Minnesota State University, Mankato ups its international student population significantly!

Here in Mankato we now have more than 1,000 international student enrolled. The best-represented countries on our campus are Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Korea, India, and Bangladesh.

The challenge for us now is to make these students feel at home, find ways to help them learn our culture and customs (one of the most interesting aspects of living in a new place), and helping our students learn from our international guests (language, customs, culture, and ways of thinking). How do we do that? It certainly does not happen by chance. Those of us who are instructors need to harness this tremendous potential to help our local students learn from our internationals.

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Minnesota State has large increase in international student population

A recent news item on our university website reveals that we rank 34th in our class of institution in international student population this fall semester. Last spring we had 794 enrolled international students and this fall we are up to 922. The top 4 schools in our division “Top 40 Master’s Institutions” are all in California. Do you think the weather has something to do with that? The number one school, CSU, Long Beach (LONG BEACH!) has 2, 978 international students this semester.

Can you guess the top five populations at Minnesota State?

Here are hints in the form of the capital city of the country with the number of students from that country in parentheses:

1. Riyadh (177)

2. Seoul (86)

3. Kathmandu (73)

4. Dhaka (47)

5.  New Delhi (40)

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Translation in Healthcare

Chapter 3 in the Culture, Community and Cyberspace text outlined several ways in which we can help optimize international information systems.  This discussion led me to start thinking about how we can use some of this information in the translation of patient education in healthcare.

 

I work in a hospital that sees a lot of patient from different countries, some of which do not speak English.  Not too surprisingly, often the children can speak better English than their parents, but we ca not depend on the kids to get the correct message to their parents.  In these cases we use translator to talk directly with the parents.  The quality of translator varies, but most of them are versed in medical terminology and are native speakers of the language being translated.

 

The spoken language translation system works pretty efficiently, but translating written information is more costly and more difficult to provide to these patients and their families.  To help this process, it would be an interesting exercise to create an information system that could then be used as the content source for translating the patient education.  To avoid some of the pitfalls that the authors note, care must be taken to choose terms that will be identifiable in several languages.  This helps to organize the information system in a way that is accessible to people from different cultures.

 

In writing the actual documents, care must also be taken to write culturally accurate texts.  In chapter 10, the authors make mention of high or low context societies, specific or diffuse cultures, and collectivist or individualist cultures.  Taking these differences, and the organizational tips into account, will make it easier and less confusing to communicate with people who do not speak English in a time that is undoubtedly stressful already.

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Future Research for GNLEs

GNLEs also have the potential for building networks for learning and community engagement with institutions that are lacking form social and economic aspects. In essence, institutions the are far less advantaged are able to network with institutions that are much more well off. The opportunity for research for this aspect of partnership is in “the ways in which institutional policies, reduce, infrastructures, and pressure from reduced public funding may constraint such partnership” (222). Additionally, do unequal workloads…dominance of English, differences in technological  infrastructure, and support services affect such GNLEs?

With this question posed by Meyerring and Wilson I saw a correlation between an article  that had been written by the same authors a few weeks ago. These same authors wrote Visionary Pedagogies in GNLEs and how they discussed  Language Politics , meaning that  with this concept language practices could privilege, include, marginalize, and even exclude members .They discussed  technology politics as well,  noting  that technology could either enable or constrain  social practices it can favor interest of some participant while undermining others.

Starke-Meyerring and Wilson bring up very valid points when questioning how the different environments & circumstance influence partnership dynamics. It will be very interesting to see research findings answer some questions about the effectiveness of GNLEs on partnership dynamics.

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Cutural difference in Haiti

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The Haitian people are a very proud people who in spite of their limited resources are very hard working. We were told by one of our translators that on 30% percent of the population are employed. The other 70 percent to their best to set up stands or vendor carts for the selling and trading of Goods. Furthermore, we were told that 95% of the population is considered poor, and the streets of the two cities that we visited full dirt and burned garbage, but in spite of this the people were very clean looking and well kept.
One of the major communication differences that I noticed was that Haitian Creole places emphasis on sounds quite differently from English. This made it very challenging to decipher between the people simply just communicating or actually being angry.
Another communicational/ cultural difference was the fact that the people were very aggressive/ competitive and did not pay much attention to personal space. I first saw the presence of the aggressiveness or competitiveness when my friend and I were teaching VBS (Vacation Bible School), we were handing out beads for a craft and as I came around the different rows of children they began grabbing my arms, my waist and my legs. When we later sat down and considered this behavior we linked it back to the idea that the children wanted first pick on things that we gave out because they thought it would run out and they would not get any. This way of thinking is probably related to how most of the children’s lives they have had to go without.
Another cultural difference that I noticed was the people lack of attention to personal space. While in church I can remember this older man sitting next to me and when they sang song people would stand, clap their hands, and lift their arms in celebration. Well this man was so close that he kept hitting me with his arms. I believe that the lack of attention to personal space is largely related to the fact that the capacity for church that we attended was about 300 people but there were nearly 700 people there. Later we found that many church are over capacity. One comparison that the Pastor of the church that we attented, made about the US in comparison to Haiti was that the USA has many builds (churches) that need more member, while Haiti have many people and not enough buildings.

A few concepts that I saw at work that relate to the text were building partnerships/relationships and the importance that trust and power balance played in working with our translators. In terms of relationships/partnership the idea of how the facilitate the creation of an organic or unique type of knowledge was seen when we were conveying our lessons to the translators to translate to the students. I say that knowledge was created because the translators did not have the knowledge that we had about a given topic that we were teaching, however, because Haitian Creole does not translate word for word in English, the translators had to express what we were saying in a way that could be understood by the children.
Another concept that I saw at work was trust and power balance. Initially, when we came in the first day to work with the translators they did not seem very warm towards us. However, as we interacted and spent more time with each of them we saw their attitudes and body language changed as they saw that we treated them as equals because we were all their to serve. They became more engaged with the children, warm and open to offering ideas to helping better explain our lessons to the children.

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A lesson from Kenya

This might seem critical but I was really bother by the unrealistic expectation of technology that the authors of a paper I read recently showed.  It surprised me that even with one of their team members having a PhD in Comp Sci (Computer Science) they had unreasonable performance expectations of the internet connection between the U.S. and Kanya, in 2003.

The paper Visual Design Studio: Facilitating Online Learning and Communication Between U.S. and Kenyan Participants provides a study of a project to facilitate the local creation of HIV/AIDS prevention posters. By assisting laypersons in Kenya from a U.S. location to create posters in the local setting these posters would be more effective than those imported. The study included a wide range of activities including the methodology of creation, local focus-like groups and a Visual Design Studio (VDS) allowing synchronous interaction with the students in Kenya over the internet. In the end their process was sucessful but the implementation flawed.

The team envisioned their VDS to be “…innovative in its emphasis on synchronous collaborative visual design with laypeople in the third world (191).” The researchers wanted an online environment that allowed all participants to be able to sketch simultaneously with a suite of drawing tools similar to Photoshop while being able to chat.

The problem which they only discovered after starting the program was that the network link in Kenya would not support the bandwidth necessary for realtime drawing. The issue was the Kenyan link was a 56K dialup modem. 56 kilobit data line cannot support multimedia applications. The question is why would a PhD in Computer Science they not realize that a 56K link will never support media? Or why did the team not pretest the link? No clues were provided to answer these questions but there is a lesson we can learn from this.

Simply stated, “Know thy limitations before starting an online project.” Know how much your internet bandwidth is and how much your applications require. Know the limitations of your computer platform and determine if you have enough memory to be online and run you memory hungry media programs. And my final suggestion, test before running live. The dollars spent on the upfront will save many more when you have gone live and have problems. Just following this simple rule will save any technical communicator hours of frustration.

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What is “international communication” anyway?

Since I started the course in international communication, I’ve wondered, “what is international communication anyway?” I mean, really? I, of course, have had a good idea of what international communication means to me but is my interpretation accurate? I used to think of international communication as two or more people communicating from locations that cross physical, international boundaries (meaning in order to get to that person, you would travel across international borders). I’m not so sure that is an accurate conceptualization.

The McGraw Hill Online Learning Center defines international communication as “the process of interpreting and sharing meanings with individuals from different races” (http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072400773/student_view0/glossary.html). In which case, it may not cross physical boundaries at all—considering there are different races that have the same primary language. Wikianswers.com defines international communication as the “process of communication between two or more countries to settle down issues and matters” (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Definition_of_international_communication). This definition leads me to consider if defining international communication is contextual?

I wonder if it comes down to context and, maybe even personal opinion. International communication is a large concept and I’m not sure if there is an adequate definition to encompass it entirely. I cannot find any formal definitions in our books for this course: Designing Globally Networked Learning Environments and Culture, Communication and Cyberspace (please let me know if you can).

Thoughts?

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Trends in Dimensions of Culture

Chapter 6 of “Culture, Communication, and Cyberspace” deals with the concept of the five dimensions of culture. The chapter presents a study with examples of statistics driven in the area of dimensions of culture from several societies. 

I have found some interesting trends that can be seen from these statistics. 

Per example, 

The higher the power distance (40 for USA, 80 for China, 74 for Singapore, and 77 for India), the higher the Long-term Orientation (29 ,118, 48, 61).

The higher the Individualism (USA 91, China, 20 Singapore 20, India, 48) the higher the Uncertainty Avoidance (46, 30, 8, 40). 

The data used is very limited, yet the correlations could result in some interesting hypothetical conclusions.

1) Cultures where people feel powerless and in a sense not in control of their own cultural fate (High Power Distance), such as China, where people accept that the Communist party will pave the path for the country, also tend to be able to view the world with a Long-term Orientation.

  • Does that mean that taking people out of governance and putting their lives in the    hands of an institution lends them more time to worry about different aspects of life  such as loosing face and looking towards the future?

2) Cultures with a higher focus on the individual, such as the US, are more likely to need certainty in their lives. Since the culture is based on the individual and not on the collective, then the individual does not feel like a part of a strong group. The individual cannot handle uncertainty and hypothetical prospects due to the fact that he does not ave the group’s support. It is much easier for a culture like China, where the group comes before the individual, to face adversary and uncertainty because they have strength and reassurance in the collective.

  • Does this mean that capitalism and democracy lead to an increase in uncertainty        avoidance? Does the Western way of life actually affect a culture so drastically as to  influence its key dimensions? Will the globalization of Western cultural ideals            increase the dimensions of individualism and uncertainty avoidance in countries such  as China and India?

 

For now, we can speculate on what the answers are, but only time will truly tell. It is fascinating to live in such a capricious, fast moving modern world.  

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Interaction of Personality, Personal History, and Overlapping Cultures

In Judith B. Strother’s article “Cultural Adaptation of Cybereducation,” published in Culture, Communication, and Cyberspace (edited by Kirk St. Amant and Filipp Sapienza, 2011) I enjoyed the discussion of the overlap of multiple cultures on behavior and perception. Each of us is a part of not just one culture but multiple cultures that overlap (for example that of our country, our family, and our work environment), and it is in the interaction of these cultures on our personality and character that our choices are made and our behaviors formed.  This reading was paired this week with “Closing the Distance Education” by Brian Fitch, Alec Kirby, and Louisa Mary Greathouse Amador, published in Designing Globally Networked Learning Environments (edited by Doreen Starke-Meyerring and Melanie Wilson, 2008). These authors add  further complexity to the issue of culture by pointing out the effect of one’s family history and the stories we grow up with on our world view. They stress that it is only when we can begin to become aware of our assumptions about others that we can begin to unlearn the stereotypes with which we tend to see others.

Taken together, these two readings can give us the tools to see much more deeply into the effect of culture on perception and behavior. Learning about this complexity of influences teaches us to resist the quick and easy labeling of others who may look or sound like they belong to a larger group of people. No one can be known, their behavior predicted, and their feelings and responses easily made transparent simply because they grew up in a particular country or area. We are each a mixed bag of surprises, complicated influences, and totally unpredictable ideas, and each of us deserves an open reception by others.

Cultural generalizations help us to plan, to structure, and to organize our approach to others. They also can help us to understand one another, and certainly they can give us insight into another person’s communication style. But these readings remind us that just because we may know something about someone, that does not mean we know everything about them. We are complex, and cultural generalizations, helpful though they may be, are only the tip of the iceberg.

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It takes years to comprehend one’s culture. Generalization may lead to confusion!

Upon reading chapter 9 of Culture and Communication and Cyberspace, I begin to ponder if many people out there really comprehend everyone’s cultures, or they just simply presume that culture, is so easy to understand. All they have to do is to mix  around with a handful of people from different countries. It pains me to see there is a ton of generalization about certain cultures which might not even be true.

In chapter 9, Strother explained that ” Cultural biases about appropriate educational models run very deep and influence the way members of a particular culture act and feel,” (P212). This is completely true. When one is mistaken about someone’s culture, they will assume that the rest of the people in that country will behave the same.

Let me provide you with an example; someone once mentioned that Chinese do not usually do their own work and will often rely on others to work for them. Isn’t that considered a type of generalization. There are many type of Chinese, just like there are many classes of Americans. By just simply dealing with a handful of lazy Chinese students does not mean that all Chinese are lazy. It pains me when there are too many generalizations about different cultures. With so many cultural biases taking place, it seems relatively hard to run an effective education system for everyone. The purpose of culture is to ensure everyone understand how one behave and react to certain circumstances, we shouldn’t even be greatly influenced by these unknown claims, and affect how we judge these people.

Culture, itself is just a fundamental tool, to take us to the next level. In order to really comprehend everyone’s cultures, we should closely evaluate and understudy the situations carefully. In this way, we then will be able to create an effective education model for everyone who comes from different cultures.

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