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International Students How cultural awareness at UAL impacts on academic success. CHRIS BRYANT. My Role. Pastoral support Promote Support Services/ Facilities Collect Student Feedback Initiatives to improve the student experience

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my role
My Role
  • Pastoral support
  • Promote Support Services/ Facilities
  • Collect Student Feedback
  • Initiatives to improve the student experience
  • To act as a ‘point of contact/ go between’ for students and teaching staff
  • Chase up students who may be having difficulties
  • Induction sessions/ tours of the campus
the three main barriers to academic success
The three main barriers to academic success
  • Practical Issues (accommodation/ finance etc..)
  • Cultural/ Emotional Issues

(language issues/ homesickness/ independent study..)

  • Cultural Awareness at UAL

(Most Important!)


Financial sacrifice others may have made

Family pride

Level of English

Accents/ dialects

Confidence in presenting/ academic writing etc...

  • Pressure to succeed
  • Language difficulties
  • Unfamiliar food
  • Different teaching methods
  • Different climate/ Weather
  • Visa difficulties
  • Culture Shock
  • Making Friends
  • Financial Difficulties
  • Homesickness
  • Independent Living
  • Time Management

Independent study


Adjusting to a more ‘equal’ relationship

Restrictions on the number of working hours

Difficulties in travelling abroad (as part of course/ society)

Pace of London Life

London Transport

Drinking culture

Lack of UK guarantors / paying money upfront


Living on a budget

Finding suitable work

Responsibility for accommodation/ bills


how do we help students to overcome these difficulties
How do we help students to overcome these difficulties?
  • Providing up to date and relevant information (i.e website/ leaflets)
  • Flexibility in our delivery
  • Simple and clear language
  • Taking the time to listen to their needs and concerns
  • Finding out who the best people are to deal with an issue or problem

It’s all about balance ...........

  • There are boundaries
  • International students don’t want
  • to feel patronised/ seen as a
  • special case
  • Help/ Advice
  • Going the ‘extra mile’
culturally sensitive
Culturally Sensitive

“... Being aware that cultural differences and similarities exist and have an effect on values, learning and behaviour.”

- Stafford, Bowman, Eking, Hanna & Loepes- DeFede (1997)

Staff at UAL are not expected to become experts on UK culture, or the cultures of International students

However by being culturally

sensitive you can;

  • Help International students adjust to life here
  • Empathise with the International Student Experience
  • Gain a better understanding of our own culture

Why Bother ?

“Research shows that people who feel connected to a community enjoy greater wellbeing in all areas of life- including academic work. When people can build relationships and share their experiences, they feel included in the life of a University Community.”

This should aid;

  • International Student Retention
  • Academic Achievement

- Confidence and Creativity

  • Student Satisfaction
  • NSS Results

Degrees of Cultural Awareness

There are several levels of cultural awareness that reflect how people grow to perceive cultural differences.

  • Level 1: My way is the only way

At the first level, people are aware of their way of doing things, and their way is the only way. At this stage, they ignore the impact of cultural differences. (Parochial stage)

  • Level 2: I know their way, but my way is better

At the second level, people are aware of other ways of doing things, but still consider their way as the best one. In this stage, cultural differences are perceived as source of problems and people tend to ignore them or reduce their significance. (Ethnocentric stage)


Level 3: My Way and Their Way

At this level people are aware of their own way of doing things and others’ ways of doing things, and they chose the best way according to the situation. At this stage people realize that cultural differences can lead both to problems and benefits and are willing to use cultural diversity to create new solutions and alternatives. (Synergistic stage)

  • Level 4: The ideal Way

This fourth and final stage brings people from different cultural background together for the creation of a culture of shared meanings. People dialogue repeatedly with others, create new meanings, new rules to meet the needs of a particular situation. (Participatory Stage)

At LCC we should be culturally aware to at least Level 3, but ideally Level 4 - The Ideal Way


Increasing cultural awareness means to see both the positive and negative aspects of cultural differences.

Cultural diversity could be a source of problems, in particular when the organization needs people to think or act in a similar way. Diversity increases the level of complexity and confusion and makes agreement difficult to reach.

On the other hand, cultural diversity becomes an advantage when the organization expands its solutions and its sense of identity, and begins to take different approaches to problem solving. Diversity in this case creates valuable new skills and behaviours.

aspects of cultural differences
Aspects of cultural differences

Highly visible




Body Language






Aspects below the waterline can be ambiguous. It is possible to think one understands them, but closer examination often reveals areas where knowledge and understanding are lacking

aspects of cultural differences1
Aspects of cultural differences

Highly visible




Body Language





Communication Art

Relationships Family Structure

Marriage Teaching/Learning styles

Religion Prejudices Beliefs/ Values

Concept of Beauty Timekeeping

Aspects below the waterline can be ambiguous. It is possible to think one understands them, but closer examination often reveals areas where knowledge and understanding are lacking





Our way of doing things

Their way of doing things

They learn from us

We learn from them

Find best practice

the two approaches to cross cultural living
‘The two approaches to cross cultural living’

Our approach . (LCC)









Facts of cross cultural living

Coping Skills

(our response)



Open approach

  • Understanding
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Deepening
  • Relationship









Suspicion approach

  • Alienation
  • Withdrawal
  • Broken Relationship



our culture
Our culture

We take our culture for granted, but much of our social behaviour isn’t immediately obvious to International students...

  • Time keeping: In the UK being late for a class or a meeting is seen as bad manners. Time keeping is valued a lot higher here than in some other countries.
  • Queuing: In Britain we queue for EVERYTHING; for trains and buses, in shops, for toilets and sometimes even to enter rooms for classes or meetings. Queuing is seen as being polite and respectful of others, but in many other cultures this is not the case.
  • Small Talk : In Britain we are famous for our small talk, everything from the weather to weekend plans.

I find it really odd in this country the way people ask, “How are you?”

without really caring about your answer.

showing respect in other countries
Showing Respect in other Countries


  • A simple handshake may have different meanings in other cultures.
  • Most Americans prefer a firm handshake while the French prefer a soft and quick one.
  • The Japanese offer their handshake with a bow.
  • In the middle East it is the custom to place your free hand on the forearm of the other person when you shake their hand


  • Most Asian cultures consider bowing as a sign of respect but there are different degrees of bowing in different cultures.
  • The Japanese bow with their arms pressed to their sides. Pakistanis bow with their right hand palm on their forehead while Cambodians and Laotians bow with their hands in front of their chests.

Eye Contact

  • Middle Eastern cultures, largely Muslim, have strict rules regarding eye contact between the sexes; these rules are connected to religious laws about appropriateness. Only a brief moment of eye contact would be permitted between a man and a woman, if at all.
  • ln many Asian and Latin American cultures, extended eye contact can be taken as an affront or a challenge of authority. It is often considered more polite to have only sporadic or brief eye contact, especially between people of different social registers (like a student and a teacher, or a child and his elder relatives).
  • For example, if a Japanese woman avoids looking someone in the eyes, she is not showing a lack of interest nor is she demonstrating a lack of self-confidence; instead, she is being polite, respectful and appropriate according to her culture.


Level of comfort and satisfaction

3. Adjustment to culture

1. Everything is new, different & exciting

5. Adaption & assimilation

2. Frustration/ annoyance with everyday differences

4. Confronting deeper cultural/ personal issues

Native culture

Native culture

Foreign culture


This chart shows the five stages that the majority of International/ EU students will go through over the course of a year


Can you think of any examples of issues/ difficulties that might happen during these first four stages & what emotions/ thoughts students may be having?

  • Constantly listening and speaking in a foreign language is tiring
  • Even native English speakers have trouble understanding regional accents.
  • Students may feel too embarrassed to ask someone to repeat themselves
  • Language support is available
  • In sessional Language Support
  • Study Support

It’s a good thing Dave raised his voice because Pedro understood loud English

problematic language
Problematic Language

English is full of sayings and phrases that seem to make no sense at all

Colloquialisms/ Slang

  • Knackered (tired)
  • Argy- bargy (argument or confrontation)
  • Wind up (tease, irritate or annoy)
  • Bloke (man)
  • Bottle (nerve or courage)
  • Chuffed (pleased)
  • Dodgy (risky, difficult or dangerous)
  • Tenner (ten pounds)
  • Fork out (pay out, usually with reluctance)
  • Jammy (lucky)
  • Miffed (confused)
  • Off the hook (free from obligation/ danger)
  • Warts and all (including negative characteristics)


An 'idiom' is an expression. It's meaning is different from all the meanings of the individual words in it. It may be difficult to understand idioms if you are not a native English speaker.

Here is a Dutch Idiom: Daarkomt de aapuit de mouw

Translation: There comes the monkey out of the sleeve

Actual meaning: So that’s what’s really going on here

UK example: ‘Talk the hind legs off a donkey’ We know what all the individual words mean but the phrase doesn’t mean ‘talking to a donkey so that its back legs fall off.’ !

Can you think of any other British Idioms ?


The ball’s in your court

  • It’s not over until the fat lady sings
  • Blow your own trumpet
  • A bee in your bonnet
  • The early bird catches the worm
  • Im pulling your leg
  • He kicked the bucket
  • Have a crack at it
  • Fish out of water
  • At a loose end
  • Can’t see the wood through the trees
  • Just the ticket
  • Get cold feet
  • Rule of thumb
  • Bite the bullet
  • Bend over backwards
  • Actions speak louder than words
  • A little bird told me
  • A piece of cake
  • Bite the dust
  • Go the extra mile
  • A needle in a haystack
  • Saved by the bell
  • Under the weather
  • Eat humble Pie

American English

Many International students (as well as Americans and Canadians) will be more used to American English. There are many saying/ phrases that differ;

  • What we call the ground floor is called the first floor in American English

(this makes the tower block even more confusing!)

  • In American usage the term ‘Curriculum Vitae’ (CV) has a slightly different meaning. A resume condenses all one's accomplishments into one page, whereas a CV is a complete account that can be many pages long.
  • If you say you live in a flat to an American, they are likely to ask "a flat what?“

They use the term ‘apartment’.

  • The Underground is known as ‘The Subway’ in America. What we call

a subway is usually called an underpass in American English. If someone

at LCC were to say ‘take the subway to get to the Elephant & Castle

Underground’ this would be very confusing to a known native speaker.


Using clear language to communicate

International students may have a range of difficulties with language especially at the beginning of their studies. They may have trouble with fast-paced lectures, non-standard English, accents, local references and discipline-specific language. Especially at the beginning of their studies, International students use a lot of ‘guesswork’ if terms and language are unclear and inaccurate guesses can spiral into poor performance. It is therefore important that staff try to make their

language as clear as possible.

  • Speak clearly and not too quickly
  • Take time to explain important concepts and ideas
  • Explain new words and concepts in several ways to help students understand

Define or explain figurative or abstract language or concepts

  • Use both simple and complex words and expressions so that students can understand but can also gradually increase their vocabulary
  • Develop a system where international students can discretely alert you to things they don’t understand 
  • Try to leave at least 5 minutes after a lecture for students to ask individual questions. If engaged in email/ phone dialogue with a student at the end of the correspondence ask ‘Do you understand?’ or ‘Do you have any more questions ?’
  • Students with limited English will often hear what they want to hear

For example if you say to a student “ I think you can extend your visa” they may interpret that as

“ You can extend your visa”.

  • International Students may not have a concept of strict deadlines

For example if you say “The deadline is 18th January” they may interpret that as “ I need to hand .... my work in on 18th January.”

If things go wrong there may be no time to resolve the situation and students with a limited grasp .... of english may feel they have been misinformed.

  • If you are speaking to a student either face to face or over the phone, and you feel . that they may not fully understand something, it’s often useful to send them a .... follow up email. By doing this;

- You are reinforcing what you have said to the student

- You are leaving a paper trail so that nothing can come back on you

case study
Case Study

A Chinese student emails Joe Blogs saying that they are having financial difficulties and would like some advice. They also mention that they don’t want to speak to someone face to face as they are worried about confidentiality. Joe doesn’t think that it’s his job to give financial advice and replies with this response;

Dear Wing,

I’m afraid you have come through to the wrong department- we do not offer financial advice to students. You will need to bite the bullet and speak to someone in person in Student Services.


Joe Bloggs

What is wrong with this response?


A clearer and more informative response would read something like this;

Dear Wing,

Thank you for your email. The best people to speak with would be Student Services. They are based at the front of the building next to the Information Centre and can also be contacted by email or phone.

Telephone: 020 7514 8492


They also have information on the LCC website which may answer your question;

All the advice they offer is completely confidential and they won’t pass it on without your permission. Do you have any other questions?

Kind Regards

Joe Bloggs

Academic Co-ordinator, T410

020 7514 8494


International Student Cycle of Problems

  • Misunderstanding
  • Independent study
  • Communication
  • LCC Environment
  • Managing Expectations
  • Language Barrier



  • Culture Shock
  • Practical things (i.e finance)
advice for international students who may be struggling
Advice for International Students who may be struggling
  • They should be aware that culture shock is normal
  • The need to balance their academic and non-academic life
  • They should try and make friends not just from their own own culture and develop a social network where they can regularly speak English
  • They should talk to family and friends about how they feel
  • They should take advantage of help and support that is offered: the Students’ Union, the International Team, Study Support, Student Services etc...
  • They should make contact with the Students’ Union and join societies that interest them
  • Keep healthy: exercise regularly, get enough sleep and eat healthily
  • They should find a supplier of familiar food.
my observations at lcc
My Observations at LCC
  • The majority of International BA/ Foundation students don’t know what to expect before they arrive. (Early communication regarding workload/ self study/ managing expectations is vital)
  • International students need to feel part of a community
  • They don’t want to be seen as a ‘special case’
  • They want to feel that people are listening to their needs and concerns/ They want to feel valued
  • They want value for money
  • Appreciation when UAL staff go ‘the extra mile’

Areas I’ve Tried To Improve

  • Provide clear Information

(improving the website/ better communication between teams)

  • International Student Ambassadors
  • Events for International/ EU students (inclusion?)
  • Skype Booth
  • International/EU Information Sessions: e.g accommodation talks
  • Collecting Feedback (and acting on it)
  • Cultural Awareness Training for staff