Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cross-Cultural Office Hours

I've been holding loads of appointments this week because my students are turning in an essay, and they need some extra help. I pass out an appointment sheet with 6+ slots per day (with a break here and there to keep myself from getting overwhelmed and to make students not wait too long if I get a bit behind). As in my US classes, I make sure there are more slots than students, and pass around the sheet so that students can sign up for a time that's convenient for them. As a result, I've noticed some things.

1) More of my students from this class miss appointments than in past classes. I'm not sure why, but it may have to do with students living futher from campus than US students, and so having more of a commute. Or it may have to do with different expectations about office hours. (I'm not sure how much of a tradition the office hour appointment is at this or other universities here.) Or I may not have communicated my expectations as well as I usually do. Or...

I try not to take missed appointments personally, because usually the student has overslept or forgotten something else s/he had to do, but it's still less than ideal to be sitting in the office waiting when I could be outside in the sunshine. And the number of people who've missed appointments has contributed to problem number 2.

2) I share an office here, and the officemate who's cubby is nearest the door likes to keep the door shut. When I'm alone, I keep it open, but from the door (which has a window), it's hard to see that I'm in because of the cubby dividers. And for some reason, a fair number of students here will stand outside the door and wait, rather than knocking to see if I'm in or not. And because students miss, I don't think to go outside and check to see if someone's hanging out in the hallway (which I can't see from behind the divider).

One thing that isn't different: a lot of students don't quite know how to get up and leave, or they seem to feel awkward. This is true in the US, too. Sometimes I feel like I'm sounding a little blunt, and I don't mean to, but I find I have to signal fairly strongly that our time is up once we're done. (I'm not talking about when a student has lots to say and we're doing useful work, but when we've done our work and the student doesn't have more to say but doesn't quite have a sense of how to leave.) (Some students, of course, have more social grace in their smallest toe than I ever will in toto.)

Final conclusion: most of my students are going to do sigificantly better on this essay than on the first. They're pushing development further, for the most part, and writing more full papers. I hope this means I've actually taught them something!


  1. Why is it? Why don't they sense that we're done? I have seriously just stared at some of them while they seemingly will their backpacks onto their shoulders just by staring at it. It's a very weird element of my advising/conferencing life and I'm really not sure how to say "goodbye now." Even if I say, "Is there anything else I can do for you?" they just shake their heads and say "no not really," and keep sitting.

  2. Anonymous11:09 AM

    My East Asian students here at home do the same thing. They're waiting to be dismissed--it would be rude for them to end the meeting, since they're lower status than the professor. Just ask them if there is anything else and, when they say "no," stand up and make like you're going to show them the door. It's nice to thank them for coming in, also, even though you're (in theory) the one doing them the favor. That also tells them that the meeting is over and gives them an opportunity to thank you back.

    Have you mastered the miniscule bow? This is a good occasion to use it (but in response to what should be a larger bow from them).

  3. Nik, I think Richard's onto something!

    Richard, thank you! I'll try standing up; I think you're right that they're waiting for me to "show them out" because that's what happens in most contexts, so it would be right!

    I haven't mastered the miniscule bow. My bow depth is nearly always a bit off, I think. But, fortunately, most people seem forgiving about my miscues!

    Thanks! Great idea!

  4. Ah, this reminds me all too vividly of my students' response to office hours in Fukuoka. The 21st C kids practically lived in the building my office was in, and they had gotten to know me a little outside class as well as in. But they still had no problem missing office hours. The one time I was late to an appointment (due to commuting and family issues), it sparked a big discussion among a few of the students about cultural norms and how it must be ok for professors in the U.S. to prioritize family over work at times. I was outraged at the time, as some of the same people who missed an appointment without an apology participated in the conversation, but hid it pretty well. In retrospect, I guess it shows how important work is in Japan!