Stories from
the trenches

Why don’t students respond to the material as I’d expected?

U.S. faculty member, CMU-Qatar

When I came to Qatar to teach, I naively expected that my carefully designed course materials would work as well here as they did in my classes back home. Very soon, however, I realized that the content itself reflected some basic assumptions that students in this cultural context don’t share. For example, the underlying assumption in my unit on venture creation is that making money is a driving force for students. However, I’ve found that my students were more interested in the social impact of their new ventures than their profitability. Deeply held values, such as “taking care of your neighbor,” seemed far more central to my students’ decision-making than I expected, based on my experiences in the U.S. It required me to rethink how I taught the whole unit.

I’ve realized that we cannot come into teaching, especially in a very different cultural context, with the attitude that we have all the answers: we don’t. Our students can sometimes challenge even our core assumptions. That being said, we owe it to students to challenge some of their assumptions. I believe that there are some basic business principles and strategies – borrowing money, for example – that my students need to consider, even if they don’t think the idea is compatible with their culture or religion. But now, rather than present the principle as a given, I introduce it as a topic for discussion and we look at how cultural, religious and economic issues intersect. I also highlight local businesses that employ the strategies I’m teaching in order to challenge students to think in new ways about what is and isn’t culturally compatible.

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