Breaking the Communication Barrier between International and Domestic Students through Purposeful Multicultural Groupwork

Building Connections in the Classroom
27 Mar 2024

Breaking the Communication Barrier between International and Domestic Students through Purposeful Multicultural Groupwork

     With increased student mobilization, classes have become diverse (Kelly, 2009). One of the challenges to teaching a diverse class is to bridge the communication barrier between international and domestic students. 

Barriers to Communication (International Student Perspective): 

      As an international student, I choose to sit, talk, and engage with students from my home country. Speaking in my native language with them fosters a feeling of connection and belongingness, due to which interaction with other students becomes minimal. As an English second language speaker, I am concerned about my pronunciation while communicating with native speakers, and the fear of mispronunciation due to a different accent stops me from engaging with domestic peers in informal discussions.

       According to Arkoudis and Baik (2014), international students choose to be in their comfort zone by hanging out with peers from the same cultural or linguistic backgrounds and do not interact with domestic students due to no grounds of commonality, lack of cultural understanding, lack of fluency in speaking the native language of the host country or the fear of judgment of mispronunciation and non-native accent. These roadblocks deter the interaction between international and domestic students (Arkoudis & Baik, 2014). The minimization of barriers to communication between international and domestic students can progress through the formation of multicultural groups comprising both the student population.

 Fostering Interaction through Purposeful Multicultural Group Work: 

         Forming groups with domestic students can seem daunting initially for international students, but it involves many potential benefits. The mixed group formation can be a golden chance to engage with domestic students, know their cultural background, break the barrier of awkwardness, and form meaningful connections with them. A multicultural group comprising domestic and international students can be a great combination where students bring diverse cultural knowledge and different perspectives that can help foster interaction, escalated cross-cultural awareness, collaboration, and high-level learning (Sweeney, 2008). 

        As an international student, I was sceptical about choosing a course with no students from my home country and mostly domestic students. However, due to my interest in the course topic, I opted for it. I zoned out when the course instructor informed us about the assignment to be a group project, assuming it would be difficult to form connections with domestic students due to the lack of interaction. The course instructor created groups for us, and I became a member of the group comprising all the domestic students. 

         The course outline directed the students assigned to a particular group to sit together for half the class duration to complete and discuss the activities. The mandatory interaction with domestic students in every class worked as an icebreaker, and I slowly started building connections with my team members. We started interacting outside the class to discuss the group project through virtual meetings.

          During the in-class group discussion, we discussed our group work activity and shared different things about our cultures and home countries. The informal interactions helped me understand more about the host country from the native perspective. 

         Sometimes, the instructor acts as an initiator, sparking the interaction process between domestic and international students by purposeful grouping of students, which can help break the wall of ambiguity and foster interaction between the two groups. The time duration that students work as a group contributes to fostering interactions, as the more time the students engage, the better the connections are formed between them (Watson et al., 1993). 

           Thus, engagement of international students with domestic peers is vital as it positively affects student development, persistence, and academic performance, caters to increased awareness and understanding of diverse perspectives, improves interpersonal communication, increases workplace preparation, and instils a feeling of belongingness in the community of the host country for international students (Arkoudis & Baik, 2014). In summary, due to the multicultural group work activity, I got a chance to establish meaningful connections with domestic students, which I would never have initiated by myself. 

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Chahat Chhabra, University of Windsor

REFERENCES

Arkoudis, S. & Baik, C. (2014). Crossing the interaction divide between international and domestic students in higher education. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1, 47-62.

Kelly, P. (2009). Group work and Multicultural Management Education. Journal of Teaching in International Business, 20(1), 80–102. https://doi.org/10.1080/08975930802671273

Sweeney, A., Weaven, S., & Herington, C. (2008). Multicultural influences on Group Learning: A qualitative higher education study. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(2), 119–132. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602930601125665

Watson, W. E., Kumar, K., & Michaelsen, L. K. (1993). Cultural diversity’s impact on interaction process and performance: Comparing homogeneous and diverse task groups. Academy of Management Journal, 36(3), 590–602. https://doi.org/10.5465/256593

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