Culture affects students’ cognitive learning styles. It also influences teachers’ capacity to evaluate their students’ academic abilities, class contributions, and learning opportunities.
There have been some studies about cultural diversity in education. Through a cross-cultural comparison between Korea and the U.S., I would like to identify key issues in multicultural education and discuss viable communication strategies for a culturally responsive classroom.
Education has become a crosscultural encounter involving a variety of ethnicities, worldviews, and learning styles. For example, it is common in Korea for teachers to talk or lecture most of the time, whereas in the U.S., students freely engage in class discussion and actively ask questions. Reading, writing, and mathematics are emphasized in the Korean curriculum, but much less attention is paid to oral communication, which is given more attention in the U.S. A lack of effective oral communication skills frequently causes Asian students’ problems if they attend schools in the U.S. Students’ silence and minimal vocal participation are characteristics of Korean classrooms. In the U.S., silence tends to be interpreted as a sign of non-interest, unwillingness to communicate, hostility, rejection, anxiety, shyness, or poor verbal skills. For East Asians, silence is viewed positively and can be a part of the message or even the message itself.
Perception of credibility is another cultural difference between Koreans and Americans. A student’s credibility increases in the U.S. if they clearly express themselves using direct and decisive communication and make direct eye contact. In contrast, credibility is associated with quiet and reflective listening in Korea because talking could be equated with shallowness. Students’ direct eye contact with teachers may seem disrespectful in Korea. Korean students’ interaction styles with teachers are quite different from Americans’. European American students show initiative or independence, but Asian students tend to be more interested in obtaining their teachers’ direction and feedback. American students are taught to make quick responses to questions. On the contrary, Asians, including Koreans, tend to be contemplative, so they examine all sides of an issue and all possible implications before answering to avoid a loss of face. When a significant difference exists between two cultures, teachers can easily misread a student’s academic ability, resulting in missed learning opportunities and incorrect evaluations of their contributions to the class.
Although it may not be feasible to accommodate all cultural differences simultaneously, being aware of these cultural differences can be very useful to educators striving to create optimal classroom communities that acknowledge and incorporate the communication preferences of students from various cultures. Intercultural communication scholars say that at least two communication strategies will be helpful for culturally responsive classrooms—Immediacy and Empathy. If teachers are approachable and empathetic, students perceive their teachers as more effective. To enhance immediacy and empathy, teachers could try to learn about their students on a personal level, no matter the class size. For example, teachers can ask them to write down their own course objectives and their instructor's expectations at the beginning of the semester. In addition, instead of relying on a oneway lecture format, teachers could require students to participate in class activities, discussions, and formal presentations and provide immediate feedback if they have not participated in class activities as expected. These promote mutual respect and help teachers to develop an individualized teaching program. In addition, teachers can have an “open-door policy” and a strict rule that they will always reply to emails within 24 hours, so they are available whenever students need help. The numbers of international students and teachers are increasing and will continue to escalate at Ewha Womans University. I hope this piece gives readers some ideas and insight into how teachers and students can adapt to a multicultural education environment.