If Stanford is affectionately known as the “Farm”, the University of Sydney might earn a reputation as “Hogwarts”. Our bizarre gargoyles – think vampire kangaroos – have kept watch over the main quadrangle since 1850, though most teaching today takes place in newer buildings.
Sydney has about 50,000 students from 130 different countries. The students participating in the linkup with Stanford are enrolled in an introductory rhetoric and writing course with the Writing Hub (a new writing “center”, modeled on the Hume Writing Center, though much smaller at the moment). Our course – WRIT1001 – has about 400 students in it this semester, all busily working on their final short essay (1500 words) on a research topic of their own choosing.
To prepare for the linkup we’ve been using our course discussion board to discuss the cultural background of our cohort, the general educational values of Australian higher education, possible barriers to Sydney-Stanford communication and Australian-American similarities that might make crosscultural communication easier.
Here’s a list of some of the ‘cultural artifacts’ our students will bring in for the linkups:
- Digital camera
- Quran (Islamic religious text)
- Jeff Buckley’s Grace (CD)
- Woomera (Indigenous Australian tool)
- French cookbook
- Country Australian cookbook
- Chinese jade necklaces with zodiac symbols, Buddhist symbols and general symbols
- JK Rowling’s Harry Potter (Book)
- USB adapter
You can probably tell we’re a diverse lot (a ‘weird mob’ as a classic Aussie film title claims). Despite this, some general themes emerged as students described the importance of these artifacts. In no particular order, here’s a list of the values that these artifacts represent for students:
- home (either a childhood house, a different country or a feeling)
- history (British, Chinese, Indigenous, Philippine)
We also discussed the values of Australian universities. The result was almost unanimous: we value individual responsibility. Here’s how our students described learning at Sydney and what it suggests about educational values:
As part of my study at Sydney university, it is up to me to be on top of my subjects, whether it be attending lectures, tutorials or completing assessments. I think this is an important Australian educational value as it allows us as individuals to be in control over our own education. What we put into our education is what we will achieve at the end.
Compared to France, in Australia you have to do your readings each week and with these readings you build your own vision of the unit of study. The teacher can even seem unuseful. I think that this way of learning shows the importance of self reflection and the way individuals build knowledge in Australian education.
I think Australia needs to totally embrace education and post-university research. What is the point of these wonderful brains if they spend their time begging for grants and going offshore? We should acknowledge the “brains” behind our society. Where’s the ticker-tape parade for Scientist’s making lifesaving breakthrough?
Something I do as part of the University of Sydney is learn to do everything by myself and not be pushed by anyone to learn; rather, learning is something you want and need to achieve on your own. I think Australian Education gives everyone a free choice and chance to make it on their own!
Finally, each student was asked to predict several challenges to crosscultural communication and several similarities between Stanford and Sydney students that might make crosscultual communication easier. Here is a list of the similarities between our cultures that we think will make communication easier:
- We speak the same language (80% of responses mentioned this…)
- We attend similar universities in similar education systems (50% of responses mentioned this)
- Information (news, opinions, popular culture etc) is easily shared via the internet, so we have a lot of shared experiences
- We’re all studying a course on rhetoric and writing
- We have some shared values (eg, freedom of speech, free thinking, originality)
- “Common interests (beer, music, beer…)” [note – I don’t endorse this one, especially given that some Stanford students may be under the legal drinking age…]
- Love of sport
Yet, contradictions started to emerge as we discussed the challenges to crosscultural communication. Here is a list of some of the potential barriers to Stanford-Sydney crosscultural communication:
- Slang/jargon might be hard to follow (80% of responses mentioned this)
- Accents might be hard to understand (70% of responses mentioned this)
- We have different educational values (styles of argument, analysis, etc)
- We have different general values (role of the media, style of government, etc)
- Our knowledge of each other is based on stereotypes
- We might have very different opinions about war in the Middle East
- Australians speak too quickly
- Students who don’t speak English as their first language might be disadvantaged
- Americans have enough national media that they might not be aware of major events in smaller nations like Australia
- We’re strangers trying to get to know each other in a limited time in a limited (online) space
It will be interesting to see how accurate our predictions are. We’re guessing some will be ‘spot-on’ (a nice Australianism) and some will be off track (Stanford students love their ‘track and field’, but ‘off track’ is probably not a Stanfordism).
While we’re answering the questions on your blog, here’s some questions we have for you:
What sort of high school did you go to? Do many of your high school friends go to Stanford?
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever heard about Australia or Australians?
Do you guys really go on ‘spring break’ or to ‘frat parties’ (these are just movie scenes to us)? If so, what happens there?
What’s it like living on campus? How do you get your study done? Do you ever go out in the nearest city?
Thanks for reading. We’ll see you online soon.