Cultural Dilemma

Once in college it becomes evident to those pursuing the liberal arts that culture is the reason for nearly everything. This may come to a shock to those individuals who have not explored the limitless, boundless, and all-encompassing entity that is culture but nevertheless, culture is everywhere. Not only does culture influence each and every individual it also effects the relationships we become entangled in. Whether those relationships be friendships, partnerships, or the tutor/student relationship all are effected by culture. Muriel Harris’s essay “Cultural Conflicts in the Writing Center: Expectations and Assumptions of ESL Students” can be used to better understand the cultural disparity for ESL students and their tutors. While reading this essay, although I have never worked with an ESL student, reminded me of the assumptions that are brought to the table both by tutors and students. These assumptions can be helpful to speed up the process of tutoring but only if they are assumed by both parties: the student and the tutor. These assumptions, however, can also be detrimental to the learning process if they are not shared. Harris uses a great example to explain this disparity, “When the tutor asks, ‘What is the connection between these two sentences? and the polite student waits for the tutor to answer the question, the two parties are acting out assumptions and expectations from very different worlds” (Harris 212). After reading this quote I thought about the relevance it has to student tutor relationships. I can personally attest to the fact that even though I do not have ESL students, when I ask my students these types of questions I expect a response and I get aggetated when I recieve a blank stare and a nod instead.

After reading Harris’s piece I am now better able to understand why I feel the way I do as I am tutoring. Each relationship I have with my student is very different from one another; each one has a culture of its’ own. Some students are amicable and easy to talk to while others are shy and embarrassed by the mere sound of my voice it seems. I have also noticed the disparity between tutoring males and females. While females will nod and seem entirely understanding my male students seem to either stare at me with void facial expressions or are not afraid to ask, sometimes in an accusatory tone, why I am saying what I am saying. Although this does not hold true for every student I have it seems as though the female students I have are more likely to pretend I know what I am talking about while the males are more up front with me. I have been making this observation for sometime but while reading Harris’s piece it become evidently clear that even ESL tutors have to deal with this disparity along with the disparity of culture. Not only do ESL tutors have to deal with these types of differences but they also have to deal with the cultural disparity. Cultural disparity in a writing center is not only challenging but it demands a certain type of tutor. Tutors who can sympathize and understand the vast nature of culture are the ones who are best suited to tutor ESL students. As Harris says, “It is out responsibility to be sensitive to their discomfort and to help them restore their sense of self-worth as they go through this process” (Harris 214). This holds true to tutors of non-ESL students as well. No matter how challenging it is to adapt to the different cultural setting of each student tutor relationship that is the art of tutoring: the ability to adapt to assist the student.

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