Culture and Communication in a Postgraduate Hospitality Program

Article excerpt

Abstract

Given the international focus and people orientation of the hospitality industry, communication and cross-cultural skills are complementary to technical and content-based skills for hospitality employees. This paper refers to a project that aimed to integrate the teaching of communication and cross-cultural skills into a postgraduate hospitality subject for students from culturally-diverse backgrounds. The approach focused on the strong role of dialogue, which further allowed for the development of a learning environment that valued student experience and contributions. Communication issues that emerged during the project had the capacity to influence the shared understanding of academic culture. Despite lecturers being explicit about expectations and about the nature of academic culture, the project demonstrated that other misunderstandings or miscommunications can occur. The best results occurred when opportunities for clarification and discussion were built into teaching sessions.

Keywords: Culture, Communication, Hospitality and Tourist Education, Postgraduate Education

Introduction

Postgraduate students, particularly international postgraduate students, face challenges coping with the culture, communication style and the expectations of university. Many academic staff sometimes find it challenging to work with students from diverse cultural backgrounds, given the extra care necessary to minimise the risk of miscommunication. In courses that are attractive to international students, such as hospitality degrees, these issues assume greater significance. Australian hospitality teachers are required to consider adjusting their learning expectations, teaching style and assessment for cohorts of international students. They also have the opportunity to explore the rich and diverse experiences of student populations: experiences can often relevant in discussing cross-cultural perspectives, particularly at postgraduate level.

The postgraduate coursework program at the University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury, has proved popular with international students since its inception in 1997 and the university is keen to continue this trend. Whilst universities acknowledge that international students provide important income to their institutions, often little attention is given to the types of learning experiences offered to international students. Given that most postgraduate students are older than undergraduate students, they come with a variety of study backgrounds and work experiences. This paper reports on efforts to develop a postgraduate subject that encompassed the international nature of the student group, provided a learning environment that was student-centred and one that offered opportunities for relevant and specific skills to be developed. These skills are identified through the literature pertaining to the hospitality industry and to higher education. Although the content of the subject is initially described to set the context, the purpose of this paper is not to discuss the content, but to examine how this subject, and in particular the teaching style, was changed to adapt to a different student group. The final part of the discussion looks at the dilemmas of miscommunication about academic work.

The Content of the Project

The project comprised the teaching of discipline specific information, as well as communication skills, through the elective `Seminar in social and cultural aspects of hospitality and tourism'. The teaching of this elective subject involved the collaboration of two lecturers: one a discipline-based specialist (hospitality and tourism) and the other a communication-skills and curriculum specialist. The subject explored the relationships between hosts, guests and service providers in hospitality and tourism areas. The aim of this subject was to contextualise students' operational knowledge and provide more breadth to their understanding of hospitality and tourism. …