Considering Culture

All students arrive on campus with academic skills and expectations that have been shaped by their own cultures’ education systems. What and how students learn can vary across cultures, and these differences can sometimes lead to confusion or misunderstanding for both students and instructors. Knowing where some of these differences may lie can ease students' transition to and success in a new academic environment. This section discusses several areas where differences are commonly encountered, such as:

Academic integrity
Ideas of academic integrity and its seriousness can vary across cultures. What may be deemed plagiarism or collusion in a US academic context may not be perceived the same way elsewhere, and many students have little idea what constitutes a violation. Knowing what ideas students may come in with can help instructors prepare clear expectations and explanations to help students acquire the necessary understanding and skills to avoid problems.

Classroom interactions
Students may come from a range of educational traditions, from one in which an instructor talks and students only listen, to one in which students are expected to challenge the instructor regularly. There may be little or no group work or discussion, or a great deal of both, or something in between. With these differences in mind, instructors can set up classroom expectations and provide tools to facilitate discussion and interactions.

Writing style
Writing styles, from structure to language and content, can be closely linked to academic culture, and the "US academic style" is not universal. With knowledge of the traditional styles students may be trained in from their previous academic work, instructors can anticipate, understand, and work with these differences. Recognizing that students are adding to their repertoire rather than coming in with a deficit can help guide the conversations instructors have about writing so students can better meet the expectations of a US academic environment.

Audience expectations
What may appear to be lacking in a student's writing may actually be purposely left out because, in the student's culture, the audience is expected to fill in that gap. Many international students perceive the typical US academic format of introduction, thesis, presentation of arguments and evidence, and conclusion, to be quite plodding and too direct, and they may even see it as doubting the intelligence of the audience. Understanding how this may lead to resistance to changing style is again key to ensure both students and instructors see this change as additive rather than a deficit.