Cultural Differences

“Once you understand and respect the differences between you and the student, you will be much more successful.” - Ross MacDonald

What is culture? Culture refers to the sum total of acquired values, beliefs, customs, and traditions experienced by a group as familiar and normal. It includes the way groups of people think, dress, eat, talk, and treat each other; the way they decorate and celebrate and cohabitate; the things that are most important to them, and their interpretation of right and wrong.

An overview of Education in California illustrates that our state constitutes one of the most diverse gathering of cultures in the world. This mix provides students with a rich learning opportunity, but it also creates a climate of frustration and misunderstanding.

Carmencita loves Patrick.
Patrick loves Si Lan Chen.
Xenophon loves Mary Jane.
Hildegarde loves Ben.

Lucienne loves Eric.
Giovanni loves Emma Lee.
Natasha loves Miguelito--
And Miguelito loves me.

Ring around the Maypole!
Ring around we go--
Weaving our bright ribbons
Into a rainbow! – LANGSTON HUGHES

As a tutor, you will be working with students from other cultures. One of the proud hallmarks of Lake Tahoe Community College is its diverse student population. This diversity applies to a number of aspects of student identity, including race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, age, and political and religious beliefs. The diversity of the College's student population is valued, and the College aims to create an environment that allows and encourages all students to realize their academic potential. Nevertheless, student diversity can be a source of challenge in the tutoring environment.

Tutors find themselves in a position to make a strong contribution towards bridging cultural gaps and breaking down learning barriers caused by cultural differences. But the challenges are twofold for many of our tutors. A high percentage of our tutors are foreign and minority students and often have to work through cultural misconceptions that their tutees bring to the sessions. At the same time tutors need to approach learning sessions with respect and skill that allows for the confident free exchange of ideas.

Tutors have a responsibility to Avoid Gender Bias. The best place to learn how to deal with tutee diversity is in the tutoring environment itself. By employing the techniques and listening skills introduced in previous lessons, tutors will have a “golden opportunity” to learn how to effectively work with our diverse student population.

Tutoring Foreign Students
When tutoring foreign students you will gain an appreciation for different cultures when you establish an atmosphere of trust and acceptance. Encourage the students to talk about their family and country. If you are asked about American customs, be sensitive to the tutee's viewpoints. What is socially acceptable in the U.S. might be unthinkable in the student's culture. Most foreign students are eager to talk about their country and traditions. This interaction might be a valuable learning experience for you.

Some questions you might want to ask a foreign student include:

    • Tell me about your travels in other countries and the U.S.
    • What are your impressions of life in the U.S.?
    • Why did you decide to come to Lake Tahoe Community College?
    • Have American customs been a problem for you?
    • What do you miss most about your country?

When you begin tutoring a foreign student, be aware that sometimes the student will become dependent on you for more than just tutoring. The student might see you as a much needed new friend, or as a source of information about not only scholarly interests, but social interests. Student dependence can become an obstacle to bridging the cultural gap.

The following are general tips for working with English as a Second Language (ESL) students:

    • Speak clearly, naturally and avoid using slang.
    • Use repetition.
    • Frequently ask the student if what you are saying makes sense.
    • Ask students to become the tutor and explain the concept to you.
    • Use restatement to clarify the student's response--I think you said...
    • If the student does not understand you, write down what you are saying.
    • If you do not understand the student, ask them to write what they are saying.
    • Encourage students to read and to use their dictionaries.

Valuing the perspectives of women and men
In recent years, we have all become more aware of how deep-seated assumptions about male and female behavior and roles have affected education. These assumptions are being challenged in many ways, but some linger, unexamined and often unconscious. .

Women report feeling uncomfortable in some classrooms and instructional settings because of subtle comments which marginalize them. The automatic use of 'he' is one such custom and the importance of non-discriminatory language has already been stressed. Beyond this, there may be a need at times to consciously 'make room' for women's voices. A number of studies suggest that they do not always get their fair share of the floor in mixed discussion groups. The pattern of marginalization can extend to the kinds of examples that are used to illustrate points and the kinds of experiences that are regarded as universal or central. Conversely, some men in largely female classes or groups may feel that their perspectives and experiences are not taken seriously.

There are no easy rules for transforming perceptions; the whole society is engaged in a complex, and sometimes painful, re-thinking of many attitudes. The essential general principle is one of self-awareness. Try to be aware of, and analyze, your own assumptions and be aware of the people with whom you are dealing. This is a matter of empathy, thinking yourself into their positions. Basic good will in this area, as in all areas which involve difference, goes a long way.

Be sure to look at the following sites. They will give you additional information on multicultural awareness.

Students and tutors at Lake Tahoe Community College might want to contact Student Services for information regarding campus clubs and activities.