BUILDING INTERCULTURAL UNDERSTANDING

As in the international population grows at the University of Utah, Jay Jordan, chair of writing and rhetoric studies, is helping to develop content for first-year writing courses designed specifically for multilingual students. Jordan was part of the first faculty group at the University Asia Campus and was the instructor of the Global Citizenship Block U. Here, he discusses the importance of having an international community on the campus of the U.

How do you think students at the U benefit from having an international community on campus?

A: Even if students at the U never set foot outside Utah, they are living and will live in settings affected by international movements of people, goods, services and information. Utah is a global state and Salt Lake City is a global city. Enrolling more international students can help domestic students (and faculty and staff members) understand a bit better what they do and know because they are U.S. citizens/residents on one hand and what they do and know because they’re human on the other hand. A more international population here on campus can throw differences and potential conflicts into sharper relief and promote real learning and engagement.

How have international students befitted your classroom?

A: They have benefited the classroom by challenging students and myself to reorient to different uses of language(s), different culturally influenced knowledges and ways of understanding, and even different ways to participate in class and in other daily activities. When you live and work and learn in places very different from the ones that are most familiar, you have to adapt. That adaptation leads to learning and potentially to more intercultural understanding.

What are some settings that helped your domestic and international students collaborate better with one another?

A: A couple of times I piloted a combined writing course with native English-speaking U.S. citizen/resident students with mostly international second-language students. All the students were motivated to learn about intercultural differences – right up to the point at which the students realized they would all be reading one another’s writing and critiquing it. Both the U.S. citizens/residents and international students were hesitant, because the idea that a non-native speaker or writer of a language can help a “native” is still a very strange one for many people. But students seemed to realize after we practiced a few times that all of them had a lot to contribute – whether it was a “sense” or a “knack” for what “sounds right” or whether it was a very formal understanding of grammar that came from foreign language learning.

What do you wish domestic students knew about working with their international peers?

A: I wish they knew that apparent differences in language, appearance, dress, interactional style and other habits can create knee-jerk reactions. We need to understand that those differences can mask so much. I wish domestic students would try to learn to suspend immediate judgments of international peers, especially since becoming multilingual, meeting admissions targets from outside the country, navigating international admissions processes, committing to traveling long distances – often well away from family and friends – and setting up in what often feels like a strange place are all clear evidence of talent, perseverance and motivation.

Jordan is on a committee that will be planning and assessing courses for international students as well as the best ways to gauge and monitor progress. If other faculty are interested in participating, they are encouraged to contact Martha Bradley, associate vice president of academic affairs.