Identity and Intellectual Performance – Perspective of a Foreigner Student

For my Contemporary Pedagogy class we were assigned a few reading assignments and the “How stereotypes affects us and what we can do” article by Dr. Steele really caught my attention. In this article, Dr. Steele narrates the experiences he had during his career as a professor and researcher in human psychology, and how these experiences led him to understand how social pressure and stereotypes result in lower performance of minority groups, such as black students, women and latinos.

I am originally from Brazil, and it was as soon as I joined Virginia Tech that I realized that the cultural struggle required to belong posed a great challenge. In other words, I realized that, in order to be accepted by my peers, I couldn’t behave the same way I used to in Brazil. In essence, jokes that are funny in Brazil don’t necessarily are funny in the U.S. (and vice versa), people don’t greet each other with hugs, and more specifically, people seem to welcome you as a colleague, but are skeptical on having you as a friend.

In the article, Dr. Steele states that minorities tend to agglomerate themselves with people belonging to their own identity, and I believe this is in result of the cultural distance posed in the environment. Or, at least, that’s what happened in my case. Feeling distant from belonging in the States, I sought to find others of my kind, where I could behave like myself and feel like I belong, however the need to adapt to the new culture in order to belong outside of my cultural niche was still something very important. I therefore, make the daily effort to adapt to the American culture, since I believe it’s my responsibility to adapt to the culture rather than having people around me to adapt to my costumes (I’m the fish out of the water afterwards, so I might as well learn how to walk rather than insist on swimming).

I’m obligated to say that I never felt discriminated due to my nationality, but Virginia Tech does a great job on spreading diversity on campus and I’m thankful for being in such an inclusive campus. I do however, sometimes feel that preconception is present in a way to stereotype some academic performance, but rather than feeling stigmatized (as the article states being the reason of underperformance in some groups), I use this preconception as motivation to do an outstanding job. It is sometimes in our hands, to show what we’re capable of.

6 Replies to “Identity and Intellectual Performance – Perspective of a Foreigner Student”

  1. As a student from Brazil, are there any things that your professors in the US have done to make you feel especially included and accepted within their class? I am just wondering what we can do as instructors who will likely have people from many different cultural backgrounds, and I would love to hear your thoughts (:

    1. Not really! I feel like sometimes special treatment can be offensive depending on the person. I’d just make sure they’re heard and able to participate like the others. Understanding that different accents and lack of vocabulary may make conversation difficult but to also acknowledge the effort and make sure the other students are the same way may be a good strategy 🙂

  2. Very well said. As teachers, we should be very careful when we notice students grouping by cultural differences. Sometimes this is where students feel most comfortable and can focus on their work, but other times it can develop into a segregation within the class. This can reduce communication within the class and therefore understanding.

    1. Agreed. But also, sometimes we need to encourage students to work well with others because that’s what’s required in their field of work (industry). It’s a fine line to try to encompass both worlds.

  3. Thanks for including your perspective as an international student, to this conversation of inclusive pedagogy. As a non-international minority student, I often see the struggles of assimilating not into American culture, but into white affluent American culture. I struggle like a fish out of water and I have felt the struggle of making real friends here, and defaulted to my “kind”. I personally wish that I would be more intentional at connecting with international students because we share a lot of these same issues of being conscious about stereotypes and assimilating. I am grateful that you have found a place for you here at Tech.

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