing to celebrate on this day and instead call it Día de la Resistencia Indígena, or Indigenous Resistance Day.

Within the United States, the federal holiday is called Columbus Day, a title that, according to the New York Times, has been controversial from the start. Formally made a recurring holiday in 1934, Columbus Day began as a celebration more significant to Italian-Americans than the general population, and Italian-American groups today still advocate for the holiday to be called Columbus Day. As the figure of Columbus broadened to represent general European settlement of the Americas, resistance to the holiday deepened. As one Christian Science Monitor article (available via SIRS) put it, “For many native Americans, Columbus is a symbol of European colonialism, enabling widespread destruction of indigenous cultures and its people and paving the way for rampant oppression and forced relocation.” In response, many states with high native populations stopped celebrating Columbus Day and some cities and states added “Indigenous People’s Day” to the holiday name or changed the name entirely. Today only 25 states in all observe the holiday.

However, shifting the celebration from Columbus to the people he and other Europeans colonized is not itself without controversy. Last month an opinion piece (available via eLibrary) in The Weekly Standard argued that “up until fairly recently the European discovery of the Americas was regarded as a milestone in Western civilization . . .” The author also likened Columbus Day to other U.S. holidays that are outdated but “represent the great American habits of adaptation and historical amnesia.”

So what is the holiday called where you live today? Or is it considered a holiday at all? And do you agree with that status or name? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. In the meantime, check out more Columbus Day/Día de la Raza/Indigenous People’s Day articles and information in CultureGrams, SIRS, and eLibrary!

Where in the World: Swimming

We’re deep into summer and in many parts of the United States temperatures are topping 100°F. What to do? What people all over the world do to relax and cool down in hot weather: get wet! Whether it’s at a public pool, a local river, or the nearest beach, swimming is a favorite pastime worldwide.

The following photos are from the CultureGrams photo gallery.

Can you guess where each photo was taken?

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10.

We’ve posted the answers in the comments section of this post. Check them out and tell us how well you did!

Don’t forget that CultureGrams has thousands of pictures gathered from around the globe. Photos in the CultureGrams slideshow gallery and photo gallery can be used for educational purposes (as long as they are not posted on the open web).

Developing Visual Literacy

Dadès Gorges, Morocco. April 2017. Photo by Rachel Ligairi.

When I was in Morocco this spring, I took pictures of all the usual things, like stunning geometric architecture, carefully piled spices for sale, and lines of camels walking among majestic Sahara dunes. But this image, of no great photographic value, turned out to be one of my favorites because it suggests a story.

If you “read,” or understood,  a story from this photo the first time you glanced at it, that’s probably because you’re visually literate. At some point, you developed the skill of analyzing visual clues related to subject, framing, angle, light, focus, composition, and context in order to understand an image’s purpose and perhaps even something about the place or people it represents. You have probably been using this skill long enough that you do it without thinking, but that won’t be true for someone less experienced. And according to Common Core and McRel national standards, having such strategies on hand to interpret the content and style of visual media is a must for today’s students.

So how might you guide students to help them move from a passive viewing of this photo to a well-supported reading of it? One way might be to lead them through this exercise, available from the National Archives. Let’s work through the exercise’s steps together, using the photo featured here.

  • A quick scan of the photo reveals that it’s a candid documentary type image. The caption offers the location, date, and photographer’s name.
  • An observation of the photo’s parts reveals a man dressed in traditional clothing squatting to take an action shot of a man in athletic clothing climbing a rock face. On or near the rock face itself is graffiti and some kind of cable or line.
  • In trying to make sense of the photo, students may look at the caption to see who took the photo, where it was from, and when. With a little bit of research, they would learn that I am not a native of Morocco, that the Dadès Gorges is a dramatic mountainous landscape popular among rock climbers, and that spring is a common time for climbing enthusiasts and tourists alike to visit the area.
  • Based on all of this information, students can make some inferences as to why the photo was taken and what story or stories this photo is telling. To help them make this final leap, you might ask questions like the following:
    • Where would you guess each person in this photo is from? What might their clothing tell you about them?
    • What might their relationship be?
    • Why might the man in blue be taking a photo of the man in orange?
    • Why might the photographer have chosen to frame this image to include both the climber and the man photographing him? What is the effect of giving each figure equal focus and space in the image?
    • What might this photo tell you about tourism and environmental protections in Morocco? What sources could you find that would deepen this knowledge?

Students should now be able to write a paragraph about this photo. And the story they suss out will likely be something similar—at least in broad strokes—to the one I experienced and intended in taking the photo, which might be fun to share at the end of the exercise. And if the paragraph a student wrote is not close, that’s fine too, as long as the student can muster visual and contextual evidence to support their interpretation.

Here’s my story:

The man in blue was a local Moroccan guide who had been hired to lead my small tour group through the Dadès Gorges. The area is quite dependent on tourists, both those that come to climb there and those passing through on their way to the sand dunes of Merzouga. One of the men in our group was an Austrian mountaineer. At one point, after we had passed several foreign climbers, the mountaineer started to scale one of the walls we were walking by. This delighted our tour guide, who grabbed the mountaineer’s camera and excitedly started taking several shots, despite the Austrian’s protests that the climbing he was doing was utterly basic and not worth photographing.

My purpose in taking the photo was to document this unusual moment of a Moroccan photographing a tourist, since it’s nearly always the other way around, and to explore the idea of what people choose to photograph when they are confronted with foreign people or places. All day, we tourists had been taking photos of things that were utterly ordinary to the locals, including food, clothing, and transportation methods that seemed unique compared to our home countries. And now our guide was doing the same—with the difference that his photos were not on his own camera. Delighted though he was by what to him was a rather novel sight, he was still an employee catering to the satisfaction of one of his employers, a mountaineer accustomed to the Swiss Alps, who he assumed would want a photo of himself a couple feet off the ground. So the photo is also meant to turn on its head the usual power relationship between the subject and creator of travel images. 

For more visual literacy resources, see the CultureGrams Teaching Activities and extensive Photo Gallery.

May Day

Renaissance fair-goers dance the maypole in New York. (Credit: Photo by KenL via Wikimedia)

Happy May Day!

May Day is a holiday with ancient pagan origins that marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. Traditional European celebrations, some of which continue today, include dancing and weaving ribbons around a maypole (United Kingdom), carnival-style festivities (Finland), the giving of lilies (France), bonfires (Germany, Ireland, and others), special feasts (Italy), flower wreaths (Greece), the making of clay pots for baking bread (Bulgaria), washing the face with morning dew (Romania), and the singing of popular songs (Spain).

In the United States, people used to commonly give May Baskets, baskets of flowers and sometimes goodies that were left on the doorsteps of friends and love interests. Though this tradition had mostly died away by the mid-20th century, it persists in some areas of the country. Read more about this fun tradition here and perhaps consider encouraging your students to revive this simple celebration of spring.

Dancing the maypole is another tradition that has gradually become less common in the United States. It involves a sometimes intricate choreography performed while dancers hold ribbons and move in a circle, weaving them around a central pole.

In modern times, May Day has been associated as much with labor as with spring, if not more. Since 1886, the first of May has been designated International Workers’ Day, or Labor Day in many countries.

See how workers are making their voices heard throughout the world today in this slideshow.

Are you doing anything to observe May Day? Let us know!

Virtual Sistine Chapel Tour

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Italy—in addition to the daily, ahem, twice-daily gelato runs—was actually not part of Italy at all. It was the sovereign state of Vatican City (or the Holy See). I have been interested in the world’s smallest independent nation since helping to create the World Edition CultureGrams report on it (we have a Kids report too!).

It did not disappoint. Located in the heart of bustling Rome, The Vatican feels like a different country once you’re inside its walls. It’s still very busy, of course, as one of the world’s top tourist destinations, but the presence of Swiss Guards (a small security force comprised of Catholic Swiss men), the magnitude of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the concentration of masterpieces in such a small area make the Vatican a truly unique place.

A Swiss Guard stands at his post. Photo by Aaron Thompson.

The culmination of any tourist’s visit to the Vatican is, of course, the Sistine Chapel. And though you’re allowed to take all the photos you want in the huge complex of museums you must (get to) pass through on the way to Michelangelo’s crowning work, once you enter the chapel you are greeted with several Italian guards booming out the words “No foto! No foto!”  I have to admit I didn’t fully comply with the rule, though no one yelled at me for looking down in a sea of people looking up.

The floor of the Sistine Chapel. Photo by Rachel Ligairi.

As cool as it was to see in person, you can actually get a much better view of it on an official virtual tour. In addition to being able to see the chapel completely empty (in person it’s shoulder-to-shoulder), you can zoom in on different pieces of the artwork or just contemplate it in silence, without anyone yelling at you.

And in case you thought I was kidding about the gelato . . .

Photo by Rachel Ligairi.

CultureGrams Reviewers Needed!

A crowd of youngsters gather to watch a break-dance competition in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Salym Fayad.

If you’re familiar with CultureGrams, you know that one of the things that makes our product stand out is the “native perspective” of much of the information in our country, state, and province reports. CultureGrams goes beyond statistics to explore not only the history of a place, but also the culture and day-to-day lives of residents of that location, including topics like dating and marriage rituals, eating habits, life as a kid, and much more.

CultureGrams is able to capture this unique perspective because we work with native reviewers and other country experts to portray what life is really like for people living in the locations covered by our reports.

For instance, did you know that in Sierra Leone, a baby’s umbilical cord is placed under a new tree before it is planted? Or that in Kazakhstan, newlyweds visit local landmarks after the wedding ceremony? This is the type of unique information CultureGrams can provide its customers because of the perspectives native reviewers share with us.

Because we’re continually updating, reviewing, and expanding our country, state, and province reports, we’re always looking for reviewers to help us make sure the reports and other features (like photos and recipes) are up to date with the latest and most accurate information.

If you’re a native or country expert for any of the places below, and are interested helping us review our reports, please visit our website to learn more about the project and qualifications and fill out an application.

Countries

Armenia Ghana Mali Slovakia  West Bank and Gaza
Bangladesh Greece Mauritania Slovenia  Yemen
Belarus Haiti Mexico South Sudan  
Cape Verde Iran Moldova Sri Lanka  
Costa Rica Italy Mongolia Suriname  
Croatia Jamaica Norway  Togo  
Dominican Republic Kenya Pakistan  Tonga  
Ethiopia Madagascar Romania Tunisia  
 Fiji Malawi Serbia UAE  

 

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Alaska Kansas New Mexico Northwest Territories (Canadian territory)
Idaho Nebraska Oklahoma  
Minnesota Missouri South Dakota  

 

CultureGrams—Christmas Around the World

ColombiaChristmas

A Colombian nativity scene
Image credit: Salym Fayad

As Christmas approaches, people all over the world are preparing for the holiday in their unique ways. Read about some distinctive Christmas traditions from Europe, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America below and visit CultureGrams holiday sections to find out more!

Argentina: Extended families gather on Christmas Eve for dinner, music, and often dancing. Candy is served just before midnight, when the fireworks displays begin. Gifts from Papá Noel (Father Christmas) are opened on Christmas Eve, while all other gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day. The singing of traditional Christmas carols by family members features prominently in Christmas celebrations.

Mozambique: Christmas is celebrated only by Christians. Church meetings are held in the morning; the afternoon is spent with family. A special meal is served and usually includes meat, fish, fried potatoes, rice, and cake. People celebrate with music and dancing. Some families exchange presents, but this is not a major part of the holiday. Family Day falls on the same day as Christmas and is celebrated by all Mozambicans. Celebrations intertwine with Christmas celebrations; the main difference is that non-Christians do not attend church on this day.

ArmeniaBecause Armenia was the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as the official state religion, many Armenians celebrate Christmas (Surb Tsnund) with a special solemnity. Christians attend church and participate in the Divine Liturgy (a church service) conducted by the chief bishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church. On Christmas Eve, families bring lit candles from the church into their homes to purify the homes from the power of darkness. A typical Christmas dinner for families includes fish and rice, served with raisins, dried fruits, and Armenian red wine.

Colombia: The nine nights before Christmas are called la novena, when family and friends gather to take part in traditional Christmas prayers, sing carols, and eat customary Christmas snacks such as natilla (similar to flan) and buñuelos (fried dough balls). Each night the novena is celebrated in a different home, and these events often turn into parties that include drinking and dancing. On Christmas Eve, families eat a large dinner, pray around the pesebre, and sing Christmas carols. At midnight, they exchange presents.

Tonga: On Christmas Eve, Sunday-school children may perform the story of Jesus’s birth for their families and walk around the perimeter of their communities singing Christmas carols. Meanwhile, older Tongans visit family members. Afterward, children go home, where they may receive a gift from their parents—this might be an inexpensive toy or balloons and candy. No matter what day of the week it falls on, Christmas day is treated as a Sunday; people refrain from outdoor activities (other than cooking) and businesses close. On Christmas morning, most people attend a church service. This is followed by a gathering of extended family for a special lunch of yams and roasted pigs.

SwedenAn important part of many Swedes’ modern Christmas celebrations is a television program called Kalle Ankas Jul, which is broadcast on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Each year since 1959, much of the country has gathered to watch this compilation of clips from different cartoons, whose ratings outperform nearly all other television events throughout the year. Santa Claus is called Jultomte—the “Christmas gnome.” The name Jultomte once referred to a fabled gnome who watched over Swedish homes during the year. In the modern tradition, he brings gifts for the children to the door on Christmas Eve. After Jultomte delivers the gifts, the family dances around the tree and sings carols.

CultureGrams—Teaching Activities: Understanding Election Results

Did you know that CultureGrams offers almost 80 free teaching activities to its subscribers? If you don’t have access to CultureGrams, enjoy this free teaching activity today and sign up for a free trial of the product to access more.

colorstates

CultureGrams USA map

Understanding Election Results

Grade level: K–5

Objective: Students will learn about the Electoral College while understanding the numerical basis for election results and
practicing various computations.

Common Core State Standards Initiative: Anchor Standards for Reading: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7. Integrate and evaluate content presented
in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Time Requirement
Preparation: 40 minutes
In-class: 2 hours, two different days; less, if some is done as homework

Materials: CultureGrams States Edition

Instructions
1. Begin by handing out a printout of the PDF outline map of the U.S. to each student, along with coloring utensils. Give the students a list of which states voted for Mitt Romney (color red) in the
2012 presidential election and which states voted for Barack Obama (color blue) and have them color in the map accordingly.
2. When the students are done, tell them that the country was split fairly evenly in this election, with 51% of the nation voting for Obama and 47% voting for Romney. Yet, from looking at the amount of red on the election map, they might think that far more people voted for Romney. Talk about how the Electoral College works, explaining that each state gets a number of electoral votes based on its total number of senators and representatives, the latter of which is based on population.
3. Using this formula (senators + representatives = electoral votes), have the students use the information in the Government section of the CultureGrams States Edition to fill in their map with the numbers of electoral votes each state has. Compare the sum of the blue states’ electoral votes and those of the red states. Are they closer than the map makes them appear?
4. Explain to students that, typically, it is thought that states that are home to large urban populations (and are therefore more densely populated) tend to be democrat, while those home to rural populations (and therefore more sparsely populated) tend to be republican. Have students test this assumption using the Create-Your-Own-Table function in the States Edition. Have students create tables that display the population densities (population per sq. mi.) for both red and blue states. Using this data, have them create and compare averages for each group. What do their findings prove?

Questions for further discussion
1. Why might more densely populated states vote democratic, while more sparsely populated ones vote
republican?
2. The Electoral College has come under fire as being out of date and unfair. Do the students agree?
Why or why not?

Extension activity
Provide electoral maps for several past presidential elections. As they compare the maps, they should note which states should be classified as “swing states”; that is, which states alternate between voting for republican and democratic candidates.

CultureGrams—Where in the world?: Transportation

Modes of transportation are influenced by many factors, including economic resources, population density, geography, climate, and tradition. If you’re from the United States, you probably get around primarily in a private vehicle, but that’s only one of many modes of transportation used every day by people around the world.

The following photos are from the CultureGrams photo gallery.

Can you guess where each photo was taken?

Photo 1

Photo 1

 

Photo 2

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Photo 3

Photo 3

 

 

Photo 4

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Photo 5

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Photo 6

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Photo 7

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Photo 8

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Photo 9

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uae

Photo 10

uk

Photo 11

vietnam

Photo 12

We’ve posted the answers in the comments section of this post. Check them out and tell us how well you did!

Don’t forget that CultureGrams has thousands of pictures gathered from around the globe. Each image in our slideshow gallery and photo gallery is downloadable and available for personal use.