The Study-Abroad Experience & Cross-Cultural Friendships

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”It is important that academicians and educational administrators incorporate sufficient scope for students to make cross-cultural friendships”

“Living abroad should mean loving abroad,” said Marina Meijer, a TEDx Talks speaker, defending studying abroad. The study-abroad experience is more than just about studying – It is about learning. It makes students richer and well-equipped individuals.

Following the heart and heading out into international terrain is a challenge. Let’s not discount prejudice, cultural gaps, homesickness, and adjustment issues. Integrating into another community need not be so much of a fuss despite all that. Students have to pick up challenges as they come.

Over the semester, students can develop friendships that help cultural immersion. It is important that academicians and educational administrators incorporate sufficient scope for students to make cross-cultural friendships.

A few benefits of acculturation:

  • Novelty: A variety of people collaborating gives students the opportunity to see problems from a new perspective or offer insights that had not been thought of before.
  • Personal Transformation: As students start to become proficient in one thing, they need encouragement for the next. They might be self-motivated, but having work-groups and course clubs might help them interact with multinationals better. They grow as individuals and it equips them better to set out for their different career paths.
  • Network: Students may tend to make friends with those from their community. International networking helps build creativity and teaches important lessons in teamwork and communication.
  • Empathy: This ability to climb under another’s skin, walk around in their shoes for a bit. Empathy is vital to overcoming prejudice and narrow nationalism. It helps crack difficult people and complex situations at microcosmic levels.
  • Cultural Intelligence: This is a vital skill set to be able to work efficiently and relate to people who do not come from the same background.
  • Experiential Learning: New activities, experiences, and information like learning a new language, visiting a museum, or simply boarding a bus in a foreign land, exposes students to new things. It creates new neural connections that build on each other and create an optimal environment for learning.

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Engaging in co-curricular and extracurricular activities like clubs, sports, community events, and tutor programs ensures that guest students integrate with the community, interact with people, and understand the way others live. International educational administrators need to incorporate these activities upon or before the arrival of students on campus.

“Investing in students and the educated youth of the nations will ultimately help build meaningful ‘glocal’ friendships”

It is important that international educators develop a plan for the benefit of the overseas student community.

Here’s a things-to-do list for international educators:

  • Establish intercultural platforms like clubs, community events, coffee-house discussions, social events, etc.
  • Host inclusive Model United Nations conferences so students can play delegates and become sensitive to contemporary world issues.
  • Encourage students to talk about issues in their native lands so they form strong opinions and grow in their identity
  • Create educational content that is relevant to international student affairs
  • Develop good hiring and job exchange programs in the global market
  • Enable digital learning and interaction for better access and collaboration of skills and knowledge
  • Assess student performances and provide them with a list of developmental opportunities and programs

While students need to be self-responsible and auto-motivated, educators also need a skill set of competencies to guide students through their educational journey. International educators are major stakeholders in helping students think critically, master a foreign second language, work in multinational teams, facilitate cross-cultural communication, widen job horizons, and in improving access and opportunities to thrive.

Investing in students and the educated youth of the nations will ultimately help build meaningful ‘glocal’ friendships. Innovation, progressive thought, acceptance, and other human values will follow as consequence. It is a long-term investment in the human race which will engineer a generation for a better tomorrow.

This article first appeared on July 12, 2018 at

About the author: Ethan Miller is an online ESL instructor and EdTech enthusiast based in Illinois.


How to make conversation classes more meaningful for your students

In this article, Tory Thorkelson discusses a few of lessons and techniques that may be of use to fellow teachers wrestling with the ever present ‘conversational’ English classes.

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Textbooks are just as tool.

Many new teachers follow the textbook religiously (through ignorance or because they feel forced to do so by the administration or because their students paid for them). While you need to teach the material in the textbook, this does not mean that you cannot supplement, modify or even replace lessons and material that does not work for your students for whatever reason. As your experience and classes evolve, you will feel more confident and comfortable about doing this and that is a good thing for both you and your students in the longer term.

A good syllabus is a lifesaver.

The syllabus allows you to map out clearly for yourself and your students what they can expect from a given course but it also serves as a way to let them know your expectations in terms of assignments, extra reading, grading system and the all-important class rules. If you take valuable class time to go over it in some detail, require them to read it (try a pop quiz the following class about key items/information) and them strongly suggest that they keep it handy in a folder or class file, they have a much smaller chance of saying that they ‘did not know what was expected of them’ later on in the class.

Grading should match both the syllabus and scope of the course.

A conversation class means that oral interviews and maybe presentations are a given to demonstrate oral communication skills. However, do you use picture stories? Role plays? Mini debates on a topic from the book? A conversation between a pair of students about a random topic from the book is a good basic approach, and saves the instructor from losing their voice after doing 100+ oral interviews over a short period. Remember to create or adapt a good checklist or rubric, and share it with the students beforehand if possible so that there is less confusion about what you are scoring and how it will be done.

Games and communicative activities.

If the point is to get the students speaking as much as possible, then games, information gaps, and running dictations offer good options for getting students actively involved. Keep the atmosphere fun and try to tone down the competition in favor of a whole-class learning experience. See this link for a book of activities two of my colleagues and I created a number of years ago based on our most successful conversation class ideas (

Pair/Group work

One of the most common complaints my students make about almost every class is that they want to speak to and get to know more of their classmates. My response is “So, why do you sit with the same people every day?”. To help avoid this problem, mix them up often using random numbers, colors, animals, favorite foods or whatever other categories you can think of. A service like https://www. might help with this. An occasional “Friends’ day” will allow them to sit with their favorite classmates, but it should not be an everyday thing.

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Democracy in action.

I let my students pick their exam or quiz days through a class vote. Presentations and interviews are also chosen using numbers drawn at random. If they are unhappy with their day/time, they need to negotiate to exchange with another pair/group and let me know before the interview, presentation, etc. This avoids most of the problems with allowing free sign-ups for things they need to do and puts some of the responsibility for being there on time and prepared on their shoulders rather than mine.

Evaluations at midterms and finals.

While my university now has student evaluations online before midterms and at the end of term, the results are mostly numerical and the students are usually not eager to make comments, good or bad, for whatever reason. Therefore, I use my own anonymous feedback form covering just three questions:

  • What you liked.
  • What you did not like.
  • What you would add/change.

These serve as a quick measure of how the students are feeling about the course twice during the term, but allow me to tweak the course in the second half to better meet their needs. It also means that I have ways to justify course changes to my current classes based on what past students have said and – when we were required to submit reports at the end of term for the administration – I had something to base them on, other than the official evaluations that came out after the reports were due anyway.

While every educator has their own tips, tricks and ideas about teaching conversation or other classes, I hope you found some of the tips above useful for making your conversation and other classes more meaningful and entertaining for everyone involved.

Learning is a journey and it only has to be boring and predictable if you make it so.

This article was written by Tory Thorkelson and first appeared on July 9, 2018 at