Global academics: teaching and managing across cultures Part: 3

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Global academics: teaching and managing across cultures

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Article Sections

  1. Managing in context
  2. Teaching
  3. Insights gained

Insights gained

"Globalization is not westernization, it is not Americanization, is it multicultural, it is all over the world", Richard Li-Hua, professor of strategic management and development, University of Sunderland, UK.

"I am grateful to the students I have taught because they have also contributed to my learning. This process has involved collaborating with others in trying to make sense of life and work in positive and productive ways that capitalize upon the synergies cultural diversity tends to ignite. I am passionate about this. It is an important step towards the peaceful survival of the planet", Dr Joanna Crossman, senior lecturer in the School of Management, University of South Australia.

"I have learnt to listen to the other side ... not just what people are saying to you, but what the words really are covering up. I have also learnt the importance of understanding something of the mentality of the country", Nicola Hijlkema.

The rich listening skills, and the ability to interact with, and benefit from, other cultures is described by Howard Thomas as:

"a combination of emotional intelligence and ... contextual intelligence".

Thomas also maintains that he has gained a much richer understanding of different cultures and contexts, which has made him a better manager. And this is particularly important given the international nature of (especially business) education.

Some return from overseas stints with new, or renewed, values. Anthony Normore, a specialist in educational leadership development at California State University and series editor of Advances in Educational Administration, left teaching positions in Nepal and South Korea much influenced by the value both countries place on the "act of giving" on education, social interaction, and support systems.

Such values, he maintains, were once held in high regard in Canada and the USA, but,

"somehow we've lost a bit along the way in this very fast-paced, technologically oriented world ... we need to reclaim what is really critical to our hearts and souls, which is the concept of caring for one another and the work that we do that's having a lasting impact on students" (see viewpoint from Anthony H. Normore).

Sometimes, what is gained is a sense of proportion, an understanding that no one educational system is the best, that all have their strengths and weaknesses – David Weir comments some British academics and academic administrators know little about other systems, and tend to think that theirs is the best.

Giving as well as receiving

Cultural exchange, however, is a two-way process: the manager or lecturer on a stint abroad must give as well as receive.

David Weir and Simon Lawder both felt that their French students gained from their more open teaching style, and were better able to reflect and understand that things are not always simply right or wrong.

But perhaps the most interesting insight comes from Richard Li-Hua, from his position straddling both Chinese and Western culture.

I asked him if the rapid growth of the Chinese economy (forecast by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to exceed that of the USA by 2016) and the consequent reverse migration of Western students to China for their higher education, would change our educational values? And would we see a resurgence of the lecture, and of rote learning?

On the contrary, says Li-Hua:

"China wants to become an innovation oriented society, and given the culture of rote learning, this is a problem".

Hence the Chinese Government is encouraging good universities to import resources, teaching styles and even faculty from the West, so as to encourage a more open, interactive, style.

It's a lesson in listening and respect for cultural diversity that the West could well learn from.