Culture and Interactions with Instructors

Expectations of Instructor’s Role

The role of the instructor in many cultures is that of being the expert who imparts wisdom to students with very little discussion or feedback. International students can be surprised by what appears to be a more casual role and relationship for instructors in American classrooms. Students may want the instructor to be more of an authority, and they may find it hard to respect or take seriously someone who does not appear to have all the answers.

In contrast, international students may come from a culture that expects them to challenge whatever the instructor says, which can be difficult and disconcerting for American instructors who may perceive these students as hostile or aggressive.

Asking Questions

While instructors will often ask if anyone has questions during class, many international students will not ask questions until after class. This is often because they fear their question is about something everyone else has understood and they would hold up the class or waste time, or because they feel nervous about speaking in English in front of the class. They are often much more comfortable talking privately after class and will likely save their questions until then.

Negotiating for Grades

In some cultures, grades that are given on assessments outside of formal national exams may be considered negotiable. It is best to be explicit about grading policies and what might garner a student any chance at a second consideration of their work. 

Criticizing and Criticism

In some cultures, to directly criticize someone’s work can be perceived as criticism of the person. This can affect interactions with instructors both inside and outside of class, whether in writing or verbally.

 SEE: Communicating Clearly for strategies to ensure better interactions between instructors and students