This post is part of a series about teaching in the International Business Bachelor’s Programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences from 2015-2020.
For the academic year of 2015-16, I was involved in “Startweek” – the kick off programme for all IBMS (International Business & Management Studies) students at The Hague Universities of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.
I had the pleasure of hosting a class of 28 students from 10 different countries:
- the Netherlands
- United States of America
Academic and Intercultural Skills
The majority of students have come directly from high school, and are aged around 18-20. One of the main goals of start week is to help them settle in and get to know classmates, as well as understand the expectations and environment of higher education.
Though it may sound simple and straightforward, one of the biggest challenges for students – as well as lecturers! – can be working in a multicultural environment where others regularly see things from a different perspective. This is very valuable, but can also be hard sometimes. The start week gives a better understanding of how to deal with this. General study skills are also taught such as:
- Mind Maps
- Brain storming
- Note taking
One of the models often used for intercultural awareness is Hofstede’s 6 dimensions model of national culture. Hofstede said “Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences as a nuisance at best and often a disaster”. Students looked at these dimensions for their home country and compared with the Netherlands.
A discussion about “What is Culture” was also useful, and making some lists of “do’s and don’ts” for various countries. Though of course much of this depends on specific situations, it’s a useful starting point.
For some students moving to the Netherlands for their studies, it may be the first time they have left their home country. Experiencing culture shock can be common, not just being in another country, but also going to a new environment, such as from high school to university. It can start out being exciting and interesting, then may feel overwhelming. Culture shock can mean people could feel fearful, powerless and even hostility towards the new environment. Both physical and physiological symptoms can occur, from mild to serious. Simply being aware of and discussing these feelings can help. If they are serious and persist, there is help available.
The term “ethnocentrism” can be relevant here, or cultural bias, where even unconsciously you may be thinking “My culture is normal and good, anything different is bad”. Or you may simply just not understand what is expected of you. It can also lead to humorous situations:
Dealing with Differences
Even with models and discussions, there are no completely right and wrong ways of dealing with cultural differences, but having an open mind and respect for others goes a long way.
The benefits can also be wonderful. I really love working in a multicultural, diverse environment. I learn a lot and am able to look at things in very different ways, as well as (re)establish my own cultural identity as a dual national Dutch Australian.
This start week was a short introduction to culture, and students gain more depth again on this topic in the Intercultural Project Week. In the third year, they also do a study abroad and an international internship.