Keith J Connell (https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9867-9570) Georgian College
The contemporary educational setting is increasingly shaped by internationalization, where classrooms have transformed into lively centers of cultural diversity, driven to consider a variety of cultures, languages, and perspectives. Jane Knight (2003) defined this phenomenon as “the process of integrating an international, intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions, or delivery of postsecondary education” (p. 2). Being a scholar from Canada, I have had the opportunity to witness the ramifications of my country’s dynamic international student recruitment, experiencing it from both the student and the professor’s perspectives. As a student, I observed with surprise how some educators resisted adaptation to accommodate the transitions in classroom culture. As a teacher, I witnessed the growth of diversity in my student population, forming a vibrant mosaic of heritages from around the globe. This multicultural tapestry presents educators with a distinctive blend of opportunities and complexities. As a white professor entering an internationally dominated classroom, I was confronted with a personal learning curve that could not be informed through scholarly knowledge. Embracing this endeavour has made all the difference in who I am as a person and teacher. This shift in perspectives has motivated me to tailor my teaching to the varied academic needs of my students rather than imposing the conventional instructional approaches I learned in a colonialized education system on the students.
Understanding Cultural Nuances
As an educator, I find great inspiration in the lively classroom dynamics, where ideas flow freely between my students and me. Guided by my training, I have always believed that fostering an environment conducive to active idea exchange begins with asking the right questions. In my initial semester as a facilitator, I had the privilege of teaching a class where 98% of the student body hailed from international backgrounds, thus marking the beginning of my story.
Despite my best efforts to engage the class in active discourse, only a few were willing to contribute. After many failed attempts, I asked one of my students for his advice. The student’s response became the fork in my pedagogical road and inspired me personally and professionally. He explained that many of my students came from educational systems that held the instructor in a position of power where questioning or disagreement was inappropriate and, for some, censured. I realized that I was making them uneasy in my efforts to support and encourage my students. I began looking into literature and resources that helped inform my understanding of diverse cultural norms, communication styles and global socio-academic standards. Thus, the initial step of my voyage involved acknowledging that I could no longer teach confidently but needed to reflect on the impact of what I considered supportive teaching.
Listening and Learning from Students
I realized the key to effective teaching in such a diverse environment is actively listening to my students and understanding their unique perspectives. Rather than assuming that my teaching methods were universally applicable, I encouraged open dialogue and created a supportive environment where students felt comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns. Throughout the semester, I ask my international students to tell me what they were missing about home, exchange stories about their successes, or have them share photos of their country. I learned that with all my experience, I knew nothing about their lives, and in this way, I was asking them to teach me. I felt like I needed to build a bridge between their world and mine, and I was successful in some ways and acquired a deeper, albeit limited, understanding that I use in my teaching practice. I strive to infuse elements from other cultures into the curriculum, attempting to foster an inclusive and relatable learning atmosphere for everyone. I continue to examine the linguistic and semantic components in my teachings that may serve to create confusion and barriers to learning.
Fostering Inclusivity and Respect
My research has led me to some uncomfortable realities; most significantly, international students often feel isolated while studying (Glass & Westmont, 2014). In turn, I acknowledged that other students may not hold the same views or have a misguided understanding. For this reason, I ask all my students, regardless of their origin, to share stories that are unique to them or their culture to inspire curiosity, compassion, or understanding between cultures. More importantly, to reduce misunderstandings and demonstrate that we are more similar than different.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
Adapting to the needs of an internationally dominated classroom was challenging. Navigating language barriers, differing educational systems, and varying cultural norms pose obstacles that require compassion and flexibility. However, each challenge presents an opportunity for growth and learning. I discovered that acknowledging my limitations and being open to feedback from my students is crucial in continuously refining my teaching approach.
As I learned from my students in the first semester of teaching, being a professor is the most rewarding career I have had. It challenges me, and it makes me a better person. During that transformational semester where I spoke to that student, I was able to bridge the gap in my classroom, and we all learned to communicate better. In the second last week of the semester, members of my class asked to celebrate a student’s birthday. I still remember the excitement in the room as I agreed and moved to the podium to pack up my computer and leave. One of the students approached me, offered me a piece of cake, and said, “Thank you, today you are one of us,” a sentiment that still gives me goosebumps.
Glass, C. R., & Westmont, C. M. (2014). Comparative effects of belongingness on the academic success and cross-cultural interactions of domestic and international students. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 38, 106–119. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.04.004
Knight, J. (2003). Updated definition of internationalization. International Higher Education, 33. https://doi.org/10.6017/ihe.2003.33.7391
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