Bridging the cultural chasm: Why international education should no longer be a one-way street

In Australian universities, all students are encouraged to engage in culturally diverse global_citizen_logoexperiences throughout their degrees (Collett, 2008, p.1). Intercultural relationships on campus and in the classroom offer students the opportunity to acquire new values and beliefs, learn tolerance and develop the cosmopolitan orientation required to become global citizens (Marginson, 2012, p.5).

Despite this, fostering friendships and effective working relationships between local and international students is not easy (Collett, 2008, p.1). One contributing factor is the perception of the international student as being weak, lacking and helpless, without any active agency over his or her life (Marginson, 2012, p.5). Instead, Marginson (p.3, 2012) proposes promoting international education as a process of self-formation, in which international students command their own identities through synthesising different cultural elements.

Whilst this may prove effective in shifting focus away from the economic consumption of international students to the notion of mutual learning (Marginson, 2012, p.11), ascribing them dignity as persons with equal standing and rights as local students is not sufficient in bridging the cultural chasm.

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Many international students find it difficult to follow what both their lecturers and classmates are saying due to the use of Australian colloquialisms (Kell, Vogl, 2007 p.6)

Although many international students aspire to assimilate in the host country through proving that they’re self-determining agents (Marginson, 2012, p.10), social and academic integration within the university community is not easily achieved (Burdett, Crossman, 2012, p.211). Often, differences in communication styles, relationships, academic expectations and language skills do not facilitate assimilation, with local students seeking more frequent contact with those they perceive as “similar” compared with those who appear “dissimilar” (Burdett, Crossman, 2012, p.211).

In particular, cultural stereotypes create local student perceptions that less vocal international students in class are unwilling contributors. As a result, local students raise concerns that multicultural groups will achieve lower marks than groups comprising only “locals” (Burdett, Crossman, 2012, p.211). In this way, the preference of local students to interact with monocultural groups limits opportunities for positive academic and social interaction and exchanges (Burdett, Crossman 2012, p.211). This is of particular concern as there is a strong correlation between English language proficiency and social interaction (Kell, Vogl, 2007, p.8).

Cultural stereotypes

While a plethora of research has sufficiently acknowledged the challenges of sociocultural adjustment for international students, there is a lack of concrete, practical and proactive strategies to address these issues. The Australian Government has devised a strategy aiming to improve student wellbeing, assure the quality of education, strengthening consumer protection for international students and providing better information to current and future students (Council of Australian Governments, 2010, p.8).

Although this is positive progress, a more focused effort at the micro level, whereby cultural stereotypes are deeply embedded and ingrained, is required. This may include establishing administration and leadership positions within universities dedicated to the issue, mentoring schemes among local and international students, resourcing student services in areas likely to encourage social and academic engagement (Burdett, Corssman, 2012, p.216) and offering local, culture engendered work experience or internship programs for international students to further develop their academic, social and cultural assimilation skills (‘Challenges facing Australian international graduates’, 2014).

Finally, for Marginson’s proposition for ‘international education as self formation’ to be effective, it is imperative to encourage intercultural dialogue through classroom activities or assessments in subjects with high enrolments of international students (Collett, 2008, p.7). This helps local students to understand more about the home country of their international counterparts, as well as share academic ambitions and aspirations. Such strategies are increasingly important in the Asian Century whereby intercultural competence is paramount (Caruana, 2014, p.89).

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Steps to developing cultural competence

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Student strategies for intercultural dialogue (Collett, 2008, p.9)

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Reference List:

Burdett, J., Crossman, J., 2012, ‘Engaging international students: An analysis of the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) reports’, Quality Assurance in Education, vol.20, iss.3, p.207-222.

Caruana, V., 2014, ‘Re-thinking Global Citizenship in Higher Education: from Cosmopolitanism and International Mobility to Cosmopolitanisation, Resilience and Resilient Thinking’, Higher Education Quarterly, vol.68, no.1, p.85-104.

‘Challenges facing Australian international graduates transitioning into the Australian labour market’, 2014, EduResearchMatters, AARE blog – a voice for Australian educational researchers, < http://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?p=174>.

Collett, D., 2008, ‘Interaction between Local and International Students using Inclusive Approaches to Intercultural Dialogue’, ISANA International Academy Association Conference, University of South Australia, p.1-8.

Council of Australian Governments, 2010, ‘International Students Strategy for Australia’, Council of Australian Governments, Canberra, p.1-28.

Kell, P., Vogl, G., 2007, ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’, Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, Macquarie University Sydney, p.1-9.

Marginson, S., 2012, ‘Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience: International education as self-formation’, Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne, p.1-11.

Tschudy, D., 2013, ‘Cross Culture Cross Human Daniel Tschudy’, image, Hotel Circle Asia, accessed 22 August 2014, < http://www.hotelcircleasia.com/from-cultural-gaffes-to-cross-cultural-competence/>.

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