How to Use English to Create Cultural Connections

Martin HeadJonathan Martin
Associate Student Representative, Southwestern Region, 2015-2016
Rho Mu Chapter
Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City, OK

Last summer I gained a new appreciation for language. I spent the six weeks between May 17 and June 28 in Yaizu City, Shizuoka, Japan. The value of language as a method to exchange ideas has never been clearer. My trip’s purpose was to converse with local residents who were interested in increasing their English conversational skills.

During my time there, I met some incredible people and had some wonderful conversations about the different ways we viewed the world. One of my regular conversation partners brought an aged copy of the King James Bible in English she’d found on her grandfather’s bookshelf of Buddhist texts. She asked if I would be willing to read through it with her, and I was. We only made it about nine or ten chapters into Genesis, but every single time we met, the conversation covered definitions of obsolete words, archaic grammar rules, ancient Babylonian mythology, and our individual views on what we were reading. It was an intelligent, respectful trading of thoughts and ideas across gender, age, and cultural gaps.

Japan--MartinThese days, I feel this type of enlightening conversation is lost in the constant stream of shouting matches dominating social media every other week. Language isn’t about who can yell louder and longer than their opponent. It’s about communion, the coming together to share both commonalities and differences.

Too often, people become caught up in “right vs. wrong” or “me vs. you” debates that divide rather than bring together. I know in my own heart, I am guilty of wanting to be proven “correct” rather than sitting down and conversing with a friend about a topic of mutual passion. I’m striving to change this about myself so I can better engage with and understand the world around me.

I can say with certainty my trip changed my life for the better. My eyes have seen the community, love, and tolerance that are possible when two people treat each other with respect and sincerity.

Tell us about your experiences sharing the English language with someone from a different culture in the comments below.

Announcing Our 2017 Common Reader

Shannin SchroederShannin Schroeder
2017 Convention Chair

Make sure to carve some time out of your summer reading schedule for our 2017 Common Reader, Megan Mayhew Bergman’s short story collection Almost Famous Women, which details the colorful lives of these intrepid women. Read on for our 2017 Convention Chair’s brief introduction to this thought-provoking book.

Almost Famous Women CoverIn Almost Famous Women, Megan Mayhew Bergman draws our eye not only to the nearly famous but also to the women surrounding them, ancillary characters who seem stranded in their lives, adjacent to title figures who define who they are and how much they can love or be loved. In choosing to approach her eponymous women through these outside (almost exclusively female) voices, Bergman challenges our attempts to understand the complicated women around whom the action revolves.

The unnamed narrator of “Who Killed Dolly Wilde” says, “[S]he was a dying woman, in many ways. There was the cancer, of course, but also the sort of dying that happens when the beautiful person you once were wears off and all that’s left is someone frightened and ugly, this hard and cruel kernel of a self that’s difficult to look at.” Bergman’s words resonate for many of the women she revisits. Artists, entrepreneurs, self-made women, her characters simultaneously cling to an imitation of celebrity and reveal the flaws in the notion of notoriety itself. While the author does not shy away from death or dying, in their last throes, her characters are not any more or less approachable or likeable: instead, they are reduced to their base natures—hurting those who care for and about them.

Interspersed among these famous figures are the softer, but no less tragic, stories: works that make us ache for the conjoined sisters incapable of individual autonomy, the daredevil who gives up her daughter, or the Holocaust prisoners called back into womanhood by a hint of luxury. The most heartbreaking character may be the youngest, Allegra Byron, whose short life is documented by the postulant who watches it cut short. Of the convent’s image of the Virgin Mary, the narrator says, “You could tell she hadn’t enough mercy for all of us.” Figures we might expect to be most compassionate, from family members to religious icons, are found lacking. The collection instead leaves the burden of mercy to the tangential women who will bear away the extraordinary, complicated secrets of the titular characters.

Almost Famous Women questions whether it is a cruel world that renders the women in her stories knowable in limited ways, or whether the women themselves have held something back, something essential, from their friends, families, and lovers. The distance Bergman provides through her narrative style leaves readers wishing these women had been better known … to her readers, at least, if not to the public that could have made them famous.

Once you have finished reading Almost Famous Women, take some time to peruse these interviews with Megan Mayhew Bergman and learn more about her desire not to write these stories, her personal battles with the historical fiction genre, and which of these characters she loves most.


Common Reader Convention Awards

Feeling inspired after reading the Common Reader and discussing it with your chapter? Compose a critical or creative piece based on Almost Famous Women and submit it to the Sigma Tau Delta 2017 International Convention, which will be held in Louisville, KY, on March 29 – April 1, 2017.

Awards of up to $600 will be given at the international convention for critical essays or other genres of work that deal with the common reader. To be eligible, students indicate on the convention submission form that their work is in the common reader category (presentation type). Members can submit a total of two works for the convention as long as they are in different categories.

Submission guidelines will be posted to englishconvention.org on August 1.

Submissions will be open from September 26, through October 24.

I’m Graduating, Now What? Alumni Opportunities with Sigma Tau Delta

Katie MuddKatie Mudd
Sigma Tau Delta, Central Office
Graduate Student

The spring 2016 semester is rapidly coming to a close and for some that means graduation, an exciting time when hard work finally pays off and you receive the degree(s) into which you have poured so much blood, sweat, and tears. However, graduation also ushers in a time of nervous new beginnings and sad farewells. Coupled with the mixed anxieties of a new home, entering the job market, or beginning graduate school you must bid adieu to your campus community and the friends who made it your home. Amid these goodbyes you may rest assured that Sigma Tau Delta represents one portion of your life that can move forward with you, and today, as a fellow alumna, I’d like to share with you some of the ways you can continue to engage with Sigma Tau Delta as alumni.

Going to Graduate School?

Southern Utah University’s 2014 Sigma Tau Delta graduates.

For those of you embarking on the treacherous journey that is graduate school—may the odds be ever in your favor!—your Society transition can be all but seamless. Check to see if your new institution has an active Sigma Tau Delta chapter. If so, once the semester begins reach out to your new chapter’s Sponsor to learn about any chapter-specific membership requirements (I was surprised by local dues at my new graduate institution) and prepare to dive into your new home. If you happen to be transferring to an institution lacking an active chapter, you always can reach out to faculty about reactivating an old chapter or creating a new one. However, your continued involvement with the Society is not dependent upon a faculty member committing to lead a chapter into greatness.

Alumni Epsilon Chapter

Alumni Epsilon members at 2016 Convention

Alumni Epsilon members reunite at the Sigma Tau Delta 2016 International Convention in Minneapolis, MN. (photo courtesy of Matthew Kemp)

All Sigma Tau Delta graduates and graduate students at chapter-less institutions are eligible to join the Sigma Tau Delta Alumni Epsilon Chapter. Alumni Epsilon facilitates ongoing communication and networking between Sigma Tau Delta alumni and Sigma Tau Delta activities at the international level. Membership benefits include:

  • Continuing Affiliation: Although all alumni are lifetime members of Sigma Tau Delta, participation in the Alumni Epsilon Chapter will facilitate affiliation with Sigma Tau Delta regardless of your current place of residence or your ability to connect with local chapters.
  • Convention Participation: The international convention provides an accessible and scholarly venue for presenting your academic, professional, or creative work. You may deliver papers or participate in panel discussions related to the field of English or your professional work, and you are eligible for convention paper awards. The convention also provides an opportunity to hear noted authors and share good fellowship at fun and interesting locations.
  • Alumni Epsilon Scholarship: Alumni Epsilon Chapter members are eligible to apply for up to $2,500 to further their education in programs of study that are consistent with Sigma Tau Delta’s mission.
  • Alumni Epsilon Literacy Grant: Opportunity to apply for up to $500 to develop a literacy initiative project.

Alumni Epsilon annual membership dues are an incredible value at only $13—you also can purchase a two-year membership for $26. Apply now and your membership will transfer to Alumni Epsilon on July 1.

Beyond the Ivory Tower

In addition to joining the Alumni Epsilon Chapter, all members are encouraged to follow Sigma Tau Delta on social media. Sigma Tau Delta publishes a wide variety of interesting, Society-related content across all our social media platforms; however, several of these platforms are more closely attuned to alumni needs.

  • EnglishMatters: EnglishMatters is Sigma Tau Delta’s exclusive online network for students, alumni, and faculty members. It functions as an online platform for sharing discussions, events, and activities at the Society and chapter levels. EnglishMatters also serves as a key career development site focused on facilitating mentoring and networking opportunities among current and alumni members. EnglishMatters features a built-in mentoring service that connects you with other Society members based on your selected areas of expertise. Additionally, you have access to more than eight million internship and employment opportunities around the world and can access a private jobs board where members can post information on jobs in their area.
  • LinkedIn Group: The Sigma Tau Delta LinkedIn group is the perfect environment to share advice on the job market, career opportunities for English majors, suggestions for nailing a job interview, and tips and tricks on indy publishing. Additionally, LinkedIn’s extensive networking platform and job listings make it the perfect resource for entering the job market and helping you climb that proverbial ladder.
  • Alumni Facebook Group: This group is open to all Sigma Tau Delta alumni as a means of maintaining ties to the Society. The group posts field-related articles as well as updates on Society events such as the convention, job opportunities, advice on the job market, and information on Alumni Epsilon happenings.

Finally, before you graduate make sure your current chapter updates the email address you have entered in Write Away, the online chapter management system. Alumni with current personal email addresses entered in Write Away will receive email correspondence from Sigma Tau Delta, including our monthly eNews newsletter and emails about our Society blog, WORDY by Nature.

Sigma Tau Delta wishes you the best of luck as you move on, and looks forward to continuing our relationship with you.

What are some of your unique or exciting post-graduation plans?