By Susan Pack, Training Manager, University of Pennsylvania
I often think about the developmental changes that occur when international students or workers come to the United States. What challenges do they face and what emotional obstacles are encountered? For those who come to work or study in the U.S., how do they transition into this western culture, while maintaining their own cultural identity?
When international scholars come to the U.S. their developmental changes continues. In turn their American counterparts need to build an awareness of cross-cultural differences, embrace change, and truly appreciate and understand the needs of a diverse workplace, as we all try to reach the same goal of exceptional research and animal care.
International postdoctoral students make up a significant portion of our biomedical research community in the U.S., it is logical that we need to better understand their needs, be respectful of their unique situations, and aid in their adjustment to this new U.S. biomedical research work environment. Important questions to consider include the following: How do members of this group fit into our American society and into the biomedical community? What are their struggles and how can we ultimately improve relationships between American and international researchers? How can we help in their transition and build strong relationships that will benefit all involved, including the research animals?
We need to find creative ways of improving communication, and look closely at this group of international biomedical researchers to determine communication difficulties. Are cultural differences being perceived as “rudeness” or “disrespect”? Ultimately, how does culture and language play a role in miscommunications that are taking place?
Other international groups working or studying in the U.S. have been studied rather intensely in regards to acculturation. These populations include groups such as international teaching assistants, international undergraduate students, international healthcare workers, and international medical graduates. Their struggles and patterns of acculturation are similar to those of the international postdoctoral groups working in the U.S. All groups above have struggles with language, as well as “fitting in” to the western culture. Many experience difficulty mastering the English language (especially “slang” language), as well as normal social “American” behavior. On top of that, consider the regulatory differences between countries, potential differences in medical/biomedical discourse, as well as differences in ethical considerations, especially when using animals in research. All of these factors can lead to miscommunication between international scholars and their American counterparts or service providers.
These are some general experiences, differences and difficulties that international postdoctoral students may encounter during their postdoctoral experience in the US. In addition, the findings of these other similar sample populations stress the need for more acculturation research.
Although there are many guides throughout the internet, supports from academic institutions hosting international postdoctoral students, and suggestions from reputable organizations (such as the National Postdoctoral Organization), there still needs to be guided support from American counterparts and most importantly an awareness of cultural differences and cultural needs. When working with foreign scholars, institutions must determine what struggles they face and then provide them with guidance and resources. We have the opportunity to assist these individuals in gaining a better understanding of their roles as researchers and understanding of cultural patterns in the U.S. that they might not otherwise be acclimated to. The goal of this article is to peak your interest in the topic of intercultural communication in the biomedical workplace, open your mind to cross-cultural differences, and hopefully allow you to improve relationships with international scholars you work with on a regular basis.