Changing one's educational environment is not only stressful for foreign students: it is a big cultural shock for lecturers as well. The problem is even more complicated if they have no significant international experience which is the case for most of the lecturers from Eastern European countries. These countries have remarkable universities, and very good lecturers, but, because of the political situation it is very rare to have had the opportunity to work at western universities. In the changing times of teaching and learning in Australian universities, we may expect more and more lecturers to come from that part of the world. When they start to lecture in higher education in Australia they encounter significant cross-cultural communication problems.
What are the problems of lecturers coming from nonwestern countries, and how are universities in Western Australia prepared to help them to adapt to new work environment and to assist them to perform their duties successfully as quickly as possible?
I came to Australia in July 1995 with my family because of the political situation in Yugoslavia. After waiting for three years for visas we came to Australia and are now permanent residents of this country. Before coming I tried to read as much as possible about this part of the world which is exactly on the opposite side of the globe. In my country, we have only general information about "the most remote continent". I have been learning English all my life and I believed that I was an advanced English speaker. I passed the English language test which was part of the requirements for getting a visa. Now, I would say that I was just at high intermediate level.
The first six months were spent solving family matters (buying a house, finding proper schools for the children, trying to learn the Australian way of life: driving on the left side of the road, getting used to streets full of heavy traffic but without people on them, learning how to cope with the sun.... I missed my friends, relatives, my students.... I missed old architecture. We were confused at every step because everything was automated: banks, libraries, shops, parking places.... I expected some difficulties in my new environment but differences were bigger than I had expected.
My real problem started when I tried to look for a job. My unit, Descriptive Geometry, did not exist in any Australian School of Engineering. I was told that with the appearance of computer technology Descriptive Geometry had been abolished from most Australian schools of engineering. It was very confusing because Descriptive Geometry is the basic science for every kind of engineering drawing, even computer graphics. The computer is just a tool. It was also explained to me that Australian engineers are not designers but rather managers and they do not need to know how to draw, another big surprise for me. Somebody still has to design bridges, stadiums, opera houses and so on, all not at TAFE level.
After a "long wandering" I found out that the basics of my unit still exist but they are incorporated into other units. The closest modules were Freehand Drawing and AutoCAD. After visiting the head of The Civil Engineering Department at UWA with my Resume, I started to work part time, giving students AutoCAD courses for all years . Finally, I found myself in the classroom with students. It was absolutely beautiful to work with them. I did not have a single unpleasant case. Students all over the world are the same: full of energy, full of enthusiasm. Working part-time I did not mix too much with the other staff. Most of my time was spent preparing tutorials for students and learning English.
After a few months, the head of the Department told me that there would be a vacant position on the Engineering Graphics unit, lecturer level B. The position involves mainly teaching and only partly research. Unfortunately, one candidate had a very remarkable background with significant Australian experience so I had to prepare a seminar. I was astonished because in my previous country we do not have resumes, interviews and seminars for getting a job. Only applications were required, and I did not have anybody to help me. My seminar was based on research in Descriptive Geometry which was not very attractive for the committee. The presentation of my opponent was on a much higher level, as was his English. He did not have a PhD so neither of us got a position. It was a very unpleasant experience and I lost my self-confidence but not the wish to fight. I felt that I had to forget all my previous experience, background and teaching theory and start from the beginning. I stayed in the same position, giving AutoCAD courses till the end of the year and at the beginning of the new teaching year I was offered a one year contract as a lecturer level A, in which I still work.
One day, I got a phone call from the Centre for Staff Development and an invitation to attend the Foundation of University's Teaching and Learning Course for newly appointed lecturers. After that day, all my problems have started to be solved. There I learned about the Australian way of teaching, attended many interesting seminars, met many important people, got information about research and learned other things which interest me. Today, I have a clear picture in front of me how I need to organize my lectures and tutorials. I have also found that research in education is a very interesting area. It will help me to combine my previous experience with new technologies I have met here and to understand better my international students and new lecturers in my department.
The problems I have encountered can be split into the following areas:
Lecturers have to teach students everything they are expected to know. The curriculum is the same for all of them and usually overloaded. Students cannot choose units. They may try to pass exams as many times as they like. It is a very competitive system and students are expected to be excellent in every area. In my previous Faculty only about 10% finished their studies in time (nine semesters plus half a year for a final project). Usually they are twenty five or twenty six when they graduate. The reasons why they are so much older then Australian students are That primary school starts at age seven and males must spend one year in the army.
Teachers are perceived as authoritative and students complain very rarely through official channels. All lecturers must have a PhD and can give lectures only in the area in which they wrote their thesis. Tutors must have a Masters degree. After graduation (usually after six or seven years on the university), students are like "walking encyclopedias" but not very independent and not very much involved in research. Once they have started their careers they very quickly become successful professionals working all over the world. It is a very exhausting system for both lecturers and students.
The Australian way of teaching seemed to me quite strange. After twenty years of lecturing I had to attend the Foundations Course to learn how to teach in the Australian way; I had to learn that the educational system is an economic enterprise and students are treated as clients who need to be satisfied in all their needs and expectations. Otherwise they may complain through the large number of legal rules on human rights, sexual harassment, racial discrimination.
Four universities have further information for new lecturers and continuing staff about Australian teaching philosophy in higher education which is introduced on different courses lasting from 20 to 31 hours (Table 1).
|University of Western Australia||Staff Orientation Program
* personal invitation
|Foundations of Teaching and Learning|
* Workshop: 2.5 days
* Follow-Up Program - seven 2hrs sessions during semester * Advertised
|Curtin University of Technology||Induction Program
* three days
|Reflective Teaching Practice in Higher Education
* Series of 12 sessions every semester
|Murdoch University||Orientation Day
* half-day, once a year
* Personal invitation
|Tertiary Teaching Course
* 3 days +
* seven 3hrs sessions during the semester
|Edith Cowan University||Academic Orientation Day
* one day
* personal invitation
|Teaching and Learning at University
* two days* personal invitation
|Session Staff Workshop
* three 2hrs sessions|
|Notre Dame University||Orientation Program|
* half-day, three times per year
* personal invitation
At the very beginning it is important that all messages are sent personally because new staff may have no e-mail, and the great amount of new information on the Internet is very confusing. Much of the information I have needed was advertised somewhere but I did not know where to look for it.
The main point of this paper is to suggest universities to increase their support for lecturers from other cultures in order to help them in their contribution to the advancement to the quality of education in Australia and to reach more students.
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Willcoxson, L. (1995). Interstate transitions: The often neglected experience. Australian Journal of Experimental Learning, 34, 36-39.
Kealey, D. (1990). Cross-Cultural Effectiveness. Canadian International Development, Quebec.
Furnham, A. & Bochner, S. (1986). Culture Shock. Routledge, London.
Bridges, W. (1980). Transitions. Addison-Wesley Publishing, Massachusetts.
|Please cite as: Ostrogonac-Seserko, R. (1998). What can we do to assist overseas lecturers to function effectively and efficiently in an Australian teaching environment as soon as possible? In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 242-247. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/ostrogonac.html|