Teaching for six months at Northeastern University in Shenyang, China was an incredible learning opportunity, writes Debbie Foster, a speech communication professor at Central Arizona College, in Community College Times.
Foster taught graduate classes in intercultural communication and sophomore classes in oral English/extensive reading. She also lectured on public speaking, coached students for English-speaking contests and judged local and national English-speaking competitions.
Back in Arizona, she remembers the panic of her first morning in China, wondering how to survive without being able to speak or read the language.
How many students feel equally overwhelmed and panicked as they enter the college classroom for the first time? Yes, they can speak the language and read the materials, but for some, the classroom is just as foreign as China was to me.
. . . I will be more attuned to individual students who need extra help in this area, never forgetting that first morning of panic. I have been changed.
In China, she experienced being a minority, a member of the “out-group.”
It is one thing to teach about individualistic cultures and collective culture, but another thing entirely to actually live in the unfamiliar collective culture. It is one thing to teach about high context and low context language use, but quite the challenge to communicate (in English) where language is used mainly to promote social harmony, not the conveying of ideas and thoughts. Nonverbal and “between the lines” communication left me puzzled and perplexed much of the time.
Because of the collective culture, Chinese students excel in group work and group problem-solving, Foster writes. Seeing “real groups” in action, she “will more diligently pursue group work, group skills and group problem-solving in all my classes.”