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This is how our TEFL graduates feel they have gained from their course, and how they plan to put into action what they learned:
Cultural sensitivity in any environment is an important and difficult issue. We've been living abroad for nearly three years, and at times, still struggle with being culturally sensitive. When we're tired, overwhelmed, feeling homesick, or feeling frustrated; it's very easy in those moments to lose sight of the fact that this is not our culture. Therefore, we can not always expect people to behave/act in ways that we deem appropriate. This will surely be something we will struggle with in the classroom as well. There are several areas in which cultural differences will most likely be evident. In the West, we are used to expressing our thoughts and opinions, whereas many students in other cultures are taught only to repeat information they learn in the classroom without adding their own creativity/thoughts to their answers. This could be frustrating for Western teachers, as we desire students to "show" that they've truly grasped a concept by putting it into their own words. Another area which could be difficult for us as Western teachers is in the concept of equality. We spoke with some TEFL teachers in Thailand who told us that during their first week at a new school they were asked by the native staff to tell the students which ones they thought were "prettiest." The Western teachers of course responded that all the students were beautiful, but were quickly brushed-off as the local teachers pointed to students saying "she's too fat," or "he's too dark." This isn't to say that as Western teachers we should start participating in this type of discussion, but it's important to recognize that in other cultures it is more common. Recognizing these differences, we need to be careful not to build up walls against other staff/students because we disagree with how they handle such things. Within the classroom, it will also be important for us to ensure cultural sensitivity in the way that we phrase and discuss things. It is important that we don't embarrass our students or make them feel uncomfortable by what we say. Whilst living abroad, we have found ourselves in uncomfortable/tense situations a couple of times when being asked about our political beliefs. We generally try to avoid this topic now, and instead focus on discussing the positive things that we as "human beings" can do for each other. As teachers, it will be important for us to take an unbiased stand on such issues and work to help the class focus on common goals. While we could continue to discuss many more areas in which cultural sensitivity in the classroom is relevant, we believe the important key to this issue is "sensitivity." Teachers need to take the time to get to know the habits and customs of the culture in which they're teaching; and to constantly be sensitive to how their students are responding in the classroom. As a teacher of a foreign language it is also a great opportunity for us to expose students and ourselves to the positive aspects of cultural differences; broadening their perspectives, as well as our own.