Dealing with overseas classrooms and a cauldron of cultures

“With a smorgasbord of cultures, the task of teaching a room of students from around the world requires extra steps”

Teaching the next generation can be a tricky proposition in any situation, no two students are exactly alike and techniques that work well in one classroom may fall flat in another.

For the most part, though, you know roughly what you’re trying to achieve and have designed a roadmap to reach the end. But what about truly diverse classrooms?  Travelling around the world as an international educator is immensely rewarding but also presents unique challenges, how exactly should you deal with a classroom in a different country containing a mix of students?


Making the decision to work abroad in education usually indicates security in your skills as a teacher and an ability to adapt to unfamiliar territory, yet with the freedom of movement enjoyed by those in Europe and a continued increase in refugees seeking a safer life for their families, these skills are being stretched thin. With a smorgasbord of cultures, nationalities, religions, and societal backgrounds, the task of teaching a room of students from around the world requires extra steps to ensure no-one is left behind, insulted, or feels unwelcome.

The core skill set required whilst teaching abroad isn’t all that different from a home school with mostly single culture students, but there are a number of cultural differences to be aware of and consider while delivering lessons. Attitudes and behaviours that are commonly accepted by classrooms in the UK and Western Europe are not always shared by schools over in Asia for example.

“Even as the teacher you may find some students are unwilling to question your point of view”

Take Japan, where students typically avoid putting their hands up to answer due to the group culture in the country leading to individuals wishing to avoid being singled out. If you are dealing with students from this background, consider alternative ways of including them in class discussions such as picking names out of a hat, or creating groups and selecting a ‘team leader’ to present their answers to the class. This removes the stigma of choosing to single themselves out by removing the individual action of raising a hand.

Certain cultures place much more emphasis on the seniority of individuals within society than others. Generally speaking older generations tend to receive more respect from those younger, some societies take this even further to the point where younger students feel they can’t correct or interrupt those older than them. This could cause issues within a classroom if there are students who are older but fallen behind in their education.

Even as the teacher you may find some students are unwilling to question your point of view, in this instance it’s vital that you convey a safe space free from their societal backgrounds in order to ensure they are comfortable with the subject matters being delivered.

Adapting to new surroundings is hard, especially when you’re young, so however tough you find it dealing with the classroom always remember that those within it coming from outside the host nation are also in the midst of a huge change. With this comes insecurity and possibly the need for language lessons. Try to aid this transition by explaining longer English words which may cause confusion, offer opportunities for students to explain their backgrounds to the classroom in order to enable everyone to understand more about each other.

However, you adapt just remember, the collection of students you’re responsible for have also found themselves in your classroom away from their original surroundings. Being mindful of their cultural differences whilst welcoming them into a new one is vital to helping them be comfortable with themselves and those around them.

About the author: Stephen Spriggs is managing director of William Clarence Education, one of the UK’s leading educational consultancies assisting families around the world with a variety of services.