Teaching Chinese Students – Webinar Reflections

Teaching Chinese Students – Webinar Reflections

Last week nearly 20 faculty and staff gathered at the International House to watch a live webinar, Today’s Chinese Students: Understanding the U.S. Classroom. The webinar presenters gave an overview of some of the issues related to integrating Chinese students in American universities and the DU group stayed after to discuss these issues and share teaching strategies.


The webinar presenters explained that Westerners tend to define learning cognitively (using words such as thinking, question, understand) whereas Asians tend to describe learning morally (using words such as diligence, persevere, respect). Both education cultures produce outstanding scholars, but they represent different beliefs about the rules of education.

Although not all Chinese students are alike and we want to caution against generalizing, the webinar focused on five cultural differences often found between Chinese and American students:

  • Valuing individualism vs. collectivism
  • Faith in rule of law vs. personal relationships
  • A focus on memorization vs. creativity and challenging ideas
  • Formal vs. informal social relationships
  • Seeing silence as a sign of respect vs. a sign of discomfort

These differences may result in actions by Chinese students that go against American educational norms: limited class participation, unease and unfamiliarity with problem-based learning, inhibitions to challenge instructors or ideas, and sometimes circumventing rules to achieve goals.

DU has purposefully tried to attract international student to enrich the educational experience for everyone, and it’s common to be frustrated with the challenges that emerge with the resulting culture clash. It’s tempting to focus our efforts on getting these new students accustomed to our American way of education. Yet as the facilitators reminded us, once we expect international students to act exactly like American students, we lose some of the benefits of having the cultural diversity.

Instead we hope to focus efforts on trying to understand the root causes behind culture clashes, and using strategies that support all types of students in their learning. Typically, strategies that are good for Chinese students end up being good for all students.

Visit our webpage for a list of ideas and strategies for Teaching International Students and share your own strategies with us!


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