Teachers can learn as much or even more than students do in the classroom. That’s why I end many of my classes at RIT by saying to the students, “If you’ve learned half as much as I have, the class has been a success.”
For me, the potential for this great personal learning experience exists everywhere – in an RIT classroom, in an online class, in a non-credit training class. And it is pretty much guaranteed when I visit one of our international campuses.
Going to a campus in another country is challenging and exhilarating. Fortunately, our international schools understand the challenging part and roll out the welcome mat. They understand that visiting professors need some help with currency, transportation, office space, food, and who knows what else, particularly when we are so focused on getting our classes ready.
When I’m scrambling around working out the details for my stay in Kosovo or Dubai, two issues are always on my mind: what will the students be like and how should I adapt my teaching for them?
I know that the students come from very different cultures from my own and have had very different life experiences. And the courses I have taught overseas, business communication and a graduate course that examines issues from a critical thinking perspective, are sensitive to culture. Both require students – and me – to examine issues from others’ points of view. Needless to say, I can’t come in and tell students what to think. I can present research, theories, case studies and processes but, aside from processes, I have no intention of telling them what to conclude about many of our topics.
So each class is ripe for light bulb moments – or conflict and frustration.
The result is usually, thankfully, a thoughtful examination of information, an engaging conversation and, I hope, a good learning experience for the students. I have to admit that I sometimes get so interested in where they are personally coming from that I have to make sure to keep things moving along. Their personal stories are so compelling.
In my experience, our international students are overwhelmingly eager to learn, grateful for the opportunity to be in school and respectful of my role. They are fun to be around, knowledgeable about the United States and glad that our professors don’t have the dictatorial classroom style that many experienced earlier in their lives. What’s not to like about that?
I’m no expert on cross-cultural teaching but having taught internationally several times now, I have to say that our international students have more in common with our students at our Rochester campus than they have differences. Part of this is because RIT is such as an international institution but part is, in my opinion, because of the commonality of humankind no matter where we come from. Each person is unique: some are loud, others are quiet. Some are sure of themselves, others are not. And if you challenge them to think, they will give it the ol’ college try. Sounds pretty much like any classroom.
I am always trying to see how culture impacts the courses I teach. I probably did this too much when I first taught overseas. But it is what makes it fun and stimulating and why I learn so much, maybe even more than the students do.