I was recently chatting to Dr Ammy Kwong about a workshop that got ‘sold out’ just 2 days after being advertised. That workshop was Global Classroom: Understanding How to Engage and Communicate with International Students.

If you’ve missed out, here are the top ‘takeaways’!

Ammy’s own PhD looked at cross-cultural communication, and she shared some long-established wisdom from the field.

Behaviours are a manifestation of deep-seated culture. Chances are we won’t share the same values, beliefs, and attitudes with a person from a different culture, and we will probably have some misunderstandings.

iceberg illustration

For example, some cultures require a person to avoid eye contact if they respect a person (e.g. a tutor/lecturer), and this ‘respect display’ may be completely misinterpreted by a person from a different culture. Another example is a seeming reluctance of some students to volunteer their answers in tutorials. It’s just not what students are supposed to do in some cultures! There are many interesting examples and we’d love to hear yours (post them in the comments below!).

A teaching takeaway:

Imagine you are asking a question and not getting a reply from your international student… Stay calm, remember the cultural iceberg, and think of a way to have a discussion with your student after class. ‘Were you not answering because you respect me as a teacher? If so, this is not how tutorials usually happen in Australia. Here, we….” You can also pre-empt such situations by having an explicit discussion with your students at the start of the unit. “I’ve found that some international students in the past were not answering my questions because they respected me. I understand that perspective, but teacher-student relationship is a bit different here….”

If you’d like your students to have fun exploring their cultural ‘profiles’, you can give them a link to Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture. While controversial, this tool can become a useful conversation starter for exploring deep beliefs and/or a good reflection prompt.

Many workshop participants found it powerful to hear from students from different backgrounds directly. They shared their own stories of cultural shock and adjustments.

Students sharing their insights

Ammy concludes with some tips for teaching international students, including:

  • Using more visual examples and explanations
  • Encouraging cultural exchanges
  • Using neutral language (avoiding colloquial expressions and slang)
  • And, of course, getting to know your students’ culture!

Do you have any tips for helping international students adjust to the new environment? We’d love to hear from you! Please DO share your thoughts below.

Also, keep an eye on Teche events. Ammy might run this workshop again in the future.

Posted by Olga Kozar

I'm a 'long-term' Mq girl. I did my PhD here and taught on different courses, ranging from 1st year to PhD students. I now work in Learning and Teaching, which I love. I have 2 young kids and a dog, and I love meeting other Mq people, so give me a shout if you'd like to talk 'learning and teaching' or would like to brainstorm together.


  1. Frank Siciliano 2 November, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    This is an increasingly challenging area for the university. I’d like to see more support and orientation by Macquarie International that can really assist students from all cultures better develop strategies and confidence for engagement in their classes.


    1. Hi Frank, the trend we received from this workshop has been that we need to provide more support on cultural awareness to our international students as well as our staff. I have taken the initiative to talk to international students that take part in our English Speaking Club at the Faculty of Business and Economics to talk about culture shock and how they can deal with what they are going through being in a foreign culture. We are also talking about setting up some seminars or talks during the orientation period for our students as well. Hopefully we can at least reach some of our target audience to some extent.


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