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Cultural Norms for ESL Teachers Teaching Abroad
Admin - May 22 2016
CULTURAL NORMS TO KNOW WHEN TEACHING ESL ABROAD
Many countries in Africa, Asia, and South America are nowadays learning English as second language (ESL). It has therefore become quite a lucrative venture which English teachers are making a run for. This however means moving to new country and embracing or coping with a whole new way of life. You will be interacting with an entirely new community different from the one back at home. It is therefore best to familiarize yourself with the dos and don’ts of the community in terms of greetings, mode of dressing, religion among others.
So, what are cultural norms?
Cultural norms are rules that a specific group of people uses to state what is seen as appropriate or inappropriate behavior, belief, and attitudes. Getting to know these norms make it easier for the teacher to interact with students in and out of class as well the rest of the community. It is therefore important for any teacher wishing to teach in a foreign country to understand the cultural norms of that country. This will go a long way in ensuring that the learning process is smooth and enjoyable.
Regardless of how much technology has changed, some communities in different parts of the world still embrace their old ways of life. One thing that most of these communities still hold on to is conservative dressing. In Asia, there are some places that require more body covering especially due to religious reasons. For example, for the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and even some Christians, women are expected to cover their body as much as possible. Most African countries are culturally diverse but some communities still withhold their cultural values of dressing in hides and skins or beads around their necks. In other parts of the continent mostly in the rural areas, mini-skirts are rendered as provocative dressing while in the urban areas they are acceptable. African conservative dressing is very important especially for women. They are expected to cover thighs and are not allowed to show any part of their bosom or shoulders. The same goes for Moroccan women who are not allowed to put on sleeveless blouses. Latin American countries on the other hand are not as strict. You will find many girls wearing tight dresses, which do not show too much skin and are not worn in places of work. Elderly women on many occasions wear skirts that cover up to their knees. Jeans, crop tops and other relatively tight clothes are allowed in classrooms. This means that the code of dressing may be different in different parts of the same country for both the teacher and the students. What is acceptable in the urban areas may not be deemed appropriate in the rural regions. In general, official clothes and official shoes are preferred in places of work.
Even in our home countries, teachers are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner, since they are viewed as role models to their learners. Being at your best behavior is more important especially when you are a foreigner. It’s therefore best to familiarize yourself with the cultural norms acceptable in the part of the country you are in. For example, in Muslim countries like Egypt and Iran, there is a lot of male dominance so women are very submissive. They are required to dress decently and cover their heads. Practices like homosexuality and public display of affection is considered a taboo in Asia, Africa and some parts of Latin American countries. Moreover, in Korea pointing at and openly correcting a student is considered rude. In Japan, while eating, you are not supposed to blow your nose and the same goes for Korea while in classroom. It is therefore important to be conversant with most of the behavioral issues in the country you will be working in to avoid any misunderstandings.
There are two religions that are dominant; Muslim and Christianity. There is also Buddhism and Hinduism which are wide spread in Asia, and partially in other parts of the world. Christianity hardly interferes with the learning process but in Muslim countries like Iran, Egypt and Indonesia, there are days when students have to leave early to attend the mosque. They also dress differently from the rest. For instance, girls wear trousers underneath their skirts and cover their heads with a head scarf. People in these countries also have different views of Jesus and Mohammed which they have total respect for. I would discourage any teacher from engaging in religious arguments while in these countries. Buddhist on the other hand, hold their king with very high esteem and saying anything negative about him may have you fined or even imprisoned. You are also not allowed to point at elders or the Monks with your foot while visiting the temple. It is considered wrong and the Buddhist believes that you may go to hell for it. While entering the temple, you are expected to remove your shoes. It is forbidden to enter places of worship or other sacred places while wearing shoes.
Indonesia is a country with a vast majority of the population being Muslims followed by Christians and the smallest percentage being Buddhists and Hindus. Therefore, if you are working there, you are required to register your religion among Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, Atheism is not allowed. However, In South American countries, majorities are Christians and have no tight rules when it comes to Atheism.
Though you may not belong to any of the religious groups or may even not be interested in any, it is best to respect them and avoid crossing the line. For those teachers with a certain strong belief, it is important to keep your convictions to yourself. This also means that it is very essential for the teacher to be careful about the examples they give while teaching. For example, while constructing sentences in English, avoid using religious context. Instead, use general example that will not be offensive to the learners.
Politics is just like another religion. Each country has a system of government put in place and which they have respect for. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about their leaders though you should be very cautious when giving your opinion in public. For instance in China, speaking about its boundaries with Taiwan as well as a discussion of South and North Korea may come out as offensive. In Indonesia, communism practice is prohibited. It may be advisable to reserve your political views to yourself or tread carefully.
Greetings serve as the first part of introduction of an individual. It is considered as a respectful gesture in almost all the communities around the world. Greetings are therefore very important for a teacher in a foreign country as it creates a rapport between the teacher and natives. The type of greetings however differs from one country to another and from one community to the other. While a handshake is considered polite and respectful in most countries, in some Asian countries like Taiwan a handshake towards the women is not recommended. Instead, nodding of the head is preferred. On the contrary, in parts of Africa among the Muslims, a man will greet a woman by kissing the back of her palm. Further, in Muslim and Hindu communities, greetings via the left hand are offensive since the hand is considered unclean. Japan is another country with a unique mode of greetings; you are required to bow. While bowing for an elderly person, you are not supposed to rise before they do as it is sign of superiority. If you rise before an elderly person does, it’s considered disrespectful. Greetings are therefore vital in any given community and learning the different types of greeting in the new community is the first thing to even getting to know their language and perhaps being accepted as one of them.
Learning the cultural norms of an intended destination country is essential for ESL teachers. This will make it easy for them to fit in and will also make the learning process smooth, enjoyable and fruitful.