Saturday, November 09, 2013

Women and Men: The International Edition

          By the time international students have attained a level of fluency where they can use services at the Writing Center, they should be acculturated enough to American society that they can accept help from any tutor, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. “Should” leaves a lot of wiggle room, for international and local students.
            While working with sheltered, International English 1010 classes for a couple of semesters, I did not encounter any male students who directly said “I will not learn from a woman.” On the other hand, Dr. Byrd, in the education department, tells a story about a female professor at another university who had a belligerent male student from another country in her class. The conflict reached the highest level of the university. What I have discovered, similar to the experiences of other female tutors / teachers with international men, is more passive disrespect, inattention, and active, though not confrontational, detachment (young men looking at their phones, or chatting with friends).  
     Sometimes, behavior may be subtle and an innate reaction to cultural conditioning, such as not using the left hand in some Middle Eastern cultures. These sorts of actions might never be overcome, and might always linger without unduly compromising the student’s ability to function fully in American society.
            I find that confrontational behavior is the exception rather than the rule. When I have directly asked young men from countries that isolate women from men, most say that it is okay to work with a woman. I try to remain at more of a discrete distance from these students and not force my physical presence on them. At the Writing Center, we are cognizant of some of the cultural beliefs regarding interaction between the genders, and actively work to be respectful without compromising our own personal and cultural beliefs. We work as cultural translators, informing newcomers of cultural expectations that may differ greatly from heritage beliefs. Sometimes we encounter students who are still in the process of acculturation, or those who refuse to acculturate.
            I see more of a concern when female international students need to work with male tutors. Often, these women will be in classes alongside other women, and men, from their home culture. If the culture forbids interaction between men and women, these women may resist working in mixed groups during class time. Likewise, they may be extremely uncomfortable with a one on one tutoring session with a male. The women, even though they are living here, are sometimes still expected by the men in their community to follow the cultural norms of the home country. During the day, some female students may spend a few hours on campus, but then go home at night to a culture that may still be highly traditional. I have also discovered that it is not unusual for students in some ethnic student groups to be related. Brothers, sisters, cousins may all be watching one another for slippage from traditional roles. Most women become more culturally skilled at American behavior the longer they are here, and some international women are already well versed in cultural behavior when they arrive here.
            We do not need to make accommodations for international male students who come into the Writing Center. Some of them may not like working with a woman, but women in the United States expect to be treated with respect, as equals. Women may have to be firm in culturally educating some international students, which may be uncomfortable and downright wearying for the female tutor / teacher. However, a female tutor / teacher needs to be able to stop a session and call a supervisor if the student becomes openly combative. We should take greater thought with assigning female international students to male tutors. I would not ask a female student if she prefers a tutor of the same gender, but if she asks for a woman tutor, I would tend to honor the request because of possible consequences that student may face at home in the less populated, but strongly influential culture of others from her home country.


Post a Comment

<< Home