Book by Myra Schulman
Review by Janis Albright
Student Success Advisor,
University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME

Imagine an advising session where a student says that he feels discriminated against by his professor because of his religious beliefs, or one where an advisee is ready to quit school and return to her country because she feels she can not adjust to U.S. culture. These are only two of the scenarios presented in Cultures in Contrast, a book mainly to help international students improve their intercultural communication skills and boost linguistic competence. 

Through twelve units, students analyze and evaluate their own cultures and compare them with US culture on college campuses. The chapters present various social and moral issues that students may face and include activities designed to help students develop problem solving and coping skills while honoring their own traditions. Major activities include case study readings, comprehension questions, conversations, new vocabulary, and role playing.

The chapters on selected topics will help advisors rethink controversial issues that both international and U.S. students may share during advising conversations. For example, in the chapter Group Learning: Unethical Behavior, readers meet an international student enrolled in an MBA program. He allows his classmates to write his section of a group assignment because he finds reading English difficult (he is enrolled in an English class, but has stopped attending). His cultural beliefs partly influence his decision-making when he reveals that in his country friends “often help each other in school, even when taking tests, because we have to support our friends. It shows our loyalty and generosity” (p.28). The professor confronts the student who then becomes upset. From this unit, advisors can explore what to do if a student presents a similar issue. How can we help international students understand why U.S. academic policies were created and how they can adjust to these expectations?

This book also provides a source for professional development role play experiences especially suited for first year advisors who may face similar issues for the first time. For example, an advisor training facilitator could choose units that are the most applicable to the campus and ask the college’s Multicultural or International Office to co-facilitate. In addition, selected units could augment first semester seminars and new student orientations to introduce cultural diversity topics.  

Other topics I found relevant for advisors include how to handle residence hall living situations where roommates are of the opposite sex (Campus Living: Roommate Situations) and how to deal with culture adjustments (Social Adjustment: Culture Shock).

I would suggest a couple of ways the author could improve this already helpful book. First, I found that two similar chapters (Academic Integrity: Plagiarism; Group Learning: Unethical Behavior) both deal with students unethically using sources or methods to complete assignments. Perhaps, an alternate theme could be substituted for one of these chapters; themes such as online learning could be helpful for students more comfortable with listening to professors. Second, creating a grid that lists topic/audience/main dilemma could be a great resource for advisor training coordinators who adapt the book for the uses suggested above.  

Overall Myra Schulman’s book provides readers with many current issues faced by students from different cultures. It is formatted in teachable units that are easy to use and can be adapted to different work environments.

Cultures in Contrast: Student Life at U.S. Colleges and Universities (2nd ed.), (2009), Book by Myra Schulman. Review by Review by Janis Albright. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 243pp, $26.95. ISBN 978-0-472-03298-3
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