International Student Participation in a Mainstream Composition Course: Opportunities and Challenges

International Student Participation in a Mainstream Composition Course: Opportunities and Challenges

Tony Cimasko and Dong-shin Shin

Opportunities created and denied by domestic students

Despite limited data on the role of domestic students in the class, it became evident that their large majority would be a strong influence on the patterns of participation. When the class was observed, there were virtually no interactions between the international and domestic students, except for the attempt by an international student to join a domestic group mentioned in the “Opportunities created and denied by international students” section. The response by the domestic student who responded to Pine was to tersely inform her that the group had enough members (four) and could not accommodate more, despite the fact that another domestic group had already reached five members. Pine and Elise were in agreement that these patterns were not new developments in this WRIT 102 class but were already in place by the start of the semester. The instructor periodically picked up on an idea from Pine or another international student—as she did during a conversation on the relationship between the protagonists in 1984—and on ideas from domestic students, briefly sustaining their ideas during the conversation. Although the comments given by the domestic students were almost always not immediately built upon by other domestic students, three points that were brought up by the domestic students (two on the role of televisions and computers in homes and offices, and one on twisting language for propaganda) were independently picked up several conversational turns later by others (without acknowledging the original speaker). The same kind of delayed connecting and evolving of comments was not observed with the contributions of their international classmates.

Based on her extracurricular experiences, Pine did not expect any of her domestic counterparts to reach out. Elise was more hopeful earlier in the semester, but she was dejected by the outcomes later in the semester. “As much as I loathe to manipulate students into artificial groups,” she stated, “I’m starting to believe that conscious efforts have to be made to get these guys together.” Considering her options for future semesters and expecting even more international students, she added that the culturally, linguistically, and racially monolithic backgrounds from which many students come make these encounters difficult to facilitate in the absence of conscious, active intervention. She commented, “I’m going to have to find ways to productively and respectfully mix these groups, without making it look like that’s my intention and without shining the light on the international students.”

Fig. 4. In Pine's view, more interactions with domestic students—especially in peer review sessions—would be far more useful to her than working with fellow international students. Click here for transcript.

Like international students, domestic students can benefit tremendously from a conscious and active effort on the part of the instructor to bring them into meaningful interactions with their international counterparts. It could be argued that such efforts would be even more vital for some in the domestic population, for students who are not in a foreign environment and are not learning in a foreign language, and thus may not have made the kind of commitment to cross-cultural communication that international students have done by virtue of studying abroad.

Although contact with domestic students in this study was limited, it does suggest a few interesting research and pedagogy questions:

  • To what degree did the domestic students experience diversity (linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, racial diversity, and other varieties) before enrolling in WRIT 102? How did those experiences shape their practices in WRIT 102?
  • How would these domestic students—generally raised in culturally homogeneous towns in the United States—be compared with those from other regions of the country?
  • How would a similar domestic-student group operate in a classroom with more international students, or with fewer?
  • If an instructor artificially creates mixed domestic/international student groups initially, will domestic students become more willing to interact over time?

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