Community Across the Pond

As much as I’ve low-key bragged to childhood friends about having an aunt who lives in England, my trips to England have been less glamorous than I would have made them out to be to friends.

While I’ve been able to do fun things during my two trips (see the Roman Baths, tour the Globe, etc.), I’ve always felt out of place doing these things. This is probably due in part to my anxiety, but being an American in a European setting can be quite off-putting, even without a language barrier. Over my most recent trip (as sixth grade Rachel apparently had no qualms about wearing Crocs to visit Windsor Palace) I’d find myself questioning how I was dressed, how I sounded, if I gave off a tourist vibe.

At the Roman Baths, taking an incredibly tourist-y photo
My family (my aunt, uncle, and cousin) in England have been instrumental in helping me feel more at place when visiting, but they wouldn’t be the only people who could contribute to putting me more at ease in a foreign country. The following would definitely help me to feel welcomed into this new culture:

  • Don’t comment on my accent
  • Depending on the situation, ask where I’m from or don’t ask me where I’m from
  • Lead me (through train stations, through the city, etc.) by example
  • Talk to me (pretty simple, but include me in conversations)
  • Give me advice (e.g., my aunt telling me what kind of purse I should use in the city)
  • Don’t call attention to my mistakes
  • Compliment me (e.g., my aunt telling me that she liked my dress)
  • Include me in activities
Some of these apply to family situations more than they apply to general situations in public, or vice versa, but a number of these can be flipped easily to make me feel excluded/like more of an outsider:

  • Comment on my accent
  • Depending on the situation, ask where I’m from or don’t ask me where I’m from
  • Leave me to my own devices
  • Don’t bother to include me in conversations
  • Let me make mistakes without support
  • Call attention to my mistakes
  • Criticize me
  • Don’t bother to include me in activities
When applying these lists to the classroom (which just made me realize how worried I was about grades as a student during my most recent trip to England, as I got an email saying a big midterm project had been graded and couldn’t sleep well for my last few days because I was too scared to check my grade), it’s important to remember that the items on these lists are not just applicable for international students. I may have made the lists as an international traveller, but these can apply to students from the U.S. as well.

My brother and (British) uncle — a tourist-y photo, but everyone was definitely included!
I think one of the easiest ways to attempt to address these lists and to make a welcoming environment for students is to work towards building a sense of community in the classroom. This is especially important when considering group work, and making sure that everyone is included in what their group is doing (the opposite of which I saw in the Writing Center the other day, and something that I’ve seen in my mentor’s 103 class), but it’s also important for me as an instructor.

Community is not just about group work, but it’s also about caring for what community members are doing and being supportive. I like to think of Reacting Out Loud as a kind of example for what I mean by creating a sense of community—it’s about uplifting, and while errors do have to be called out in the classroom, the way that we do so doesn’t have to be negative. We can acknowledge ways of thinking and other positives before we offer suggestions for how to deal with mistakes. By doing so, students can feel like what they can offer to the class is valid, that they do have something to offer.

Creating a community and making students feel welcome isn’t always going to be an easy task, but it’s certainly one that’s worth doing, especially for students who might already feel like outsiders (e.g., international students, students with mental health issues, etc.).

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