Class customs cross cultural boundaries

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Freshman Joe Miano has attended schools in three countries: France, Belgium and now the United States at the University of Miami. He noticed that raising his hand is just as prevalent, despite the cultural differences.

“Raising my hand has meant the same thing in all three countries and to all of my teachers,” he said.

Miano, as one of 1,413 international undergraduates enrolled at UM, was glad to know that his distance from home does not affect the educational customs he has gained in past classrooms, especially hand-raising.

Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, described her psychological findings on hand-raising in a TED Talk given in 2010.

According to Cuddy, hand-raising is a reflection of students’ personalities and social status within the classroom. She has identified how nonverbal behaviors and “power posing” affects classroom dynamics.

From Cuddy’s conclusions, Miano feels comfortable interacting in class, regardless of the classroom style.

He came to the U.S. to study neuroscience and has been able to appreciate many learning styles from the more formal hand-raising environment to the more Socratic, student-led discussion format.

“It really depends on the teacher and the subject,” he said.

Freshman Siqing Yang, who went to school in central China since she was born, also moved to Miami to study at UM. Despite English not being her first language, she believes she is at an advantage because she has experienced different yet similar teaching styles like hand-raising.

“I have found what I like best, and also the best ways to succeed,” she said.

In China, Yang took all of her classes with the same group of 49 students for three years. Each grade was composed of 30 groups, and there were three grades in her high school.

As one of 4,500 students in her school, it was easy for Yang to get lost in the masses. She enjoys the contrast of being in smaller classes at UM, where teachers will facilitate conversations, allowing students to employ not just hand-raising but also their communication skills.

Yang’s situation can be explained from Cuddy’s process of power posing, or “fake it till you become it.” She suggests conducting one’s self in the same way as an alpha figure, until one’s mindset and mannerisms become those of an alpha.

International students like Miano and Yang who come to the U.S. to study believe that the content and language of the discussions may differ, but the body positions and mannerisms discussed by Cuddy, as well as the relationships between students, teachers and their peers, transcend geographical boundaries.

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