Taking Notes: Eye on Education – Foreign Students and Academic Culture

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact voice@ausu.org, attn: Debbie Jabbour


Edmonton’s NorQuest College is now offering a five-month class for international students. The program teaches the academic culture of Canadian universities and colleges. The program was created after NorQuest researchers tracked international students transferring into other programs and other colleges. The researchers discovered that, although these students had good academic and language skills, they had difficulties adjusting because they did not understand the subtleties of the Canadian academic culture.

International students are often from countries such as China and Belarus. Many of the students are foreign-trained engineers, teachers, nurses, biochemists and doctors who are seeking the necessary post-secondary training to practice in Canada. The NorQuest College program teaches some of the unspoken academic rules, like “how to work in groups without pointing fingers at the slackers or taking credit for certain key components” (Sinnema, 2005). In some countries, students are not accustomed to taking notes and the concepts of group work, class presentations and expressing one’s own opinion, may be unacceptable in a university culture that values memorization without question. According to the course instructors, some academic cultures even sanction copying text from the Internet verbatim without proper citations, considering this a good sign of research (Ibid.), rather than plagiarism.

With increasing globalization of education, all universities are facing challenges in helping students adapt to our academic culture. Courses such as NorQuest College’s program, if designed with cultural sensitivity, can go a long way towards promoting the success of foreign students.

Sinnema, J. (2005, May 20). Foreign students learn academic culture. Edmonton Journal. Retrieved on May 23, 2005, from http://www.canada.com/edmonton/edmontonjournal/news/cityplus_alberta/story.html?id=d62bc30f-6d0e-473d-82a8-d503ed5a35a3
Norquest College (2005). International Programs [web site]. Retrieved on May 23, 2005, from http://www.international.norquest.ca

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