Culture Shock

As we welcome back our coworkers and see a return to normal operations, I thought this might be a good time to resume the blog on the Aboriginal Portal. With this in mind, I believe a word about Culture Shock would be both appropriate and timely as many of our students . particularly those from small, isolated Aboriginal communities . may now be coping with this as they attend classes.

Culture Shock Explained. Culture shock is being overwhelmed by a host of extreme life changes associated with choosing to study at College. The turmoil often begins with relocating themselves and their families to a larger, unfamiliar community, whether it is New Liskeard, Kirkland Lake, or Timmins. Sometimes arriving only 2]3 weeks ahead of classes, students may have underestimated how much time and energy is required to find suitable housing and to look after other important details like finding daycare for their children or enrolling their kids in school. Because students are living without the immediate support of parents, grandparents or other family members, they may be struggling to manage their lives even before classes begin. Finding a place to live, getting around town to do errands like groceries, and adjusting to life in a new community consume a large portion of each day’s mental capacity in those first few weeks. The anxiety and stress of this has probably already made students question their ability to be successful in school. Besides self doubt, many Aboriginal learners may experience a feeling of being lost, isolated, or disconnected from home. FACEBOOK helps; but this technology is not enough. In a student’s own community, familiar and welcoming faces are seen, greetings are swapped warmly and openly, and being well known and recognized went with the turf. Having left a secure environment behind for one that is faster paced, more demanding, and unacquainted, daily routines become more chaotic, stressful, and draining. Further exacerbating the student’s state of mind is dealing with financial hardship, perhaps for the first time. Living alone means that students have sole responsibility for paying
rent, arranging for utilities, buying food, and making ends meet on a budget. Dealing with these responsibilities can be new life experiences for students, so facing them intensifies already existing pressures and anxiety.

Now for the kicker: On top of all this personal upheaval, Aboriginal learners must face and adjust to the stringent demands of being a full]time student in college. As mentioned last year by Dr. Emily Faries, one of the challenges specific to students from Aboriginal communities is surviving college programs with weaker academic backgrounds. Because Aboriginal schools are funded differently than Ontario’s public schools, resources are limited. This means that high schools must make choices about what they offer. These choices leave gaps in skills and abilities of our students, even those who have graduated from grade 12. As students enter our institution with weaker academic backgrounds, they struggle with formal classroom instruction, feel discouraged by having to catch]up, and run into trouble with assignment completion, attendance, and strict time frames. Taken together, is it really a wonder why certain Aboriginal learners struggle early and fade away by semester’s end? True, all students face tough adjustments while studying at college; however, for many Aboriginal students, these adjustments are so problematic and wide]ranging that most have need of support to successfully make the transition to post secondary education.

So, What Can We Do To Support Our Aboriginal Students?
In support of our Aboriginal learners as they cope with college and outside pressures, here are some tools and tactics that can make all the difference between success and attrition. The information shared will likely provide you with valuable insight in getting to know these students.

Ask questions about relocating and the changes they have experienced
. How long have you been in town?
. Did you have difficulty finding a place to live?
. Is this the first time that you have lived on your own?
. What adjustments have you found most difficult?
. What do you miss the most about back home?
. Have you figured out the bus system yet? Do you have a vehicle?
. Are you surprised by the cheaper grocery prices?

Ask questions about family and support systems
. Did parents or grandparent come with you?
. Do you have children? How old are they?
. How are your children adjusting to life down here?
. What did you have to do to find daycare? School information?
. When will you be travelling back home for a visit?
. Is family coming anytime soon to see you?

Ask questions about their classes and college experience
. How are you finding my class?
. Is this course what you expected?
. What have you found most difficult about the first few weeks of school?
. Do any of your friends attend the same classes as you?

Tell students that they can do it and that you believe in them. Repeat this often
Tell students that they are being successful are doing it. Repeat this often
Make an offer to help, particularly in a one]to]one manner, but not in front of other classmates
Provide immediate feedback about work
Take advantage of chance meetings outside of class to ask how they are doing.
Understand that outside pressures may be impacting student success and these pressures have nothing to do with you or your teaching methods.

In conclusion and as singled-out last year, building a strong and supportive rapport with Aboriginal learners is crucial to their success. When students are struggling with culture shock and feeling overwhelmed, just surviving seems unlikely. As professors, we have a valuable chance to connect early and effectively with these students as they adjust to college life. Hopefully, using
some of these tactics will foster the personal growth demanded of our students as they strive to achieve their post secondary goals.