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The Politeness Gap

I went through another semester’s teaching training today. One of the elective sessions I attended was called Culture Shock, and was related to the problems that international students have adjusting to live in the US. I felt interested in this session because a had been having talks with a colleague and a student who seemed to be having this problem last semester.

One of the most surprising things I learned from this seminar is that international students seem to overwhelming think that Americans are polite. On several occasions, they echoed the sentiment that American students were so much more polite than people in their country. Now I don’t know if this is politeness peculiar to Wisconsin, but I have certainly been led to believe that people in other countries view Americans as boorish and abrasive. I should further point out that these comments were coming from students from the Middle East and Asia - the type of students who I have found to be exceedingly polite both as classmates and students.

Apparently there is just as much risk of stereotyping ourselves as of stereotyping others.

collapse Michael Says:

I wonder how much the difference occurs in the level of respect that students give to TAs. In my experience, both as a student and a teacher, students give TAs a lot of respect. Perhaps, in other countries, TAs are viewed as a poor substitute for the professor, meaning they don’t need to be given respect.

collapse t-kun Says:

I’m not sure about TAs specifically, but a common theme was that Americans had much less deference to authority figures as international students and would be much more likely to challenge their instructors.


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