The above video is a combination of 8 differences between Asian College and Western College. As a Vietnamese student who has spent three years studying in Australia, I have noticed many differences between two college environments. Therefore, I have decided to use this research project as an opportunity to present some of those differences based on my personal experience and observation. In this short piece of writing, I will explain what I think are the causes of these cultural differences, using Hofstede (1984)’s cultural dimensions, as well as their negative and positive influences and how to overcome them.
First of all, the differences in learning styles between Asian and Western college can be explained by ‘Confucianism’, which is a system of philosophical and ethical teachings founded by Confucius (Liu and Xie 2016), a famous Chinese philosopher. According to Jackson (2014), some East Asian countries such as China, Japan, South Korea or Vietnam are significantly affected by Confucianism, which emphasizes “persistence, personal stability, traditions, frugality, respect for elders, status-oriented relationships, a long-term orientation to time, hard work, a sense of shame and collective face-saving”. Therefore, it is very common for students in an Asian classroom to stand up or bow in order to greet the teacher in a respectful manner. Moreover, because Confucianism highly values hard work, Asian students carry a high expectation in academic achievements, which is the main measurement of success in Asian cultures (Schwartz 1994). On the other hand, a pass grade might be considered acceptable by Western students, which explains why Western students and Asian students perceive their marks in different ways, which can be seen in the video.
‘Power distance’ is another cultural element that can be used to explain these differences, which describes how individuals of a particular culture perceive power relationships – superior/subordinate relationships – between people, including the degree that people not in power accept that power is spread unequally (Hofstede 1984). In particular, the relationship between teachers and students in Asian college is more formal than that in Western university, which defines the way students behave in class (Hofstede 1984). Eating and using smartphones in class, and sitting more freely are more likely to be accepted in Western college while considered unacceptable in most Asian schools. Moreover, these differences can be viewed under the idea of ‘Individualism-collectivism’, which investigates the degree to which individuals in a society are associated into groups (Jackson 2014). In highly individualistic Western countries like Australia, personal autonomy and individual identities, rights and responsibilities tend to be emphasized (Hofstede 1984). Therefore, students in Western college are more self-oriented and make decisions based on individual needs, which makes behaviours like eating and using smartphone in class, going to class late and leaving class early more acceptable (Hofstede 1984).
The difference between the foreign language (English in this case) taught in Asian College and the language that is actually used in Western countries or host countries can be identified as ‘language shock’, one element of ‘transition shock’ (Jackson 2014). ‘Language shock’ is a common problem among international students, referring to the challenge of understanding and communicating in a second language in an unfamiliar environment (Jackson 2014). Even if the student speaks the same first language as local students, there are still differences in terms of accent, dialects, humour, vocabulary, slang and communication styles that can hinder communication (Hile 1979). In this case, due to ‘Inadequate preparation’, Asian students were not equipped with the awareness about the variation of English used in Australia and how different it is to the standard version they are taught in school, which leads to the difficulty in communicating.
Secondly, I will explain the effects that these differences might bring about. Students going abroad for education might experience several negative consequences of cultural differences, or transition shock (Jackson 2014). The differences in behaviour expectation can result in conflict between the students and teachers as well as their host national classmates (Jackson 2014). Students coming from Western college who are not aware of the formal sets of behaviour in class might unintentionally offend their teachers. For example, an Asian teacher might find it unacceptable that a student does not stand up to greet him/her, eats or uses mobile phone in class. The classmates of that student who are host nationals might consider him/her as lacking the common sense and respect towards their culture as well (Hile 1979). Moreover, the conflict in values might affect students’ performance. Due to the fact that Asian students tend to appreciate high marks while Western students consider a pass grade acceptable, conflict might arise when the two parties work together on the amount of effort should be spent on accomplishing tasks. As a result, Western students might think that their Asian peers are overly aggressive and serious, while on the other hand Asian students might form an impression that Western students are not hard working. According to Jackson (2014), a potential consequence is that students might feel isolated in a new environment. In particular, due to the differences in manners and values, a student can form frequent perceptions of being singled out, overlooked or discriminated against by their local friends (Hile 1979). Not being treated with the same degree of respect as locals can lead to homesickness, feeling of inadequacy (loss of self-confidence due to the inability to express self clearly in the host language and perform basic tasks), and the fear of trying new things and exploring the local culture (Jackson 2014). In overall, these negative effects result in the students’ low academic performance and a negative attitude towards the host country.
On the other hand, these cultural differences might bring about positive effects. According to Jackson (2014), encountering these cultural differences allow students to develop their intercultural competence as they can challenge themselves, step out of their comfort zone, and become more aware of their identity and of the world around them. Interacting with classmates with cultural differences is an opportunity for students to acquire new communication skills, build confidence as well as develop new relationships (Hile 1979). Studying in a new educational environment, although very challenging, can be beneficial as students gain more understanding about a particular country and its culture as well as people, which lead to the development of ‘cultural-relativism’, which can be defined as an attitude perceiving all cultures are of equal value and cannot be judged based on any standard (Hile 1979). In general, differences between Asian college and Western college can positively influence students by equipping them with understanding about a different culture, intercultural communication skills and the necessary mindset to be a global citizen.
Finally, this essay aims to provide readers with possible ways to avoid the negative consequences in encountering cultural differences between Asian and Western College, as well as to optimise this intercultural transition. According to Jackson (2014), it is essential for students to take actions prior to their sojourn to study in another country. Doing some research about the destination and its culture can be useful as it provides students with knowledge about the expected manners as well as unacceptable behaviours so they can avoid conflicts in communication due to misunderstanding. For example, Western students can be prepared to greet the teachers properly by standing up, or staying in the class until the end to avoid being offensive. Setting realistic goals and expectations is also a good tip for students (Hile 1979). For example, Asian students should understand that not all Western students want to achieve high marks so they will not be disappointed if their Western peers do not spend enough effort as they expect in group assignments. Practicing the language spoken in the host country is also important so students can be confident in communicating with their local teachers and friends as well as to avoid misunderstanding (Jackson 2014). Moreover, there are steps that students can take during their journey to better adapt to differences. Being patient is extremely important in these contexts because adaptation and adjustment takes time to process and patience prevents students from judging and forming a negative attitude towards the local culture (Hile 1979). Additionally, participating in extracurricular activities arranged by the host university is a great way to make friends, practice the language and explore the host culture (Jackson 2014). A cultural mentor that can provide help when needed is a great idea. This could be a local student, an international student or even a co-national as long as that person is experienced and understands the host culture thoroughly (Jackson 2014).
In conclusion, this essay has indicated several causes of the differences between Asian college and Western college depicted in the video, using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. All the situations in the video are based on my personal experience and observation, so they might not be considered true in all cases. Furthermore, these scenarios are also exaggerated in order to entertain audience with no offense, because I consider that humour is a useful way to encounter and understand cultural differences. Additionally, the essay has discussed the negative and positive effects of these cultural differences, as well as how to overcome them. I hope that my video and essay will be useful to entertain as well as to support Asian students in particular and international students and travellers in general, to adapt in their intercultural journeys.
Hile, P 1979, Language Shock, Culture Shock and How to Cope, Abilene Christian University Mission Strategy Bulletin 7.2.
Hofstede, G 1984, ‘Cultural dimensions in management and planning’, Asia Pacific Journal of Management, vol. 1, no. 2, p. 81-99.
Jackson, J 2014, Introducing language and intercultural communication / Jane Jackson, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon New York, New York Routledge, 2014.
Liu, A, & Xie, Y 2016, ‘Why do Asian Americans academically outperform Whites? – The cultural explanation revisited’, Social Science Research, 58, p. 210.
Schwartz, S H 1994, Beyond Individualism-Collectivism: New Cultural Dimensions of Values, Sage, 1994.