On September 18th, 15 participants from the VIU community attended the first session of Culture in the classroom: Working with international students, a collaborative learning series offered through the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning and International Education. After a brief introduction of our interdisciplinary group, Mackenzie Sillem facilitated a lively and  fast-paced ice-breaker. This activity doubled as a means to collect some valuable information from the group that would inform where were at and shape the direction of our learning series. In this activity, participants provided feedback to the following questions:

What are your expectations of this workshop series?
What questions to you have about this workshop series?
What benefits have you experienced working with international students?
What challenges have you experienced working with international students?

The feedback to these questions is summarized below:

Expectations of the series
To discover better strategies
To refresh our memories
To help domestic students be more inclusive
To learn more about myself, my culture, and my communication strategies
To learn about different cultures
To learn how to accommodate different cultures
To reduce feelings of exclusion for international students

What are different ways of being respectful?
What are the relevant cultural differences regarding communication?
How do we accommodate students from different cultures?
How do we deal with inclusion in the classroom and understanding cultural concerns?
Why do we fail to recognize our own culture and how it appears to others?
Why isn’t there more culture in our classrooms?

Benefits to working with international students
We learn to understand ourselves better
We learn about other cultures
Increased diversity in our classes and in how we thing
Experience different viewpoints
Opens up ethnocentric thinking
Students value the interaction

Challenges we’ve experienced
Language skills
Differing expectations
Lack of time to connect

After discussing the above issues as a group, participants worked in smaller groups to discuss what resonated with them from the first reading (available online as an ebook via the VIU Library):

Ting-Toomey, S. (1999). Intercultural community: An introduction. In S. Ting-Toomey (Ed.), Communicating across cultures (pp.3-24). New York, NY.: Guilford Press.

During our class-level discussion of this reading, participants commented on the more salient points, including what resonated most with them. We talked about a sense of dissonance and discomfort that can often lead us uncover or confront our own cultural identities. We also discussed the struggle with feeling culture-less, and the importance of teaching ourselves about our own culture. We pointed out that by encouraging a stronger sense of cultural self-awareness and awareness of our own culturally-conditioned identities, we can move forward in understanding the cultural diversity of those we work with.

From here, we moved into an activity where we had to create labels for our identities and introduce ourselves to others in the room using these labels. Afterwards, we talked of the restrictiveness of labels and the challenges to defining ourselves with labels alone. And we reflected on which labels we chose and which we didn’t, and why.

Finally, we watched a short clip from a video that we’ll be discussing in the next session:

West and East: Cultural Differences

Overall, this first session was a chance to introduce participants and facilitators and to begin to build a shared understanding of what we’ll be doing in this learning series. As usual, it’s powerful and dynamic to have such a multi-disciplinary group contributing their ideas and stories, and keen to move forward and enhance their pedagogical practice in regards to cross-cultural awareness and communication. There is an incredible amount of expertise within the group, and a clear  enthusiasm and openness to learning.  We think this is going to be a great series, and are looking forward to where it will take us.