For many international students a significant factor in choosing to study abroad is a desire to learn about new cultures. Providing opportunities to engage meaningfully with the host culture can therefore be an excellent way to meet and build relationships with such students. When done well these exchanges are mutually enriching as both host and international students contribute their knowledge and understanding of their respective languages and culture. International students are thereby treated as equals rather than being patronised, affirming that they have as much to teach us as we have to them.
Examples of cultural exchange activities include:
Taste the Nations
Divide students into groups of 4-5 each with a local ‘host’. Aim to meet once per month with host and students taking it in turns to cook a favourite dish from their country.
Introducing (host) "country" culture
Good to have this during “welcome” weeks (or orientation). You can provide an overview of important historical influences on language and culture; give information about practical issues; and discuss cultural characteristics that international students will need to understand if they are to thrive. Try to keep this light hearted, using games and interactive exercises where possible. Providing an opportunity for questions is also important. Interviewing 2nd and 3rd year international students about their experience can also be helpful.
Discovering "country" culture
Giving students an opportunity to teach the group about their culture. For example a “Mexican evening”: cooking Mexican food, using (tourist style) video clips to show geographical features and introducing important historical and political facts about their country.
This can be an occasional feature in an iCafé programme or a regular “international exchange programme”.
Pairing up local students who want to learn a language with an international student who speaks it can give both local and international opportunity for language practice, either dividing their time in half on each occasion or alternating the language used.