In order to study abroad successfully, it is essential to know the prevailing academic style as well as the values associated with learning. Methods and forms of learning can also differ. Working together in interculturally composed teams is a constant demand of university life. The analysis of case studies allows us to recognise our own patterns of action and thinking as well as to take on the perspective of others.
Cultural Differences as Differences in Expectations
„Cultural standards“ or „cultural dimensions“ are elements that are binding or generally recognised for the majority of a culture. They enable orientation and behavioural security. Of course, they do not apply absolutely, but in every culture there are also deviations from the norm – so it is impossible to draw conclusions regarding an individual, based on the culture. Though these elements are often unconscious, they can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.
The following seven questions provide information on the orientation of cultures:
- What is the significance of time (monochronic – polychronic)?
- What is communication like (direct – indirect)?
- What is the significance of the individual and the group (ego culture – we culture)?
- What role do rules and regulations play?
- How are power and authority distributed?
- What role do age and gender play?
- What is taboo? How spiritual is a culture?
Source: von Queis, Dietrich 2009: Interkulturelle Kompetenz: Praxisratgeber zum Umgang mit internationalen Studierenden, p. 34 et seqq.
Culture is often only one of several factors influencing people’s communication and behaviour. In the KPSI method, questions about culture (German: Kultur), personality, situation and institution are used to try to clarify why certain interactions have occurred.
Here is a selection of the factors that can play a role:
CULTURE: (unspoken) assumptions, habits, expected rituals, communication styles, taboos, …
PERSONALITY: Life experience, character, moods & emotions, role, sympathies, prejudices, physical & mental condition, abilities & limitations, …
SITUATION: Time, time pressure, smells, noises, disturbances, location, is there an audience? …
INSTITUTION: Customs, regulations, responsibilities, scope of action, status, hierarchies?
Source: Hiller, Gundula Gwenn 2016: Eine Frage der Perspektive: Critical Incidents aus Studentenwerken und Hochschulverwaltung. 30 Fallbeispiele aus der Praxis mit 93 interkulturellen Einschätzungen von Studierenden und Mitarbeitenden. Publisher: Deutsches Studentenwerk.
Example: Working Groups (Diego)
Diego, a student from Chile experienced the following incident with two German students during his stay at a German University in 2009/2010. Read the incident and analyse it by applying the CPSI-Method: What led to the irritation on both sides? Which role did cultural differences, the personalities of the students, the situation at hand and the institution (university) play? Which side can you relate to more easily and why?
During his studies abroad at a German university, Chilean student Diego attends a seminar where he has to give a presentation together with two German students. The two German students suggest meeting as soon as possible to work on the presentation. On the day of the meeting, the Chilean student shows up almost an hour after the agreed time, as he met many interesting people in the university cafeteria and never noticed how much time had passed. Upon arrival, he notices that only one of the other students is still there. Obviously annoyed, this student curtly explains to Diego that he has to leave as well, since he has another appointment and that the other student has already left. Between the two of them, they had come up with a structure for the presentation and divided up the work. The German student hands Diego the documents and quickly says goodbye. Diego is surprised that the meeting is over this quickly and that the German students had apparently scheduled just one hour for it.
Source: MUMIS-Project (Cooperation of the universities of Kassel, Siegen, and Hamburg, www.uni-kassel.de/mumis/www.mumis-projekt.de/mumis/index.php/critical-incidents.html (Number of the Incident: C 19)
Example: Different Learning Cultures (Kim)
Which forms of learning have you already experienced in your studies (lecture, presentation, discussion, exercises, group work, …)? Watch the video and use your own words to note down what the lecturer’s view is and what Kim’s view is.
How could they tell each other what each other’s expectation is? First, write a short message from the teacher’s point of view, then write a short message from Kim’s point of view.
Example: Living together with other students (Sabine)
The following incident took place in the Wintersemester 2006/2007, when Sabine shared an appartment with students from the U.S. and China. Read the incident and analyse it using the CPSI-Method. What led to the irritation on all sides? What role did culture, personality and the situation play? To whom can you relate more easily and why?
Sabine, a German student, is sharing an apartment with an American and two Chinese students. The four women get along well, but issues around tidying and cleaning frequently cause friction among them. Sabine and the American are annoyed that the Chinese students do not show the same amount of effort when it comes to joint tasks, even though they have discussed this topic several times. Finally, Sabine sets up a cleaning schedule. They all discuss it, and all four agree to it. Yet, the Chinese don’t stick to the plan, and after the discussion, they clearly withdraw from the other two. One day, Sabine explodes and they get into an argument, with Sabine expressing her opinion very loudly and directly. The Chinese students don’t say anything and start crying, which leaves Sabine quite perplexed. After a long, tearful talk, the peace is re‐established, and after that, the two Chinese participate in tidying and cleaning the shared apartment.
Source: MUMIS-Project (Cooperation of the universities of Kassel, Siegen, and Hamburg, www.uni-kassel.de/mumis/www.mumis-projekt.de/mumis/index.php/critical-incidents.html (Number of the Incident: D 56)
Podcast Project „Academic Culture Shock – Reflecting on Different University Cultures Based on Your Own Experiences in STEM Studies“
See the task for the podcast here.