Instructor Susan Virtue teaches the Masters Preparatory Certificate in Education (MPCE) program at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. All of the students in the September 2018 cohort had completed undergraduate degrees in their home countries, but few had ever been to Canada before. The majority of students came from China, but two students came from India and one from Vietnam. These students were facing several challenges, not the least of which was adapting to a new culture and style of education.
Over the course of the program, students would be doing in-depth, reflective thought about the academic and social expectations within a Canadian university, and the process of cultural transition experienced by international students. They would read the book Canada by Mike Myers; engage in field trips, and participate in local volunteer activities.
When instructor Virtue was choosing the resources for her course Canadian Cultural Practices, she liked the dimensions described in Hofstede’s “Culture’s Consequences,” but found the language used within it complex and highly academic. She wanted “a tool for identifying cultures complementary to Hofstede’s Culture’s Consequences but more approachable,” something “user-friendly and not a text; something useful and fun.”
She wanted her students to explore the concept of style switching; a process people go through to adapt themselves to new people and situations. This is most often experienced when a person is adapting to a new culture or engaging with people from a culture different from their own. Overall, instructor Virtue wanted “a useful and engaging tool that would help deepen cultural concept understanding.” The user-friendly language, intuitive navigation, and concepts in the GlobeSmart learning platform combined well with the course textbook Canada.
After experiencing a month of life in Canada, being introduced to Mike Myers, and learning about cultural theories, the students were introduced to GlobeSmart. First, students took the GlobeSmart Profile to find out their work style. Trecia McLennon, Brock’s Intercultural Communications Coordinator and a GlobeSmart Profile Certified Facilitator, provided a guest lecture that helped the students interpret their results. They reflected on the results and compared them to their home country’s profile. Next, they compared results amongst each other, and then to various countries. Students used this insight as a way to launch a discussion on what they had found surprising or challenging when they first arrived in Canada. Everything from language barriers, to food and cooking, was mentioned.
When instructor Virtue asked students to relate their challenges to what they learned from GlobeSmart, there were several “ah-ha” moments. Several students from China agreed with most of the descriptions of Chinese values and behaviors when it came to work style, but were surprised at their own work style results. More than half of the class described learning about cultural characteristics such as their communication style and how relationship-oriented they were, which they had never considered before.
Many Chinese students found the average work style in China helpful in explaining their own work style characteristics. It showed them how their culture influenced them on an individual level. One student shared,
“I didn’t realize that I am so independent until I took the GlobeSmart Profile… Looking back, I did everything alone once I was 18 years old. I also thought I was very direct before because I always told my opinions to my friends or family directly. However, I might be more influenced by Chinese culture than I thought, and use some indirect words to express my opinions or feelings.”
Many of the Chinese students were surprised at their level of independence. Most students demonstrated they were more independent than the average Chinese work style.
*For all tables, students wrote independent answers to survey questions which were then analyzed and grouped into like categories. Some students gave more than one answer.
When the students examined the Canadian page, the most common trait students remarked upon was the high level of independence in Canadians. They reflected on how this trait affects students and their ability to make decisions for themselves. Several students also linked this characteristic to how it empowers citizens to have a say in policies. Students were also intrigued by the egalitarianism, risk-taking, and direct communication style of Canadian culture. The theme of diversity came up several times, too.
One Chinese student noted how surprised she was with both the accuracy of her profile results and the big difference between herself and the typical Canadian. Upon discovering the gaps between herself and China, and between herself and Canada she was led to “understand that we are so different as individuals that communication and understanding become important and necessary in our lives.” She further expressed how she admired and was able to interpret diversity through Canada’s tolerance and understanding.
The Vietnamese student explained that thanks to GlobeSmart she was able to better understand “why Canadian values of autonomy and independence are so important here.” Another student claimed that “with GlobeSmart, I can compare my country and Canada so I can adapt to Canadian style better.”
Students were expected to reflect upon the transition process of adapting to a new culture; also referred to as style-switching. Each student understood this concept differently depending on their experience, but generally, they felt “style switching is the ability to change your behavior in different cultural environments. As international students, we adopt different traits from our host country and retain many characteristics from our home country.”
Students described a number of unique examples of style switching, but one student, in particular, described a powerful personal discovery of how her indirectness caused her to struggle academically: “Once I found myself struggling in paper writing because of my silence in class… I realized finally how important it is to express appropriate ideas directly in Canadian classrooms.” It wasn’t until she reflected later that she realized her change in behavior had a name: style switching.
Her discovery was echoed by most of her peers throughout the year. Practices such as speaking up, asking questions, sharing ideas, and even using a teacher’s first name were linked to the egalitarian nature of Canadian society. Other students connected to the level of independence they witnessed to the qualities of directness and equality. By the end of the school year, one student explained: “Style switching is a necessary process for people who study, work, and live in a cross-cultural society.”
In the end, students were unanimous in their opinion that the application of GlobeSmart was useful in the course. Most of the students cited the ability to compare countries or to compare their profiles to other countries as the most useful feature. A few others cited other features such as the graphical or visual representations, and the ability to discover characteristics of people from other countries as valuable to them.
The valuable learning these students gained through this course and GlobeSmart is clearly reflected in the parting thoughts of two students. The first quote: “After learning Canadian culture, I realized that equity is a necessary factor of a harmonious and acceptable society.”
The second quote sums up the thinking of many other students as they understood more about the behaviors they had observed: “Through observation and study in Canada during this period, I will improve my sense of equality and learn more about what egalitarianism is… I will think more before doing things and reduce prejudice and discrimination. At the same time, I want to be brave enough to speak up for the inequality I meet, instead of doing nothing, even if the other side’s status is higher than me.”
Susan Virtue found that GlobeSmart was instrumental in meeting the course goals because “it was good for the language level, and it gave the students the option to go deeper. Style switching turned out to be a favorite extension.” Clearly, the course goals were met, and the combination of a practical tool with a textbook and hands-on experiences had a powerful effect.
Susan earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre at Acadia University. After a few years in Halifax, NS, she moved to Toronto where she connected with an ESL company situated in Tokyo, Japan. She moved to Japan and began her career as an educator. After a rewarding 14 months, Susan returned to Canada, earned her Bachelor of Education, and taught elementary French and Music teacher for 8 years. In 2015, she began her Masters of Education at Brock University. While there, she worked as a Research Assistant, Teaching Assistant, Learning Skills Specialist, and (most recently) an Advanced Education Tutor (AET) with International Programs. Susan has supported the students in the MPCE program for two years.
Susan is the International Programs Manager in the Faculty of Education at Brock University (St. Catharines, Ontario). From application to alumni, her responsibilities include the recruitment, admissions, immigration, orientation and professional development of international graduate students. She has taught cultural adaptation courses for international students with a focus on the recognition of the different roles one must understand when learning to live and integrate into a new setting. She especially enjoys her own role as an immigration consultant and advising students on programs that are a part of the life of a student and their family. Personally, or professionally she has had the opportunity to travel to almost 30 countries.
Trecia is a former assistant professor in the School of International Studies at the University of Ulsan in South Korea and a former instructor of Global Management Studies at Ryerson University. She is a published author with a passion for all things intercultural and a deep commitment to inclusion. Her experience traveling to 18 and living in five different countries allowed her to learn five languages. She has a BA in Communications, an MBA, and a certificate in Adult Training and Development. She’s a Globesmart Certified Facilitator, an ICedge Certified Trainer, a qualified IDI administrator, and a Certified Training and Development Professional (CTDP).
Dan is an Intercultural Solutions Consultant at Aperian Global and an adjunct faculty member at the College of Business at Stony Brook University, St. Joseph’s College, and Suffolk County Community College. He partners with organizations and universities to develop cultural competence and inclusive work and study environments. Dan is a CPA and holds a Master’s Degree in Accounting from the CW Post School of Accountancy, as well as a PhD in Business Education/Cultural Studies from New York University. He is also a published poet and a Lay Minister in the Episcopal Church.