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Breaking down barriers through cross-cultural interactions

Edward Chan & Margaret Kim

Quick guide

  • Key words:interview skills, cross-cultural communication skills, cultural exchange, study abroad preparation, nonverbal communication skills
  • Learner English level:All
  • Learner maturity level:All
  • Preparation time:One class to prepare interview questions and practice interview skills
  • Activity time:One class period
  • Materials:Voice recorder, interview questions, visiting exchange students or online communication access

In university-level English classes in Japan, there is rarely an opportunity for students to interact with native English speakers other than their classroom teacher. At the same time, for U.S. students doing a short-term study abroad, there is the danger of not engaging with native Japanese people. This activity involves a cross-cultural exchange set up between Japanese university students and U.S. study abroad students visiting Japan. The U.S. students visit the Japanese students in their class in Japan; however, this activity could feasibly be done via Internet communication. For both groups, the emphasis is on building confidence and experience for cross-cultural communication in a low-stakes context and ensuring self-reflection in the process.
Step 1:Give all students a Pre-Interview Questionnaire surveying their attitudes about interviewing a native English or ESL speaker (see Appendix A).
Step 2:Assign students partners from the other school (pairs or groups).
Step 3:Have students prepare interview questions for the other students (see Appendix B).
Step 4:Teach students about different approaches to verbal and nonverbal communication with native English or ESL speakers.
Step 1:On the day the U.S. students visit the Japanese students’ class, begin by introducing them to their assigned partners through an ice-breaking exercise (see Appendix C).
Step 2:Ensure voice recorders are operating properly and note which recorders are assigned to which students.
Step 3:Have each pair/group record their interview.
Step 4:Teachers should circulate around the room monitoring students and intervening when conversations have clearly stalled—though students should be given enough time to try to work through issues on their own.
Step 5:Give students a Post-Interview Questionnaire encouraging them to reflect on their experiences (see Appendix D).
Extension Activities
Option 1:Since the entire class period is used for interviewing, it is helpful to plan a social event for the two groups of students to interact less formally afterwards. This gives them a chance to communicate and get to know each other in an informal setting.
Option 2:Students can listen to the recorded interviews and write a paper based on their interview.
We think it is extremely valuable for students to meet in person and would encourage you to seek out opportunities for students to meet by collaborating with study abroad trips from other universities in any English-speaking country. However, if this is not possible, you can use Skype or some other online communication system for the interviews.
This cultural exchange demonstrates to students that they can successfully communicate and exchange similar interests despite language barriers. Interviewing can be good practice for both sets of students to build more confidence in their cross-cultural communication abilities.  Students can become aware of how to use different communication skills to get their message across. Although the students’ prior level of experience communicating across cultures might vary widely, all students can enjoy the experience.
Many universities in Japan, the United States, and elsewhere have formal or informal relationships with institutions in other countries, and this activity is an easy way to capitalize on those relationships (or to forge new ones). Moreover, it can sometimes be difficult for short-term study abroad programs to incorporate meaningful cultural interactions due to limited time. This activity provides a structured way to ensure that short-term study abroad students can benefit from these interactions, in addition to visiting cultural sites and other relatively passive experiences. Japanese students can gain structured experience communicating with native English speakers in a way that ensures reflection.
The appendices are available below

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