Cultural barriers in the classroom

How to (Practically) Minimize the Cultural Barriers in Your Classroom:

Utilizing the below guidelines as part of your teaching at the beginning of each course will help address some of the confusion your international students face. Most new international students are not likely to speak up and will be hesitant in approaching you, so reaching out to them will significantly lessen the initial distance between you and your students. OIS also provides information to new international students to explain American teaching styles and the American definition of academic integrity, so they are aware of the standards at our university. If you would like to access this information to learn more of their perspective, please visit here.

  1. Explain your availability and approachability, emphasize that you expect students to speak up and actively participate in class. Convey that there is no shame in asking for your guidance and that you welcome questions.
  2. Explain in person how American style class discussions work – emphasize that each individual’s opinion is welcomed, needed and that their input (even if it is controversial) is valued. (Include a side note for your international students to minimize the language barrier and emphasize that it is okay for them to make mistakes in English – emphasize that hearing their opinion is more important than hearing perfect English).
  3. Be aware of the examples you use to explain theoretical concepts to a classroom which has both American and international students. References derived solely from U.S. culture will not always be understood by an international audience. Provide a context for the example or bring an example which does not rely solely on understanding and knowing this culture.
  4. Emphasize that the focus in American learning and teaching style lies on individual work. Collaboration is only allowed if specific instructions and permission are received from you (refer the students to the Code of Student Conduct).
  5. Explain verbally (in addition to what is in writing on the syllabus) that every source a student uses to learn and create their own work must be given due credit. Provide students with resources to master the citation/reference style you would like for them to use.
  6. Clearly indicate (in person) that your policy on academic integrity will be enforced. (Putting this in writing alone often will not convey the message – refer to information about Direct VS Indirect Communication).
  7. Listen carefully  and with a cross-cultural mindset. If there for instance is a question of whether or not a student has violated NC State’s academic integrity policy, in addition to enforcing our policy, try to learn the student’s understanding of academic integrity and refer them to available resources to help them understand their error.
  8. Understand that while they are held to the same standards of academic integrity as their American counterparts, they need time to educate themselves and be educated on the cultural expectations in U.S. higher education.


The Office of International Services will gladly assist you in your endeavor to become increasingly culturally proficient and can help you learn how to effectively communicate with your international audience.  If you would like more specific information on a certain topic or culture, please make use of our OIS Delivers service or contact your OIS Liaison to discuss a training/meeting that will suit you best.