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As a PAL Leader, there is a certain amount of awareness you will need to have around working with a diverse range of students. This could be mature students, international students from different cultures or students with learning differences. As a facilitator, it is important that your sessions remain inclusive and that you take into consideration their differences in order to tailor your session to ensure that they are involved and feel comfortable.
International Students & Cross-cultural Sensitivity
Working in a multi-cultural learning environment is an opportunity to develop a wide range of intercultural competence skills that employers seek; however, alongside such rewards, it can also present a mixture of challenges.
It is good to consider that there may be international students in your PAL group who are familiar with being educated and studying in different ways, and that also may be struggling with the transition to moving to the UK to study. You may be an international student yourself, in which case you will understand and empathise with differences in the UK education system compared to experience in your home country.
Help your PAL students embrace difference and individuality; encourage students to share their experiences (icebreaker activities are a good tool to aid this).
Things to consider:
Speaking amongst peers (public speaking)
- Being expected to argue, articulate and share your opinions can be difficult in a second language
- Pairing and small group work can help individuals work towards reducing feelings of anxiety and intimidation; it is a useful way of giving students time to practise a response before sharing their ideas with the whole group
- International students may ask you about things they might not wish to ask an academic, perhaps because they feel too far out of their comfort zone or over-conscious of those in perceived roles of authority
- You may offer useful feedback and lots of examples of good practice in a less-intimidating environment, while always bearing in mind that you are not an Academic or qualified Counsellor – it is important that you maintain professional, realistic boundaries
- It may take time for international students to adjust to change – therefore keep things simple and avoid overcomplicating
Increase your cross-cultural sensitivity
- Try to get to know something about international students in your PAL group; where they come from and what their life is like back in their home country
- Exploring what others do and how they think will help you to become aware of your own rules, assumptions and conventions
- In British culture for example, generally, individuals are often very polite and afraid to state the obvious (not wishing to patronise or offend), so when helping students to learn new approaches, be explicit and clear
- Avoid using colloquialisms (informal language, abbreviations etc.)
- Groups that include a variety of cultures may often find it more challenging to co-operate, communicate and therefore work effectively together; be aware and supportive during any such challenges
- Tension may arise where group work is assessed in terms of outcome rather than process
- It is important to consider that mature students may have different priorities e.g. children, a career etc. and may not be involved in the typical ‘student experience’
- The age difference can at times make mature students feel daunted or excluded
- Mature students can often be a great asset to your group if you involve them from the start in your sessions – make sure your sessions are inclusive and cater for all
Students with Learning Differences
- Students with learning differences/difficulties or a disability may sometimes seek extra support (however, never make assumptions about an individual’s circumstances)
- It will be important to direct them to appropriate BU student support services e.g. Additional Learning Support (ALS)
- Ultimately it is your job as a facilitator is to ensure your sessions are inclusive