Skip to main content

Evening Degree Course on Québec, Natalie Debray, Communication

February 28, 2008

“Professor Debray’s lectures and in-class discussions on Québec illustrated how language can shape histories and identities. It was moving to experience the evolution of our class from a textbook environment into a study of how people communicate their values and interact with one another… and what is at stake for those individuals, communities and nations.”
James-Olivia Avigail, double major in Humanities and English in the Evening Degree Program

How do Canadian and American citizens differ in their values? Is the French spoken in France the same as the French spoken in Québec? These are just some of the questions raised by students this quarter in the course, COM 478: Intercultural Communication.

The course examined the theoretical components of Intercultural Communication by putting the spotlight on our Canadian neighbors. The students are often quite surprised at how different Canadians and Americans really are. Through dynamic examples gleaned from my years traveling and researching Québec and Canada, I let the students know that we do not have to look very far to experience a completely different world. Multicultural and bilingual Canada is fertile ground for studying cultural diversity.

Set against the backdrop of globalization, the course examined the various ways that culture influences communication; how cultural identity is formed, and how this knowledge can foster an appreciation of diversity while creating savvy and culturally competent communicators. The students especially appreciated the lectures on history and language, where I used the concept of diaspora to illustrate how the vastly different histories of Canada and Québec contributed to the Canadian society that exists today – and the conflict that this has often engendered. For example, the students learned that Canada recognizes two distinct Canadian histories, one English and one French, and Canadians are often at odds over who really ‘discovered’ Canada.

The course also placed a particular emphasis on the importance of language and cultural identity. The students learned why the fight to preserve the French language in Québec is so important. Even Starbucks was no match for Bill 101 – the influential and strict language law designed to preserve the French component of Québec Society. The students were quite surprised to learn that homegrown Starbucks had to alter its well-known moniker if it wanted to open a store in historic Québec. Known as Café Starbucks Coffee, the coffee shop looks similar to one you would see in Seattle, but the French flair of its name gives some indication of the significance between language and culture.

For these students, mixing a little bit of history with a taste of cafe au lait has been a superb way to learn about Intercultural Communication.

Stan Natalie Debray earned her doctorate in Communication at the UW in 2007 and also holds an MA in International Studies. Her area of expertise is International Communication with an emphasis on media and cultural identity, intercultural communication, and communication and international relations. Her dissertation compared Canadian and Québécois media coverage of significant historic events to determine their influence on cultural and political identity. Natalie has received numerous awards including a Foreign Language and Area Studies award from the Center to study French and Québec culture and history.