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Academic Culture Shock

Part 2The Classroom
Many students come from countries in which college class sizes are large.
An educational system
is both a manifestation As a result:
and a carrier of a culture. Instructors may have little time for per- Assessment may come in the form of
sonalized attention to students. final exams rather than projects, papers,
class discussions, or multiple assignments.
Instructors might use lectures more than
People in a particular any other teaching strategy. An instructor may not know whether or
not individuals have attended class.
educational system, like Students may rely heavily on each other or
people in a particular on outside resources to answer any ques-
tions they have about class.
culture, may be unaware
of the fundamental as-
In many cultures, the primary role of the professor is that of expert or holder of knowledge. His/
sumptions they are mak- her job is to convey this knowledge to students with the help of texts, which are also seen as author-
ing and thus may be itative and the final word in terms of content.

unable to articulate them As a result:

to people from other It would be inappropriate to ask an in- Students must learn the content provided
systems. structor questions during a lecture. To do by the instructor and/or textbook.
so may convey the message that the in-
Memorization as a study strategy is often
structor was not clear or in some way
highly valued and developed.
deficient in his/her teaching. It is also
This leaves international disrespectful in that it wastes time on The right answer is the one that adheres
students (in any country) what students should be able to find on most closely to the book and/or profes-
their own in the textbook if necessary. sors lecture.
on their own to figure out
Finally, it could be perceived as challeng-
how the system works ing the information by someone who is The way in which a professor is ad-
not in a position to know more than the dressed may be formalized and inflexible.
and what is expected of
instructor and textbook.

Making Expectations Explicit

(Althen and Bennett, 2011,
pp. 209-210).
Often when individuals have been successful in an endeavor, they assume that the strategies that helped
them reach that level will continue to be effective. For someone entering a new educational system, this
is not always true.
The situation becomes even more challenging when we consider that we, as instructors, may not really be
aware of many of our basic expectations for the classroom.

Newsletter created by: Danielle Bergez, Academic Liaison for International Student Support,

Consider the following suggestions:

Talk with the class early on about what their prior educational experiences have been. Try to understand what the
major differences are class size, attendance, assignments, participation, and acceptable/unacceptable behavior.
Whenever you are addressing a noticeable difference in classroom expectations, try to give the rationale behind
the expectation. It is easier for people to change their behavior if they understand the reasoning behind a rule.

Be clear about how you want students to address you and learn students
In an advanced ESL class in an
Explain what participation is. Does it mean students raise their hands once American university, a student
per class? Does it mean posting comments on discussion board every week? asked a particularly difficult
Why is it important in your particular class? How will students receive feed- grammar question and the follow-
back about whether or not their participation is appropriate? ing conversation took place:

Instructor: Hmm, thats a good

question. Im not sure. I will
Convey to students the best way to ask for help. If students are struggling research it tonight and have an
with course material, whom should they contact and when? Stress the im- answer for you in class tomorrow.
portance of relying on university resources, rather than only friends.
After class...
Explain what teaching strategies you will be using and why you are using
them. Students who have experienced mostly a lecture style of teaching may Student: Ive never heard a
need some explanation to see the value of class discussion. teacher say she didnt know the
answer. In my country, the
teacher would always give an
Highlight all of the reasons why attendance is important to students educa- answer.

tion: assessments happen at various times, not just the end of the class or Instructor: What if she didnt
semester; classes are small and late arrivals are noticeable and distracting to know the answer?
both students and instructors; not all content is necessarily in the book, late
arrival may mean students miss information that cannot be found later on Student: She would make it up.

their own; and finally, prompt attendance is an outward sign of respect on Instructor: That seems risky.
the part of students toward instructors and classmates. What if she made up the wrong
For plagiarism involving large portions of text or lecture material, take time
to talk with the student about the situation. The student may be using a Student: The teacher is never
writing style that was effective in his/her home country. Students who have wrong.
previously been taught that texts represent the right answer, and as such are
to be respected as the authorities and memorized, may have difficulty cri-
tiquing such sources.

In terms of class policies, it is important to be consistent. Making exceptions can backfire. Rather, ensure that
students know the correct path/protocol to follow and the rationale behind it.
Expect to address these cultural differences at various points in the semester or block. The first class is so full of
information that some of it might be missed.

Althen, G. & Bennett, J. (2011). American ways: A cultural guide to the United States. Boston: Intercultural Press.

Newsletter created by: Danielle Bergez, Academic Liaison for International Student Support,