In light of the comment regarding a recent post, and at the request of a few friends, I took the idea from that post and wrote it in a less convoluted language. I apologize if my writing left some of you cold and I assure you that wasn't my intent.
As a foreign exchange student, I am what Georg Simmel (one of my favourite theorists) would call a stranger. The term stranger has a specific sociological meaning, although it derives from the common sense definition: the stranger "is defined by distance [. . .] neither too close or too far.*" A stranger exists on the boundaries of a social group. If strangers get too close, they become members of the group; if they're too far, they vanish from the group's consciousness.
In my classes, I am not the only foreign exchange student. As a result, the professor speaks in English, the commonly shared language among the students. I revealed myself as someone from a country where English (and French) are the official languages. Some professors are a little self-conscious of their English usage, and explained that since there is a native English speaker in the class, I could act as an expert consultant. This garnered some attention from my classmates - negative or positive, I'm not sure. I tried to analyze and critique this situation because I found myself in a unique position. There are two fundamental observations.
First, employing me as the "expert" is strange because I'm not an expert. Although you can accurately say you can speak one language and not another, what is considered "good" speaking and "bad" speaking is, in my opinion, largely relative. Everyone in my classes speak English and understand one another. Hence, an expert is not needed.
Second, in relation to Simmel's stranger, asking me (jokingly) to be the expert may be an attempt to dissolve the social boundaries between me and the other European students. This is a very courteous and downright sweet gesture and I don't regard that as a problem. I'm wondering if an attempt to include someone implies that person is a stranger, and if that is my case at all.
However, my concern was twofold: do the other students really need me, since language competency is perhaps relative? Doesn't that hinder social mobility (moving from "stranger status" to "being included status") if the outsider's only purpose is to provide advice and consulting? I'm not ready to answer those questions yet. You, gentle reader, are of course welcome to share your thoughts.
I hope that makes more sense. There was another paragraph on ethnocentrism, and if anyone finds it too convoluted then feel free to email me or post a comment.
Ritzer, George. Contemporary Sociological Theory and Its Classical Roots: The Basics. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. 52.