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Guide Answers What Foreigners Want To Know About Americans

5:21 PM, Dec 26, 2013   |    comments
Photo: Detroit Free Press
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David Jesse, Detroit Free Press

Page 4 explains why Americans often smile at strangers. Page 8 contains a handy tipping guide. And Page 35 offers some advice on asking someone out on a date.

Those questions - and 97 others - are gathered in a new guide aimed at helping international students understand the U.S. and its people. The guide was developed last semester by Michigan State University journalism students and delivered on the last day of class.

Called "100 Questions & Answers about Americans," it's available for purchase online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The guide has its genesis in the class of Joe Grimm, the visiting editor in residence at MSU's school of journalism. During his stint as ombudsman of the Detroit Free Press, Grimm said he heard from Arab and Jewish readers about issues, which led to a guide of questions and answers about Arabs.

Flash-forward more than a decade. MSU's Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives encouraged Grimm to work on the new guide. Michigan State has more than 6,700 students from 131 nations, with the most foreign students coming from China.

Grimm got the 16 students in his class involved.

"It forces students to talk to people across cultures and to learn how to ask awkward questions," he said.

The journalism students fanned out to find international students and gather the questions they had about America and Americans.

"It was really good training on how to talk to people and then how to find answers," said student Michelle Armstead, who worked on a team looking at race and social behaviors. "We knew that there were a ton of people who didn't know much about America, other than what they had seen on TV."

The journalism students compiled the questions and edited them down to a list of 100.

"The questions were framed by where the people were from," Grimm said. "We had someone from Saudi ask why Americans work so hard. We had someone from China who asked why Americans didn't work hard."

The students then set out to answer the questions. Some led them to census data. Other answers came from the journalism students' personal experiences.

The guide then went out to various MSU experts to vet the answers.

During the process, students learned about marketing, including what people were searching for online and how to make sure the guide popped up in result lists.

As for the answers to those earlier questions: Page 4 says Americans smile at strangers to be friendly; Page 8 says you don't have to tip the grocery bagger and Page 35 says you should spend time getting to know someone before asking for a date.

Detroit Free Press

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