Why should you anticipate culture shock?

If you are an international instructor teaching in the U.S., it is likely that you have excellent English language skills and function effectively in any number of professional environments in the U.S. You may not expect teaching to be any different. However, teaching involves entirely different kinds of interactions than other professional and social contexts. It makes different linguistic demands and requires an unusually high level of cultural nuance. Many international instructors find that in order to teach effectively in the U.S., they must adjust much more to their students than they ever anticipated.

Similarly, if you are a U.S. instructor teaching students from a culture other than your own (whether at home or abroad), you may assume that the pedagogical approaches that have always worked for you will be equally applicable in your new teaching context. You may also assume that since your students chose to study at a U.S. institution, it is their job to adapt and not yours. However, teaching approaches that worked in one cultural context may not necessarily work in another, and instructors who assume the transition will be easy may be in for a shock.


Why don't the same teaching approaches work everywhere?

Educational systems and pedagogical approaches evolve to meet particular political, economic, social, and environmental needs, and are influenced by factors such as…

  • The percentage of the population that attends university.
  • Whether higher education is publically or privately funded.
  • How expensive a university education is and who bears the cost.
  • Cultural beliefs about adulthood, maturity, respect, and authority.
  • How education is viewed in relation to national goals and priorities.
  • The role of faculty and students in relation to larger national concerns.
  • The nature of the job market that university graduates will enter.
  • Cultural beliefs about meaningful inquiry and the nature of creativity.


Why does teaching require cultural intelligence?

Stories from
the trenches

What issues might you encounter?
Stories from the trenches

These stories highlight common issues encountered by instructors teaching across cultures. Each describes (a) a particular problem or dilemma, (b) how the instructor in question addressed it, and (c) an additional set of strategies to address similar situations.

Read these stories to explore the range of issues that can arise in cross-cultural teaching contexts and to get ideas for your own teaching context.

This is an evolving resource, so please share your experiences of teaching across cultures and the strategies that worked for you!