International Students, Classroom Diversity and Learning: From Bi-Cultural to Multi-Cultural at Pace
Between 1984 and 2004 every aspect of New Zealand society underwent continuous change. The economy was deregulated and tariffs were removed. The public sector underwent major re-structuring as did pre-tertiary education. New Zealand had been characterized as a bi-cultural society but today it is strikingly multi-cultural. Nowhere is this more evident than in its tertiary institutions. By 31 July 2003, out of a total tertiary population of 337,004 students, 34,915 (10.3%) were international, a rise of 5.4% from July 2003. Of this number, 18,070 came from the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) (Ministry of Education 2003). Most New Zealand tertiary institutions experienced rapid growth in the number of international students and the University of Waikato (UoW) is no exception. In 2000, there were 990 international students enrolled in UoW but by 2003 this had increased to 3,433 with the majority studying at the Waikato Management School (WMS). In 2000, 280 international students were enrolled at WMS but by 2003 this had increased to 1,419. Currently international students make up 37% of the enrolments in WMS with 81% of them coming from the PRC. The paper examines the experiences of graduate international students as they confronted very different teaching and learning styles. For many, to simply cope before moving on to higher levels of performance meant 'unlearning' previous behaviours acquired in China. To reach higher levels of performance meant 're-learning' new sets of behaviours. Interviews were conducted with 40 international students from the PRC which focused on the students' experiences of the teaching and learning styles they encountered. Interviews were conducted in small groups by interviewers fluent in Mandarin and English. The study found students were invariably ill-prepared for what they encountered, with their prior learning being of little use. Not only did they suffer 'culture shock' outside the classroom but found that to succeed in the classroom required 're-learning' basic skills and techniques. While language was important, to succeed called for more than improving verbal and written English skills. What was required was a fundamental shift to a new way of thinking and learning. Students recognized that 're-learning' was both difficult and a gradual process. Some felt that they had made progress while other found the shift was almost too demanding. All recognized however that for learning to take place a major shift in thinking was required.
Keywords: Learning, Unlearning, Diversity, 'Culture Shock', International Students
Wyndham Glyndwr Jones
Affiliation not supplied