“Cross-cultural Encounters” allows students of diverse cultural backgrounds to mix and learn from each other. The aim of this course is to provide students with the opportunity to obtain basic knowledge for understanding diversity and discover the excitement of cross-cultural communication, as a springboard for future learning. Course students are offered the opportunity to not only understand cultural diversity by experiencing differences in ways of thinking and customs, but to participate in English and Japanese mixed-language group discussions to acquire essential speaking, listening and reasoning skills and attitude required to communicate in a multi-cultural, multilingual setting.
Associate Professor Miki Horie explains the context of how this course was started, “As a general rule, we use both Japanese and English in class. Domestic students are developing their English skills and foreign students are learning how to communicate in Japanese. So they are both in the same position as foreign language learners still on their way to improving their language skills. Based on this recognition, the key is to find a way to deepen communication with each other even though their language skills are still limited. I wanted the students to understand that language proficiency is not necessarily the only tool to enable international exchange and cross-cultural experience.”
When running a class made up of students with different native languages and cultures it is very important “to ensure that everyone can relax and learn with peace of mind and to form a community built on trust and cooperation,” says Associate Professor Horie. So the first thing she focused on was infiltrating the whole class with shared values. “I started by telling the students that if someone makes a mistake or says something that sounds weird, no one should make fun of it or laugh at mistakes. In an effort to build a cohesive class, I emphasized the importance of thinking together and learning through mutual support and cooperation so as to ensure a valuable experience not only for yourself but for your classmates.” Students developed class rules by themselves. Some examples of the rules include: “Listen to what someone is saying until he or she is done talking, even if his/her words are not fluent,” “Be honest and say so if there is anything you don’t understand,” “Elicit comments from those who haven’t had a chance to speak.”… “These all sound quite obvious, but in practice, we often fail to adhere to them. They are also very important rules particularly in a multi-cultural, multilingual environment. The significant thing is that the students noticed the importance of these rules and decided to adhere to them in order to ensure mutual growth.”
Noah Mitchelson, a short-term junior exchange student from The University of Minnesota (U.S.) who has studied Japanese for three years, looks back on the course, “I was able to speak with many Japanese students in class, so it gave me a great opportunity to try out and confirm what I had learned. I’m glad I took this course and got a chance to make friends with many Japanese students.”