Intercultural Communication in the academic class.
I am an academic teacher and for a few years I’ve been teaching intercultural communication to Polish and foreign students who attend Intercultural Communication course together. The aim of this article is to reflect on the possible reasons of communication barriers between Polish and foreign students and to present some ideas how to overcome those barriers. I present a few ways of achieving more effective communication and cooperation between students representing two or more different cultures who meet during an academic course. As it appears, the crucial issue is managing the integration process in the classroom, for example through groupwork project assignments.
- Intercultural encounters in the academic class
In an era of growing migration, globalisation, and internationalization, people need to learn how to live in the neighbourhood of various cultures, and how to cope with intercultural encounters. It well refers to students who travel widely to study abroad, so they have a lot of opportunities to experience intercultural encounters. An intercultural encounter is understood as a situation of meeting the ‘Other’ and it can be very emotion-generatig and face-threatening situation for both – Polish and foreign students. That is why I asked all my students to write down their reflections on how they perceived communication between each other. Below you can see what they wrote.
- Foreign students’ comments on communication problems between Polish and foreign students
My foreign students, mostly Erasmus+ students from Turkey, wrote the following comments (about a month since the beginning of the semester) (all the excerpts come from students’ comments and keep original spelling):
- “We don’t spend enough time with them, and vice versa.”
- “Honestly, I don’t know anything about them, because the only thing that I have witnessed is strange and frosty looks since I came here, and this makes me feel as if I were a monster.”
- “They don’t realise us looking at them blankly in a conversation they keep on talking in Polish.”
- “In my opinion Polish students are really shy, and they don’t need to communicate with foreign students.”
- “I think they are culturally calm and introvert, that’s why we cannot swarm with them”.
- “They are hesitant to approach or talk to us. I can see that on their own, they look friendly and warm to each other, yet when it comes to a person who is out of their country, they hesitate a lot.”
- “Their [Polish students’] hesitance to talk to us prevents to get well integrated with them.”
- “But once they take a step I realize how warm and friendly many of them are.”
- Polish students’ comments on communication problems between Polish and foreign students
Here are my Polish students’ comments:
- ”I noticed they are more open than us (than Polish students). They are willing to take the floor, they are not afraid to speak English and to make language mistakes (if there are any).”
- “Actually no, in the most of the cases behaviour patterns depend on a personality, not on the country of origin. That is at least my observation. The only difference I found is that Turkish students smile more often than Polish students”.
- “They are more talkative”
- “They speak more”
- “I feel well integrated. In my opinion the classes are very helpful when it comes to making friendships with foreign students. It is a good opportunity to talk about their customs and culture during the course to improve our language skills”.
- “I don’t feel integrated because I didn’t have much opportunity to contact with them”.
- “The elements which make people integrate with groupmates who are foreign students are groupwork during Intercultural Communication class and presentation project for the same classmate.”
- Students’ statements revealed some problems with breaking the language barrier. Their opinions allowed me to raise three questions:
- ‘What is the reason for communication problems between Polish and foreign students?’
- ‘Why are Polish students so unwilling to initiate the conversations with foreign students with whom they attend classes?’
- ‘What can academic teachers do to facilitate the integration process?’.
I think that answers to these questions are connected with numerous aspects of long-lasting process of acquiring both – communicative and intercultural competence.
- Teacher’s perspective – some ideas on possible sources of the communication barriers
In my opinion the most important problems to solve are the following:
- The lack of intercultural competence / social competence. In result, Polish students don’t know how to start small talk with a foreign student.
- The lack of self-confidence in English-language skills. In result, Polish students often avoid communicating with foreign students because they irrationally judge their English-language skills as too poor to communicate effectively.
- Practical tips – how to solve the problem of communication barriers
- Intercultural communication classes within the cycle of studies (at every academic level);
- Intercultural workshops for students who don’t attend ’Intercultural communication’ course (to help them develop intercultural competence);
- Students need to work on improving their English-language skills;
- Teachers need to create groupwork tasks to improve students’ social skills;
- Teachers can encourage Polish students to more active socialising with foreign groupmates.
- Students can do a project assignment that is supposed to be prepared in intercultural four-five persons groups. It can be e.g. a power point presentation on a selected culture, an intercultural cook book, etc.;
- Polish students can play a role of foreign students’ assistants. After a proper intercultural training, local students could be involved in helping foreign students to become well-integrated into the Polish higher education system.
The integration of foreign students into Polish higher education institutions is a complex, dynamic and challenging process. Integration is a crucial issue because it allows both Polish and foreign students to take full advantage of learning opportunities offered by cultural diversity in the academic class. However, to make an intercultural encounter satisfactory for both groups, Polish students have to be willing to communicate with foreign groupmates, and foreign students need to feel well-integrated into a new group.
A vital question remains: What else can a teacher do to help Polish and foreign students integrate during the academic class?