Discussion Activity:

Cultural Differences

J.A.N. Lee

Department of Computer Science

Virginia Tech

Blacksburg VA 24061-0106

Target Audience: Undergraduate students in general

Topic Area: Personal Relationships

Activity: Scenario and Discussion

Knowledge/Skills/Attitudes to be developed (behavioral objectives): A larger number of our students in computer science classes are from a foreign country. As we find that our industrial needs for staffing are not being met by graduates from our own country so the number of colleagues in business will be non-citizens. Tolerance of different approaches to life is an important part of professionalism.

Goals for the Activity: This exercise is to sensitize students to the need for tolerance in dealing with people from different cultures and to understand that stereotyping and innuendo can lead to misconceptions that betray a certain degree of xenophobia.

Abstract: A series of e-mail messages are presented that were "exchanged" between a foreign student in a computer science class and one of his American colleagues. The unfortunate response of the American student leads us to ask a series of questions about the interchange, how this could have been prevented, and what training could have provided to assist both students to be more tolerant of each other's backgrounds.

Background/Materials needed to complete assignment: Very little.

Procedure: The participants should read over the scenario, answer the questions on the worksheet, and then indulge in a class discussion of the events and recommendations for solution. At the end of the class each student would complete the last part of the worksheet giving their final suggestions.

Time required: One hour. The scenario is comparatively short; the worksheet can be completed in a few minutes; the discussion can then take the remainder of the class time.

Assessment outcomes: The worksheet is a primary vehicle for assessing student's attitudes towards this scenario before and after the open discussion.

References: (not yet determined)

Author contact information:

J.A.N. Lee, Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg VA 24061-0106; Ph: (540) 231-5780; FAX: (540) 231-6075; E-mail: janlee@cs.vt.edu; URL: http://courses.cs.vt.edu/~janlee.

Additional Remarks: None.

Date: Thursday, October 29, 1998

The Scenario:

As part of the "Professionalism in Computing" class, each student is asked to make a 5-minute presentation on a topic of their choice. Student A ( a foreign student) in this scenario choose to talk about his home country and his hope to learn more about the country in which he now lived. Following the presentation Student B in a private conversation expressed some interest in the talk and his sympathy with the need to understand the cultural nuances of the country in which one lives. Following the in-class session Student A sent the following e-mail message to Student B:

"How are you? I hope you are doing fine. I am pretty sure that you are not expecting this e-mail and I am finding it quite awkward sending it in the first place. You are probably wondering who I am, well I am in your Professionalism in Computing Class.

The reason I am sending you this e-mail is because I am intrigued by your character, especially for someone in CS. You carry yourself quite maturely, and unfortunately, I find that very hard to come across in people our age or people who are CS. As you are already aware, I am an international student, and have different perspectives at looking at things. I definitely enjoy making new friends.

I by no means intend to offend you or any of that sort. I sincerely look forward in inviting you for dinner, coffee or whatever you chose. This is a friendly gesture in our culture. As you might remember about some of the points I pointed out in my presentation. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable, by all means decline the invitation. I am very aware that things are done differently in the American culture, so I leave the choice totally up to you."

Getting no reply after a week (even though they did see each other in class), Student A sent a second message:

" While browsing through my agenda I realized that I hadn't specified a date and time for my invitation. So how does Saturday for lunch at Applebees around 2:00 pm sound? If you have a better suggestion, I am open... even if its in Roanoke...

Please let me know if you can make it either in class, or via e-mail. If you intend to decline the invitation, please let me know. I appreciate it.

PS. I do hope that this is the correct e-mail address."

Worksheet Part I:

  1. Without going any further in this exercise, draft your response as if you were Student B.

  2. What are the primary characteristics of the two stakeholders in this scenario?

  3. After reading Student A's first e-mail would you suggest any changes to his message?

  4. If so what would you suggest? Is it grammar or style?

  5. Has Student A misuse any "community standards" in his communication and suggestions?

  6. If so, state the standards and how they are applied.

  7. The Scenario Continued:

    The quick response from Student B was:

    "What is this a damn joke or something? You must be psycho or gay. Apparently you don't have a clue how life works here. People here don't try to solicite (sic) friends using email, and I sure as hell don't want to have anything to do with you. Obviously you didn't get the hint when I didn't reply to your first message or recognize your existence. Do not email me and do not talk to me in class, I don't even want to know you're alive, I want nothing to do with you. Get a life..."

    Worksheet Part II:

Last updated 98/10/29
© J.A.N. Lee, 1998.