Cultural Diversity in the Classroom: 3rd Culture Kids

Cultural Diversity in the Classroom: 3rd Culture Kids

New and seasoned expat residents will both have grasped the melting pot of cultures that exists within the UAE, as over 90% of the population are not citizens and came here from other parts of the world.  Some stay for a matter of months, others raise families and spend decades calling the UAE home, and now, thanks to the new rules about retirement visas, some may never find themselves returning to the land of their birth.

This blended mix of nationalities, cultures and traditions is never more evident than in our classrooms.  There is, arguably, no other country in the world that has experienced quite the extent of diversity in our schools as in the UAE.  Each classroom is a bright canvas of beliefs, educations, backgrounds and customs and, more often than not, third-culture kids.  This phenomenon of third culture kids is one that feels rather specific to the UAE and a direct result of its positioning as a global hub for business and innovation, across all sectors.  That ambitious sentiment has resulted in the emergence of the dominant, and varied, expat class, which in turn has seen a growth in mixed-culture marriages and their third-culture off-spring.  These kids, who will no doubt be plentiful in your own classroom, have grown up in a rather unique environment, often experiencing a broad range of cultural influences and norms, whilst living in the more modern, progressive and diverse landscape of the UAE.   What is essential for us as educators is to understand the benefits and challenges of this type of diversity and to ensure we are always cultural responsive, not just culturally aware. 

The main difference that you might encounter as a teacher in this circumstance is the sheer range of perspectives and experiences you will have to navigate.  From those children whose lineage spans both East and West, to those who have both conservative and liberal influences, there will be a wealth of information available to you, but also to be managed.  You will have to encourage, support and make allowances for a wide variety of interpretations to be heard.  It is always essential to understand the feelings that these children might be experiencing as they strive to grasp their own identity and make sense of their past, particularly in the transient nature of the UAE when friends and support systems can be lost suddenly. 

The types of diversity we have in the classrooms of the UAE can sometimes be a bit of a minefield, but ultimately the extensive benefits of this range, far outweigh the challenges.  Firstly, there is often always an ‘expert’ in your class to offer direct experience or knowledge of a country or a custom.  But far more importantly, this diversity offers a unique opportunity to build tolerance, inclusion and understanding into the DNA of these children as they experience and bond with those different from them. Breaking down prejudices and broadening the horizons of children as they are learning, can only lead to more progressive and engaging adults who may just grow up to make the world a better place.

What do you like about your diverse classroom?  What are the challenges you have had to overcome?  How many third culture kids are you teaching? What makes them different from others? 

Sheryl Lee Rogers
Senior Manager – Digital Professional Learning & Development
Cultural Diversity in the Classroom: 3rd Culture Kids
Sheryl is responsible for the design, development and deployment of digital resources and environments that are at the heart of TELLAL’s methodologies.
Cultural Diversity in the Classroom: 3rd Culture Kids

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