Published on 2012/05/31

Open Exchange: Engaging Justly For Global Positioning And Fit

—Co-written with Tori Ann Haywood | Writing Advisor, City College of New York S.R.A.R.C.

International learning opens up a greater opportunity for students to engage in interdisciplinary educational opportunities that would otherwise not be available. Photo by Tim Bunce.

It is true that learning can and does take place anywhere, in any space and sometimes in foreign countries, too. This is also becoming more and more prevalent with work assignments, as learners can expect to work locally or as part of a global team or on virtual teams with persons based in a foreign country. In a world where everything has changed and continues to change, colleges and universities can expect the students in front of them to be more diverse than ever. Every student coming from a foreign country brings their uniqueness which may be extremely divergent to the respective university’s and the host country as in some cases they are eager to learn as much as they can about the host country. In these times of globalization what a student brings to the learning space is a very valuable asset to the university whose students are able to learn about some of the unique mannerisms of another’s culture from the incoming foreign-born student without having to leave their local environment. In fact, a foreign-born student brings everything about him/her to the local university and some of these attributes fit the space instantaneously. In some instances the student must negotiate the other attributes of themselves so that they can further negotiate and navigate where they now call home. Sometimes some behaviors are so ingrained in the student’s ethos that the incoming student has a harder time adjusting to the new environment. Many things can be learned from this student’s experience that can help other foreign nationals coming to the host country to study, but far greater, it can afford the local-born students many great firsthand opportunities to learn things about adjustment, anxiety, compassion, resiliency, personality differences, cross-cultural engagement and change, acculturation as well as learning about specific cultural nuances of the foreign-born student’s culture. This kind of social learning primes local born students for living and/or working in a foreign country, as well.

A contract is an exchange in which there is an offer, acceptance and consideration so when foreign learners attend an international university, their acceptance, attendance and payment makes it a valid contract with the sponsoring university and the student. Therefore, there are some very natural expectations that may be different than the local culture. However, it is important for the university to ensure that there is a meeting of the minds as the expectations of students may be very different than local conventions. There are variations in the local language and the students’ language that may need clarification on both sides for it to mean similar things for both sides. Issues of this nature are real and may determine the kind of experiences students may have or the level or kind of public relations they may promote about the university. It is important for universities to craft the kind of message they want learners to broadcast understanding that the way they engage learners is the most potent way to craft an upfront positive message. This may seems inconsequential but to a foreign-born student this could mean finding a place to call home; a place where they fit and see avenues for making valuable contributions to the university community, local communities and the host nation as well as their home country through varied interactions and learning.

In many host countries, a foreign-born student is afforded opportunities to express him or herself, share their culture, and form lasting friendships through social activities and tutoring, especially in mathematics, sciences, foreign language, business and many other subjects. A foreign-born student has to be seen more than a number because of the information they bring about their home countries and the opportunities they present to engage others can provide endless opportunities for cross-cultural learning that can be triggered through healthy engagement in the classroom, in the local communities and as they travel across the respective nation. Globalization and internationalization call for this kind of interchange and the fact that foreign students bring their prior learning and experiences, including knowledge of what they want to learn to the host university, it should be harnessed as part of the everyday teaching and learning at every university environment.

The learning of another’s culture broadens students’ world knowledge; heighten their level of awareness and overall sensitivities, as well as increase their level of cross-cultural competencies. The value this kind of interchange adds to an individual, university and nations is getting harder and harder to quantify because the need for this kind of learning for stronger positioning in this global economy and the increased need for workers who have the competencies to live and learn in a foreign country with the smallest acculturation readiness investment possible is becoming more demanding.

Foreign nationals—when they come to the host country—get an opportunity to develop these competencies, thus making them more suited for work in the host country or in countries other than their own. In fact, foreign students can be seen tutoring in mathematics, sciences, foreign languages, and business and engaging in sport and other activities that add tremendous value to the host university, nation to the students because of the varied cross-cultural engagements. All these interactions can create many learning opportunities for the foreign national as well as the home-grown students who are primed for life in another country as exchange students and to get another perspective of interpreting English, Mathematics, Science and other subjects from another student who has an entirely different life content and culture from the local student’s. Sometimes, some of these students were exposed to all kinds of trauma, still they have adjusted to another country, learning and living in another culture, and may be marginally expose to the host country’s functional language, yet they are making a contribution to the host university, the nation and the humanity in general terms through the many ways in which avenues of engagements. Hence, it is important for educators to see this as enormous avenues for learning, developing and for capturing the important pieces of knowledge foreign learners bring to the university campus for continuous cross-cultural sensitivity training for students, staff and faculty.

Foreign students coming to study in a foreign country come with varied levels of preparations given their contrasted backgrounds. In some instances learners have very limited exposure to the functional language in the host country, despite the best education they might have received in their home countries. Still, there are some learners who because of political and other unrest have missed some of the fundamentals learning that will make they excel in the host country, which in this case is English. However, there are very sizable number of foreign students’ whose preparation levels surpass some locals, thus making them valuable assets to some universities labs or teaching assignments in university given their wealth of knowledge on a particular subject, but sometimes they are less than proficient in the functional language, thereby making them difficult to be understood by those they must instruct or engage with.

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