The Problem With “Teaching Like You Do in America” While Abroad

What are the limits to globalization? Does it apply to the university systems of the world, or is one university system just about the same as every other?

My experience is that at least for sociology, it is not “always just the same. I have taught abroad in Tanzania and Germany, and in each place, I ran up against different cultural expectations about what a university education involves. Recently, Palgrave Communications published my article explaining why it is in fact difficult to teach abroad. The paper is open-access, and can be read here. Here is a brief excerpt from the introduction and conclusion respectively:

…after 20 years of trying to teach internationally, I find that despite policies supporting internationalization and inter-disciplinary efforts it is in fact exceedingly difficult to teach across borders, a result of deeply embedded national disciplinary habits. Fans of globalization try to pretend this does not exist, and that sociology, chemistry, literature, business and engineering are taught the same way everywhere in the world, which is why I was told in Tanzania and Germany that I should just teach sociology “like you do in America—it’s all the same”. But in fact when I did teach like I do in the United States, I inevitably bumped into local academic cultures that see the university differently. This happened repeatedly in Tanzania and Germany where I taught for 1 and 2 years, respectively, and even during a brief but cold week in December 2010 when I taught in a Chinese “social science” classroom in Linyi, Shandong Province, where the students wore parkas in poorly heated classrooms…..



….What can Tanzanian and German universities teach universities in the United States? I think that the American Ivy League, gold standard or not, needs a deeper appreciation of the human condition, which is found in the vibrant but cash-strapped UDSM, the intensely inter-disciplinary approach of German Cultural Sciences and Bildung. I am not particularly a fan of violently shutting down universities a la the student strike at UDSM, but I do sometimes wish that the careerism of American students would be tempered by at least a little bit of the social awareness that my … UDSM students had.




Waters, Tony (2015). “’Teach Like You Do in America’ Personal Refelctions from Teaching Across Borders in Tanzania and Germany.” Palgrave Communications.