Cultural differences
Ways to overcome cultural differences in school. Source: Shutterstock

An international setting, whether at school, university, work or even on a national level, is bound to have its challenges due to the vast range of cultural differences.

When different cultures collide, it can be difficult to adjust or even be heard if there’s also a language barrier. For international schools or schools with a diverse student population, this can serve as a big challenge when students come from all corners of the globe.

Young children can find it hard to assimilate or communicate with their peers, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and despair, affecting their mental health and leaving scars that could last into adulthood.

At such a young age, school children are not always mature enough to address their own cultural identity or know how to deal with cultural differences.

One primary school in Singapore, Farrer Park Primary, is setting the right example when it comes to overcoming cultural differences within its student population.

Here are two ways the school is bridging cultural gaps and ensuring that students feel safe in a welcoming environment.

Offering English language support

Besides English classes – which may not be ideal for everyone’s individual levels of fluency – international schools should offer more personalised support to those who can’t speak English well so they can catch up with their peers.

At Farrer Park Primary, seven-year-old Wu Chaorui, who recently came to Singapore to join her immigrant family after staying with her grandmother for the past few years, is finding it hard to adjust because she doesn’t speak fluent English, according to Channel News Asia.

Vice Principal Wendy Lee said that international students who come from non-English speaking countries find this to be the most difficult hurdle.

“This is a challenge for them especially in the classroom because they may not be able to understand the teachers.”

As Channel News Asia reported, “The school has programmes for students, both local and international, who may need extra help in English. Chaorui, for example, is involved in an after-school learning programme, and she attends the Learning Support Programme (LSP) for those with weak reading skills while her classmates have their regular English lessons.

“But help is also available from their peers. The school has a care buddy programme where students are appointed to look out for and befriend the newcomers. This, according to Wendy, works better than having a teacher do so instead.”

Fostering an inclusive environment to overcome cultural differences

At this school, differences are accepted and celebrated. Students are taught how to see past cultural and racial differences, leading to intercultural friendships and strong bonds.

This isn’t done by repeatedly telling children they need to be accepting of other cultures or by forcing them to do so, though teachers are on-hand to provide support if need be.

Here, intercultural friendships and acceptance are organically and naturally formed due to the exposure to different cultures from an early age.

Wendy said, “I think it helps them a lot. It really increases their global awareness, and cross-cultural skills are developed from their interactions with the international students.”

This exposure makes it easier for students to reach out to newcomers, making them feel more accepted despite their differences.

For example, one outgoing student named Idris – who overcame language barriers himself and learned English before he came to the school in standard two – made it a point to make fellow classmate Phone from Myanmar feel welcome on his first day.

According to Channel News Asia, “When Phone, his classmate from Myanmar, joined the school in Primary 4, Idris brought the quiet, bashful boy to the basketball court on his very first day.”

Idris said, “I thought he was one of those guys that never talks, and I was like…it’s okay, let’s just bring him along and we’ll play with him.”

Recalling the incident, Phone said, “I didn’t know how to play basketball…but then we just played. And we became friends.”

Channel News Asia reported, “Idris is all for making people feel included. When he ran for elections and was voted head prefect by the student body, one of the things he promoted was a bully-free culture.

“He thinks there could be more awareness among students of how some comments or casual jokes can come across as insensitive. “Everybody is human, right? This” he added, pointing to his heart, “is what matters.”

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