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Intercultural Interaction in Universities: What of It?

April 25, 2018
3 months, 3 weeks ago

On one hand, you have the international student who, once arrived in the new country, may instantly look for their own peers and be reluctant to form new bonds due to the fear of rejection (hello, culture shock!). On another hand, you have the domestic student who might not want to make the first step in interacting with the newcomer.

When these two young individuals belonging to different cultures come into contact, finding the common codes and denominators can be a daunting task for both parties. Sure, the domestic student can very easily tuck away in their home-shelter, whereas the international student has nowhere to camouflage. Helping the two synchronise with their cultures has to come from you.

To some extent, the sheer presence of internationals is not enough to promote and support intercultural interactions. These processes must be cultivated and encouraged through activities, modern learning strategies, and peer-pairing programmes.

Such activities have to tick off at least half, if not all, of the following:

  • Reduce potential stereotypes
  • Increase intercultural knowledge by sharing differences and enhance the mutual understanding of the world
  • Assist newcomers to adapt to the new environment
  • Stimulate domestic students’ appetite for new
  • Support cultural awareness by showcasing and sharing ethnic experiences
  • Enrich the university’s learning habitat (remember that internationals contribute to the diversity of the campuses and communities)
  • Support domestic students by improving their social skills, help them gain new perspectives, and develop their cultural sensitivities by engaging with people from different backgrounds
  • Offer the opportunity for nationals to learn new languages, traditions, and cultures
  • Foster and lay the foundation of international friendships

Events and activities are meant to help students build global networks and, more importantly, have fun while studying together. For example, Griffith University in Australia sets up beach excursions and cultural morning tea gatherings; organises National Harmony Weeks celebrated with delicious food, music, and games; and has quiz-style international trivia events. In the US, Western Illinois University hosts the International Bazaar every spring, where students decorate booths displaying their culture, dance, perform, and cook their authentic food. Other activities here include the International Coffee Hour, an event that highlights a country's tea and coffee culture, and an International Neighbours event organised for purposes of cross-cultural exchange.

In Japan, Hiroshima Shudo University organises volunteer programmes where their international students can teach Korean, Chinese, and English classes to students interested in their language. National University of Singapore in Asia sets up a Community Engagement Programme to promote understanding of the various faiths and cultures within their student community; some of these include the Hindu Society, Malay Language Society, Tamil Language Society, Indian Cultural Society, and Sikh Cultural & Literary Society. The Technical University of Munich in Germany boasts about Language Café events for internationals to improve their German and for domestic students to speak foreign languages in an informal setting over free coffee and cakes. Chung-Ang University in South Korea invites students to experience traditional Korean music, try out various musical instruments, and take part in the Hanbok Wearing Experience, where students learn how to wear traditional Korean dresses.

To this, many universities and colleges offer the so-called “buddy” programme, which entails pairing one international student with one national student. Buddies will offer linguistic support (if they don’t speak the language of the international student, conversations are usually held in English), guidance, information about living and learning at the university, campus tours, personal uni experiences and stories, and more. Being helped and welcomed by a friendly face can make a huge difference for newcomers.

Inviting internationals to study at your university is a win-win for your domestic students and for foreigners as well. By experiencing cultural differences, one becomes more complex, tolerant, and well educated and is able to relate and open oneself to intercultural relationships. By being exposed to different cultures, both groups gain an understanding that attracts opportunities and helps construct a more elaborate view of the world. This is not just nice to have during studies but after graduation as well. It’s something to cherish for life. And it starts under your roof.

Nobody said it’s easy. Stimulating a conversation between two representatives of countries miles apart from each other is a challenge with endless annotations. Everything from political views and traditions to personal boundaries can pollute this dialogue. But as one of the world's most eminent social theorists, Zygmunt Bauman, once said, “Real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you.”

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