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Helping teachers with the host culture

June 14, 2006

A fish out of water

Hello again,

For the new teacher the experience of their first job in a strange country can be disorienting. I think schools need to help their new recruits understand their environment an adapt to it. Without such help they can find the effects of culture shock very difficult...

...to deal with. If you recruit teachers from English-speaking countries, the chances are that many will be young and fairly inexperienced of other cultures. If they are unaware of how deeply cultural values affect behavior, they can find life in the new environment puzzling, worrying, even frightening. It is important, therefore, to begin as soon as possible with a program of awareness-raising that can help them identify their own values and those of their host country.

A starting point might be to give them a list of key social values and ask them to rank them in order of importance:

  • Seniority
  • Accountability
  • Cooperation

  • Equal Opportunities
  • Relationships
  • Transparency

  • Consensus
  • Innovation
  • Formality
  • Education

  • Empowerment
  • Reliability Privacy

  • Social Responsibility
  • Authority

  • Thoroughness
  • Harmony
  • Reputation

  • Spirituality
  • Risk-taking
  • Excellence

  • Competition
  • Speed
  • Achievement
  • Security.

Western values tend to emphasize such qualities as independence, competitiveness, individualism, achievement and equality, while many non-western societies value family, tradition, harmony, seniority and security.

Once you have enabled the teachers to see how their values might be at odds with those of the host country, you can start to explore some of the implications. Discuss dress, gesture, greetings, punctuality, loudness of voice, modes of address, willingness to show emotion, who is respected and why. One way in which teachers might work on their cultural awareness is by keeping a diary and noting and analyzing one or two incidents each day.

By working on awareness-raising in this way you will help teachers adapt to the new country and perhaps they will be less likely to behave in ways that are inappropriate either inside or outside the classroom.

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  1. Dolores Says:

    The article `Helping Teachers with the Host Culture' is very informative especially for us who are interested to teach in a country different from ours. Culture shock is one aspect that I have researched on time and again. Even colors of clothes the host country favor, the values they observe, gestures they do, the eating habits, etc. should all be studied. Full awareness of the culture of the host country will help foreign teachers cope with the risks in aspects of relationship with colleagues, society and the laws of that country.

  1. Maureen Says:

    I was happy to read about an article on awareness if you plan to teach in another country. It is true you should be told the "do's", and "don'ts" of living in another country, or to be aware of how the country does things differnt from your own, but never forget your own intution when it comes to making good choices about what to do.
    I hope my story will help those who choose to or, are teaching english in another country. Three months into my teaching job, I was told to trust a high powered person (the Director) at my school who was respected by all others, and not to worry when I was invited to go off campus with him in the afternoon. My gut told me it was uncomfortable to go with him but, I trusted what others told me, and in the end, was sexually assaulted. To respect myself, I spoke out, and wasn't supported by the people who were told to take care of me, host me. Therefore, I took matters into my own hands, and confronted the Director, and he decided to leave his position. It was a hard road to travel on, but in the end, I am glad I remembered who I am. It is important not to assimulate into another culture, but to integrate. My advice to anyone out there, is to please trust your own voice in doing what you think is best for you, even if it means going against what you are told.
    Be safe! And also make sure that there are laws or, a support on campus to help you when you need it!

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