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THEORY, THE CHINESE STUDENT, AND WESTERN HIGHER EDUCATION
Michèle J. Schmidt
Simon Fraser University
Simon Fraser University
Simon Fraser University
Simon Fraser University
The internationalization of Western universities means that Chinese students often comprise a
significant group of international learners. Instructors realize that knowledge about these
students’ learning backgrounds and cultural and social contexts enables them and their
institutions to meet these students’ learning needs. The authors discuss frameworks such as
Leininger’s transcultural theory, Bhabha’s “Third Space” in postcolonial theory, and Callero’s
“Globalized self,” all of which offer a hybridized perspective on identity formation with which to
understand the international student, their place within an International M.Ed. Program at a
Western university, and the learning and teaching that promotes success for the student,
instructors, and the university.
Globalization and internationalization of Western universities have resulted in large
numbers of Chinese students enrolled as foreign learners (British Council, 2004). Indeed,
statistics from OECD (2010) indicate that in 2008, 3.3 million international students studied
outside of their home country.
When examining Chinese students’ perceptions about Western education, a critical
discourse of internationalization in higher education is missing, namely, the student voices that
become vital sources of intercultural knowledge and understanding (Ryan, 2011). Extant
literature around internationalization has in the past focused on student recruitment and
developing international partnerships with little emphasis on the topic of internationalization of
teaching and learning practices (Ryan 2011). A postcolonial transcultural lens can assist Western
educators in developing and implementing curricula that legitimate both East and West
contributions. In the forward of Chan and Rao’s (2009) book, Revisiting the Chinese Learner,
Biggs and Watkins (1996) share their observations of what they call “the paradox” of the Chinese
student. While these students are typically stereotyped as rote and passive learners in their native
context, Biggs and Watkins (1996) discovered a paradox in their research, in that Chinese
students excelled and often outperformed Western students. This puzzle has raised questions for
which scholars are attempting to address how Chinese learners use memory and ways of
understanding that are unfamiliar to Western educators (Chan & Rao 2009, pg. xiii).
Indeed, contemporary scholars (e.g., Chan & Rao, 2009; Grimshaw 2007) claim that the
Chinese student depicted in the 1990s is not the Chinese learner of today. An individual cannot be
known within a vacuum; we need to consider how sociocultural and historical influences impact
these students. Scholars argue that stereotypical myths have clouded our perception of the ‘real’
Chinese student (e.g., Flowerdew, 1998). Along with the notion that learning and teaching are
situated, changing theories of learning and teaching also lead to a ‘new’ discourse. The traditional
question of “Who is the Chinese learner?” is now more complex when we begin to address the
notion of “context.” The question then becomes: “How do the contexts within which Chinese
students learn influence their learning?” (Chan and Rao 2009, xiii). Moreover, in this article, we
examine whether these students can also influence their context.
In the case of one Western university, it became evident to the authors that we were at a
critical crossroads if we wanted to implement an International M.Ed. program at our university.
What was needed was a reflection of how Canadian universities are responding to changing
international conditions and international student cohorts; of changing policies, structures and
practices that strive to fit the purpose of educating international students; and, whether
universities are equipped to face future challenges and opportunities at all, and what this might
entail (Ryan, 2011).
While these conversations are primarily outside the scope of this paper, the authors’
essential purpose here is to begin the discussion regarding viable and robust theories that offer a
‘safe’ space within which to unpack notions of internationalism. Such a space allows us, as
researchers, to better understand international students and the cultures they inhabit and have
inhabited (Duff, 2002; Morita, 2004; Park, 2007), as well as, to develop meaningful and relevant
curriculum, along with responsive pedagogy and learning, particularly concerning academic
writing in graduate programs. We suggest that the better we understand foreign students’
sociocultural and academic situatedness along with the dynamic shaping of identity that occurs as
students interact with Western sociocultural milieus, the better we can design curricula that can
ultimately address international students’ educational needs and foster the identity
transformations that lead to successful outcomes in their graduate studies.
Scholars have pointed out that studying abroad can allow students to bridge culture and the
sometimes artificial separations we create between academic, experiential and intercultural
learning (Brewer & Cunningham, 2009). Later in this paper, we will examine transcultural
perspectives that help explain the dynamic relationships these students have with sociocultural
forces and thus offer suggestions for both curriculum and pedagogy. We specifically explore the
concepts of the globalized self; the creation of a third space and identity hybridity; cultural and
linguistic multicompetence; and dialogical perspectives on legitimated and meaningful
participation and performance by these students within theories of postcolonial transculturalism.
Therefore, this paper moves beyond the problematization of international students to
explore the opportunities that their presence can provide. Past research often employs a deficit
approach and is deterministic and stereotypical (Jin and Cortazzi, 2006). Instead, we seek a
balance between generalizations of Chinese students and a recognition of their individuality.
Moreover, we recognize that their individuality lies not only in their Chinese origin but also in
their lived experiences, which make each learner unique.
The purpose of this study is to explore relevant, dynamic and vital theories with which to
explore the academic and cultural understandings of Chinese students applying for graduate study
at a Canadian university.
Pavlenko & Lantolf
Lave & Wenger (1991)
Re-construction of self
Callero (2008); Cook
McEwan (2001); Said
(1978); Fanon (1984);
Rizvi, Lingard & Lavia,
2006); Bhabha (1998);
Spivak (2000); Freire
(1974); Rajan (1993);
A lens with which to problematize
and challenge Western assumptions
surrounding meanings, values and
practices of other cultures.
Bhabha (1996); Wang
(2004); Xu (2011);
Norton & Toohey
(2011); Ryan (2011);
Third space, third
A new area of meaning and
representation; a liminal or in-
between space where there is
translation and negotiation or
meaning and identity.
Culturally aligned (e.g., values,
beliefs), nursing care that is tailored
Transcultural way of knowing,
How can academics take advantage
of the internationalization of the
student cohort in ways that benefit
international students, home students,
Pieterse (2004); Archer
(2007); Ryan (2005);
Yang (2011); Gerris,
Husband & Mackenzie
Internal complexity; networked
Gerris, Husband &
Husband & Hoffman
(2004); Johnson (2004);
Lambert & Ogles
Cultural communicative competence,
POSTCOLONIALISM AND POSTSTRUCTURALISM
Postcolonialism remains a contested term (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, 1995). Rather
than focusing on postcolonialism as the end of colonialism, scholars (e.g., Radcliffe, 1999) posit
that postcolonialism offers a theoretical lens with which to problematize and challenge Western
assumptions surrounding meanings, values, and practices of other cultures, and perhaps even the
Western culture itself. By making voices of the marginalized, oppressed, and the dominated
heard, the theory demands acknowledgment of a diversity of perspectives and priorities
(McEwan, 2001). Postcolonial scholars are particularly indebted to Edward Said’s (1978)
conceptualization of postcolonialism in his book, Orientalism. Said’s (1978) bifurcation of East
and West, which is his ‘othering’ of the East, and the presentation of Westerners as rational (in
opposition to Orientals’ emotionality), is, however, critiqued by some postcolonial scholars (e.g.,
Fanon 1984). Fanon presents the caveat that we should not reduce colonialism to merely a
relationship between colonizer and colonized; rather, colonialism needs to be problematized to
examine the power imbalances between these two protagonists. Fanon (1984) adds that
independence from colonialism does not necessarily result in, or mean, liberation since colonial
subjects remain colonized psychologically. Postcolonialists, therefore, remain critical of Said’s
universalizing tendencies and limited view of differences, with little examination of class and
gender differences that may influence gender discourses and organizational culture (Rizvi,
Lingard, and Lavia, 2006).
Bhabha (1998), another influential postcolonial foundational scholar, stresses that the:
social articulation of difference, from the minority perspective, is a complex, ongoing
negotiation and that the colonised subject’s mode of resistance is itself constrained by the
language of the dominant group (Rizvi, Lingard, and Lavia 2006, p. 254).
Spivak (2000) points out that the powerful have little or no capacity to listen and to hear, what he
terms, the ‘subaltern’ – the class of people who are not empowered and do not possess any
wealth. For the subaltern to have a voice would require engaging in what Freire (2006) refers to
Postcolonial advocates promote the potentialities of agency and postcolonial approaches
that allow us as Westerners to be able to see, responsibly and respectfully, from another’s point of
view. Therefore, strategies must be found to create spaces that can make a difference (Goetz,
With his notion of mimicry, Bhabha (1994) adds another tension to the potentials arising
from students’ agency in this context. He explains mimicry as the “ironic compromise” between
the colonizer and the colonized, where the former participates in this context for “narcissistic
identification” and to “‘appropriate’ the Other” whereas the latter mimics the colonized due to a
“desire to emerge as ‘authentic’”. In this dynamic relation of power, there is the authority and the
“reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite”
(p. 86). Through mimicry, the colonized do not only tend to mimic the colonizer but through
representation, they may challenge and influence the identities of the colonizers thus de-
essentializing them. Therefore, international students who represent these formerly colonized may
influence both the represented culture and therefore, their learning context. Often international
students represent the colonizer through language acquisition, culture, values, interests, all of
which may influence both the represented culture and, therefore, their learning context. We may
even say that it might be this tension and the “ambivalence” and almost chaos created by
mimicry, that creates this opposition to change anything in order to cater to those who were called
to represent, to never challenge, and to always not be quite the same, both in how they are
perceived and in how much power they can exercise in this context.
Chinese students report that they are used to more rote forms of pedagogy in Chinese
universities; however, they learn quickly that Western post-secondary settings invariably de-
legitimate rote learning. So, while these students might be seen as ‘good’ rote learners, it is less
likely that they will be seen as good learners until we ensure they can mimic Western students--a
task doomed to failure. Clark and Gieve (2008) point to the deficit models applied to Chinese
learners based on significant misunderstandings of Confucian culture. As Dennick and Tavakol
(2009) note, these students are used to a Confucian episteme of acquisition of knowledge and not
a Socratic episteme of inquiry and questioning. Such a difference in epistemic approach, although
significant, also, sadly, equates with poor learning and models of learning deficiencies, which are
often, consciously or unconsciously, applied to such students. Studying in Western universities
presents epistemological challenges for them. Wong (2004) notes students’ challenges with
different learning styles, cultural barriers, and language difficulties. These challenges, however,
are not the result of the students’ learning capacities; rather, they reflect cultural and
epistemological barriers present in current learning environments. Sato and Hodge (2009) note
that marginalized doctoral students in Western universities eventually experience a “deeper
appreciation of their cultures, values, and beliefs as Asian people” (p. 143). This suggests that
students’ abilities in integrating different epistemes and developing hybrid identities, can allow
them to successfully bridge two or more cultures (Pavlenko & Norton, 2007; Wang, 2004).
Drawing on Habermas’ work, post-structuralists, Pavlenko and Lantolf (2000) argue that
second language learning includes “a struggle of concrete, socially constituted and always
situated beings to participate in the symbolically, mediated life-world of another
culture”….leading to “(re-) construction of the self” (p. 155). Their work on identity, reflective of
postcolonial and poststructuralist approaches, has shown that the “self” is made up of personal
experiences and impressions that are dynamically processed by individuals; through language and
other forms of contextualized sociocultural interaction, individuals “re-constitute” themselves
(see also Lave & Wenger, 1991). Identity is thus dynamically established through participation in
various sociocultural contexts and the rapid changes in globalization.
Concerning language learning, these students often continue to resist seeing themselves as
bilingual, even when they have a considerable facility with English (Pavlenko, 2003). They
continually struggle, primarily because they are seen as ‘additional language learners,’ and the
message of deficiency is subtly but pervasively present.
Therefore, the Chinese student cannot be reduced to just that – “Chinese” – as they are not
all positioned in only one sociocultural and historical context that can define them, but rather are
constructing their identities through their unique experiences with their individual approach to it,
which is ultimately what makes each learner unique, whether Chinese or not.
Norton and Toohey (2011) summarize a considerable body of research demonstrating that
language learners are positioned by others and try to position themselves in developing identities
that influence their learning. As they point out, “some identity positions may limit and constrain
opportunities for learners to listen, speak, read, or write, other identity positions may offer
enhanced sets of possibilities for social interaction and human agency” (p. 414). For such
scholars, identity is theorized as “multiple, changing, and a site of struggle” (p. 414). The
significance of the work of these scholars is that, as Duff (2002) argues, Chinese and other
foreign students are at “considerable risk of alienation, isolation, and failure” due to the learning
environments they encounter (p. 316). Ushioda’s (2011) research, for example, shows that when
teachers and others in the learning environment recognize and legitimate the cultural and
intellectual capital of these students, they can seize power and, in so doing, enhance their
The significance of Bhabha’s (1994) work on mimicry is that we who feel we represent
post-colonial approaches in education can still “speak in a tongue that is forked, not false” (p. 85).
We promote, by word and deed, post-colonialism but all too frequently end up representing
colonialism. Given the right opportunity, these students might not only use their intellectual and
cultural capital to enhance their positioning in a certain context but the context itself along with
all involved in the context. As argued by Bhabha, mimicry through a desire to learn from the
powerful, the colonizer may grant the colonized their own position of power which may be
enhanced by their sociocultural and historical background and recognition and legitimation of the
same. Then it becomes a matter of whether their otherness is perceived through the colonial lens
that defines them as different. The students, therefore, in the words of Bhabha, present
“authorized versions of otherness” (p. 87), and yet to never quite able to reach the etalon.
Alternatively, we could allow their cultural and intellectual capital to be viewed as distinct rather
than the evidence of authorized otherness. In educational settings, it means that if we allow
opportunities for these students to construct their identity in ways informed by their background
and legitimize it, we could transcend the role of colonizer as we would not be perceiving them
through the colonial lens that makes them a merely other, who tries to learn, but will never have
the same authority. It is transcending these roles of colonized and colonizer that is needed for
dialogical learning between teacher-student and student-teacher (Freire, 2006).
THE GLOBALIZED SELF
Callero (2008) refers to a “globalized self—multicultural, multilingual, and internationally
connected” (p. 1972). It is an identity “created from a global mélange of diverse cultural
resources where the values of creativity, exploration, freedom, hospitality, community, and
expanding wealth are embodied” (p. 1973). This process of identity change is characterized by
the development of new and unique voices, positions, and roles. International students possess
what Vivian Cook (1992, 1999; Cook & Wei, 2016) calls multicompetence. Multicompetencies
include competencies of knowledge, cognition, culture, linguistics, and meta-linguistics, which
straddle cultures. When individuals mingle with those of other cultures, they increasingly do not
feel the need to judge themselves as competent by the same criteria as those of the other cultures
might use. Further, Cook and Wei point out that multicompetence refers to the cognitive
capacities of a language user at any level of achievement. Also, they point out that
multicompetence is not a solely cognitive function; it recognizes sociocultural perspectives and
dynamics as well as the situated reality of the student in developing a globalized identity.
Such globalized identities are made possible through the valuing and development of
creativity, exploration, freedom, hospitality, and community (Chittooran, 2015; Cope &
Kalantzis, 2000; Ushioda, 2011). Individuals who have opportunities to live and work in other
nations and cultures see these experiences as transformative. These become opportunities to
bridge and engage with alternate worldviews and practices. Through these experiences, the self is
expanded and enhanced. There can be elements of resistance to, and defiance of, established
cultural norms, and the willingness to forge new possibilities. With these relatively privileged
students, we are looking at what Callero calls those who are “globalization from below” (pp.
1982ff), wherein those new to a culture may engage creatively and in a self-organized fashion or
through the agency of family or significant others who have wealth and power. This process is
what Callero (1982) calls the development of a political self as the individuals are exercising
power and autonomy. They are not being globalized through oppression (Foucault, 1995; Freire,
THE THIRD SPACE AND HYBRIDITY
Meintel (2000) noted in her work with immigrant youth living in Montréal, that they
adopted complex, shifting, “plural” identities. The concept of “hybrid” identities is based on a
combination of elements from two or more sociocultural backgrounds--a definition that was
developed by Hall (1996) and by Bhabha (1996). The globalized self emerges out of what Bhabha
referred to as a hybrid identity. It represents an identification with the other and with otherness,
along with a sense of ambivalence about the self and its permanence and a willingness to enter
into that space of uncertainty. Hybridity is a third space that sets up new structures of authority
and new political initiatives. Engaging in the third space gives rise to “something new and
unrecognizable, a new area of meaning and representation” (Rutherford, 1990, p. 211). Hybridity
represents a liminal or in-between space, where there are translation and negotiation of meaning
and identity--a third space (Bhabha, 1996). The hybrid identity emerges out of the engagement of
the colonized and colonizer where the new identity challenges notions of essentialism, of static
and fixed properties in the self.
For Hongyu Wang (2004), the third space leads to an encounter between the self and
stranger. She describes this third space as “A journey out, a journey within…. The encounter
between the self and the stranger. The meeting of each other’s potential. A journey beyond, a
journey inward. A journey home at a simultaneous moment of in and out, the moment of eyes
meeting” (p. 7). It is “a space beyond the in-between, a space embodying both love and freedom
but also transcending both, for a possible creative transformation of selfhood” (p. 10). It is formed
by a creative willingness to enter into foreign territory (both physical and cultural) and by being
open to the “otherness of the other” (p. 10). The third space is where there is a movement of the
self across the differences of culture into creative and dynamic interactions and connections. This
leads to having a space of meeting and mutual transformation, where two or more people
representing differing cultures and histories interact and transform through a “multiplicity of the
self” (p. 15), developing new intersubjective possibilities. The third space is dynamic, “unfolding
an inventive, shifting, and winding path between the self and the stranger on a journey beyond the
current forms of life” (p. 15).
The significance of Wang’s work is that the third space represents a legitimated space. The
student claims it and those interacting with the student fully support that space, recognizing its
fundamental Otherness. As well, the third space serves as an ‘invitation’ by its creator to those
who are willing to engage: “it intends only to inform and inspire those who desire to move with
the third space” (p. 181).
Xu (2011) modified the concept of a hybrid into one of “expanding identities,” capturing
the notion that these pluralistic, globalized identities have the capacity to hold multiple, dynamic
frames of reference: they can add and blend elements from more than one culture, and they can
hold perspectives that might seem conflicting or paradoxical. In the context of a more globalized
world, where different cultures are intersecting, these individuals will have a deeper and often
unique understanding of the various cultures, and thus be able to work more efficiently across
cultures without feeling marginalized or deficient. Although the perspectives are somewhat
unique, depending on local circumstances, they are also shared through globalization. Although
these students face the aforementioned epistemological challenges, they are at the same time
immersed in, and products of, the rapidly changing forces of globalization that instill in them the
desires and abilities to engage in creative and non-normative heteroglossia (Bakhtin, 1981;
Callero, 2008; Lyotard, 1984). Their abilities to “mix it up” can often serve them well if
instructors and administrators provide the curricular and pedagogical approaches that capitalize
on the students’ creative license.
The transcultural theory remains one of the oldest, most holistic and comprehensive means
to generate knowledge of diverse and similar cultures worldwide (Leininger, 2006). Rooted in
nursing theory, the theory’s strength lies in serving as a lens to discover more knowledge when
caring for or teaching diverse populations. When applied to international higher education, the
theory’s potential lies in providing Western educators with new insights about teaching and
learning and doing so by providing a new mode of communication and pastoral care within a safe
Papastephanou (2005) reminds us of important questions that need to be asked: “How can
academics take advantage of the internationalization of the student cohort in ways that benefit
international students, faculty, and staff? How can international students be used as a resource for
the internationalization of teaching and learning and so reify universities’ internationalization
rhetoric and the achievement of the ‘cosmopolitan’ ideal through “a cosmopolitically sensitive
education”? (p. 533). Ryan (2011) leaves us with another critical question to ponder: “How can
universities and academics open not just their ‘doors’ but also their ‘minds’ to the benefits of
diverse academic traditions and perspectives?” (p.635).
A move towards transcultural approaches to understanding international students’
perceptions of Western education recognizes that cultures are fluid and change through
interactions with one another. The formation of new cultures through combining elements of
different cultures often leads to a third space or third culture (Norton and Toohey, 2011; Ryan,
2011, p. 635). Murray (2010) defines transculturalism as “the result of contact between two or
more different cultures,” which results in “a new, composite culture in which some existing
cultural features are combined, while some are lost, and new features are generated” (Ryan, 2011,
Cuccioletta (2002) argues that we can no longer view society as a monolithic world.
Instead, transculturalism recognizes the possibility of transcending an individual to becoming a
‘cosmopolitan citizen.’ Rizvi (2011) states that ‘cosmopolitan learning’ enables instructors and
students to communicate within a safe cultural space, that legitimates different perspectives of
knowing. Strand (2010) notes that new forms of cosmopolitanism are disruptive: they surprise
and bewilder, bringing together logical opposites, and disturbing rational or pre-existing modes of
thinking; they can violate existing cognitive frameworks and cultural norms. Students
representing or living in these forms of cosmopolitanism will require curricular and pedagogical
approaches, which align and work with such disruptions. Nevertheless, a sense of urgency is
implicit in moving towards a transcultural way of knowing since the processes of globalization
continue to reshape the social and political terrain within which universities find themselves
linking people and interactions across borders and nation states (Rizvi 2011). Cuccioletta (2002)
prophesized that transculturalism will redefine the nation-state.
Scholars (e.g., Mulholland, 1995) often criticize transcultural theory for serving as a
panacea for best practice. Despite this, the intent is to offer an epistemological and ontological
framework providing a space for the social, economic and political dynamics within the teacher-
student relationship (Mulholland, 1995). Mulholland (1995) critiques the misuse of
transculturalism in nursing, with the theory being viewed as “vague, idealistic, inconsistent and
inadequate in the sense that [it] offer[s] little in the way of a meaningful analysis of power” (p.
442). Mulholland adds that “its capacity for enabling nurses to examine critically the socio-
economic and political dynamics of nurse-client relations and develop strategies for addressing
racism…., is seriously undermined” (442).
In response, we would argue that the transcultural constructs of the globalized self, the
third space, and the notion of hybridity are less vague, idealist, and inconsistent than Mulholland
(1995) claims. There is now considerable literature reflecting these postcolonial perspectives—we
have only cited a part of that literature—and transcultural theory does offer specifics about
curriculum and pedagogy. Another critical element of transculturalism that we hope to explore is
that of a culture of care. As we already know from Nel Noddings’ (2013) work on the ethic of
care, this will be a vital dimension to consider. In doing so, it recognizes a fundamental shift in
power in that international students manifest power in their abilities to bridge and transcend
cultures and epistemologies. How that power is acknowledged and engaged by Western educators
remains to be seen.
Further to these limitations of transcultural theory, culture as a construct remains
ubiquitous and vague with multiple meanings and conceptions. In fact, Pieterse (2004) believes
some traditional aspects of culture are outdated, more specifically, he claims that notions of
homogeneity, ethnic consensus, and intercultural delimitations are passé. He cautions scholars to
look beyond these dated conceptions in our changing global and postmodern world. The notion
that culture reflects one exclusive domain rather than a collective is shortsighted. He proposes
three key features of culture that support transculturality. These include internal complexity;
networked nature; and hybridity (Pieterse 2004). It must be noted, however, that these are
characteristics that now more accurately describe culture, and we would agree that concepts such
as homogeneity and ethnic consensus are passé. We have already considered hybridity in this
paper, and we will now explore the more profound complexity and networked nature of
transcultural ways of being and acting.
INTERNAL COMPLEXITY AND NETWORKED NATURE
Transcultural theory proposes a new approach to teaching and learning that involves using
the perspectives, knowledge, and attitudes of international students as a resource for learning
about their needs when developing higher education programs. For well over a decade, the extant
literature on international students, especially Chinese students, has often illustrated negative
attitudes toward international students and a ‘deficit’ approach towards their capabilities.
International students are described as passive, rote learners, lacking in critical thinking and
independent learning skills, and prone to plagiarism (Archer, 2007). Indeed, much of the current
literature on teaching and learning for international students and on internationalization generally
fails to connect with academics and is often disconnected from the ‘real world’ dilemmas and
challenges facing those dealing with the increasing numbers of international student and the
consequences of this change to their work (Ryan, 2005). Furthermore, Yang (2011) advocates for
a critical examination of the long-term effects of merely grafting Western practices onto a
Chinese base. And while many Chinese universities are emulating Western practices, they are, by
and large, doing so uncritically.
Critical elements of the networked nature of transcultural theory serve as the foundation for
transcultural communication and rely on cultural communicative competence and inter-cultural
communication. Cultural communicative competence requires practitioners to learn and
understand the cultural values, behavioral patterns, and rules for interaction in particular cultures
(e.g., ethnic-cultural background, religion, migration history, social, economic position, popular
culture, etiquette). They then must be able to draw upon this knowledge to inform one’s
understanding of an international student. Thus, cultural communicative competence has a
knowledge-base and is existentially acquired in practice (Husband & Hoffman, 2004). Moreover,
this competence recognizes intercultural change and is itself adaptive and hybridizing in nature.
Intercultural communication can address ambiguities in cross-cultural interactions. This
kind of communication is grounded in open, empathic discussion of the foreign student’s identity
and needs. Unlike cultural communicative competence, where practitioners derive confidence
from already possessing knowledge about particular cultures, here practitioners derive confidence
from knowing that they can quickly learn what is required to interact appropriately in new cross-
cultural encounters (Husband & Hoffman 2004). Transcultural communication introduces a
hybrid by combining cultural communication and intercultural communication.
When working with culturally diverse students, characteristics such as caring, empathy,
understanding, and respect are the main contributors to change, and these human traits rely on
excellent communication skills. Therefore, practitioners who lack transcultural communication
skills may be less able to achieve positive outcomes with students from diverse backgrounds.
CURRICULAR AND PEDAGOGICAL IMPLICATIONS
Given the right academic and cultural support systems, these students prove to be very
adaptable in shifting academically to inquiry and critical analysis, as well as expanding their
globalized identities as a result of their globalized, hybridized selves. What can make this
possible are transcultural communications within communities of practice where students’
participation as outsiders is legitimated (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Also, providing adequate and
responsive academic and cultural support can help these students adapt successfully to expand
their identities to be able to work in multiple worlds. Xu (2011) noted that she and her classmates
appreciated the dialogical ethos in the classroom created for international students where their
voices were respected. We can create classrooms that are responsive to individual and collective
diversity (Norton & Toohey, 2011). As Norton & Toohey write:
If language educators recognize that diverse classroom practices offer learners a
range of positions from which to speak, listen, read, or write, it is important for
educators to explore with students which identity positions offer the greatest
opportunity for social engagement and interaction (p. 429).
Kramsch’s (1993) “third place” in the classroom represents a place that is open to new and
varied experiences, encouraging the formation of hybrid identities across cultural and
dynamically shifting borderlands. This is a space where these students can co-construct,
negotiate, and transform to build a place where they feel they are valued and comfortable, even
though the process itself is dynamic, unstable, and uncertain at times. Also valuable are
“multimodal pedagogies,” expanded modes of expression to include visual, musical, gestural and
performative scopes. These “position human bodies in semiotic activities to engage them in
relations of culture, history, and power” (Stein, 2008, p. 98). Wu (2011) notes that artistic
practices help students situate their learning academically, in personal experience, life history,
and in present and future becoming within the community of practice. Not only do they move into
the community of practice in the target culture, but also, we suggest, they can also serve to
expand its sphere of reference by serving as cultural models who represent these hybrid,
developing, adaptable, and globalized identities.
As we have pointed out, however, colonialist attitudes and practices can still be present,
even when we intend to represent the best of inclusion, respect for diversity, the formation or at
least possibilities of the creation of third spaces, hybrid identities, and transculturalism. We often
still de-legitimate these Chinese students by applying deficit models to their knowledge and
learning capacities. We still, even in the spirit of post-colonialism, expect the students to mimic
us, only seeing them as representing a ‘partial presence.’ Hongyu Wang (2004) concludes her
Co-journeying into a world or many worlds different from what we have, returning to our
own world to rebuild homes, we and our children are forever on the road in a third space
to create new realms of life with tears, laughter, screams, love, pain, and prayers. Are we
ready--side-by-side--connected yet apart--to go? (pp. 182-183)
Are we, in fact, ready to go? We would suggest there is more work to be done in allowing
both our students and ourselves to embark on such co-journeys. Those of us who work with such
students need to be able to pack our bags with what might be new epistemic gear, remembering
that we are journeying to lands new and unknown, not the lands we are used to. We might even
ask our students for suggestions of what to pack. We will need to let them guide us as much as we
might guide them.
In conclusion, within a climate of globalization, it is exceptionally incumbent upon
universities to pro-actively move beyond mere interactions between cultures while one culture
(that is, the host university), remains positioned as more powerful and dominant than the other.
Instead, a new paradigm is needed that encapsulates a new epistemology from mutual dialogue
and respect amongst the academic cultures and knowledge traditions that ultimately result in new
learning, knowledge, and practices (Ryan, 2010). Furthermore, universities must move beyond
rhetoric about internationalization by listening to the visiting culture. Universities must be not
only ‘institutions of learning’ but also ‘learning institutions’ (Ryan, 2010). In doing so, the
combined theories we have discussed in this paper provide tools with which to create culturally
inclusive teaching and learning environments at the level of the classroom, in curriculum design
and pedagogical approaches, through to epistemological plurality of the knowledge base. Also,
sociocultural theories remind us that learning is individually and socially constructed, socially
supported and culturally situated and mediated. The work of theorists such as Lave and Wenger
(1999) highlight the importance of the social and cultural milieu of teaching and learning contexts
and the ‘communities of practice’ that exist in teaching and learning environments through the
co-construction of knowledge by teachers and learners (Freire, 2006).
Despite the rhetoric of internationalization at the university policy level, faculties continue
to report the same kinds of difficulties and ‘pedagogical uncertainties’ when teaching
international students that were reported over a decade ago (Singh, 2009). International students
often relay negative and even hostile attitudes and comments by faculty (Rizvi, 2010). We
continue to identify such students as ‘Chinese’ or ‘international,’ failing to consider fully the
resulting implications from not being able to see these and all students as simply that: students,
each of whom is unique and represents a different journey. Many professors continue to see
international students as problematic and are unwilling (or are unconvinced of the need) to
change and adapt to new conditions and imperatives, seeing their role as just educating students
‘in our ways’ or ‘our values,’ unaware of the lens through which they are looking. There remains
much work to be done to ensure that the rhetoric of internationalization engages academics and is
translated into positive experiences for staff and students, both local and international, in ways
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Contact: Dr. M. Schmidt, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, 604-417-8751.