During the beginning of my first semester at Emerson, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and his alleged sexual misconduct were all over the news. As a result, my journalism class discussions were centered around the case for a good two weeks. We talked about publications’ reporting on the case and how the case would affect the Justice’s candidacy and the country.
I still remember that, during those weeks, I tried hard to understand the conversation in class. For someone who is neither interested in nor familiar with American politics, it was a tough time. I mostly stayed silent because I found myself unable to join discussions about how the case can affect “our” society and “our” legal system, because I could not relate to this feeling of togetherness.
I find that lots of classes at Emerson are centered around an American context like this, and professors here tend to use such language in classes. Once, when I asked a professor for his opinion on internet hate comments, he told me, “In our country, we have the freedom of speech.” This answer was not necessarily a bad thing. But exclusive language like this always makes me feel the distance between myself and other Emerson students, reminding me of my starkly different nationality and the fact that I’m currently in a foreign country.
In that same journalism class last year, alongside my participation grade of the month, my instructor also left this comment: “Please speak up in class. It’s OK to write down your thoughts beforehand if it helps. Asking a question is also a way to contribute.”
Overall, universities and colleges need to abandon this stereotypical perception of international students and amend their approach to teaching students from around the world.
I find that it is common for professors to take the silence and inactivity of international students as a sign of being shy or having language barriers. In general, people usually think of international students, especially students from East Asia, as passive learners who were never taught to be outspoken. However, such a concept has become a stereotype and has misled both professors and schools.
In addition, one of the most common issues specific to international students is their “foreign accent and other language-related matters,” according to the National Education Association. It’s true that students who learn English as a second language often experience some sort of language barrier when attending English-dominated schools. But students are here to gain knowledge, rather than perfecting a language. Therefore, universities and colleges should put more effort into helping students absorb knowledge and helping professors to deliver this information in a better way.
However, as the population of international students increases, our proficiency in English should not be regarded as the only issue that may impact class participation. Before coming to the U.S., international students need to score decently well on an English language test, like the TOEFL and IELTS, and be tested for college admissions via the SAT and ACT. The pedagogies for international students provided by most colleges are out of date and lead to mutual misunderstandings rather than intercultural dialogue.
Professors should encourage international students to be braver to talk in class, but they should also be mindful of how their class discussion topics are perceived by students from around the world. It would be nice to avoid the frequent use of phrases like “our country” and “our history” that might exclude international students from class conversations. Encouraging students to share their experiences and inserting comparison into class conversations are also good ways to be inclusive.
Riddhima Dave, my friend who is an international student from India, told me she also experienced the same thing. She said that, in her journalism classes, professors are always asking students to read national or local news to try to understand their implications. However, she has often found herself not being able to answer questions about this work because she is not from the U.S.
In reality, the best way to benefit both domestic and international students is to bring intercultural conversation into the classroom. Giving domestic students the chance to engage in cross-cultural conversations with international students would improve the learning experience for everyone.
To help international students participate more, Emerson should be working more on building an inclusive campus community and diverse class environment where international students and their experiences are valued and included. It is not just about helping students improve speaking and learning skills, but also about making them feel like their voice matters.