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Why channelling kindness can help Chinese students thrive at university

by John Britton | Aug 22, 2023 | Strategy & Transformation

Research from York St John University* has examined the experiences of Chinese students during their studies in the UK, considering issues such as language barriers, social interactions, academic achievement and psychological adjustment. These were explored through a ‘kindness’ lens.

We know that acts of kindness activate positive emotions

The paper highlights studies which suggest that acts of kindness by academics can have a positive impact on student learning and wellbeing. Acts of kindness activate positive emotions, which can make students feel relaxed, safe and calm. In contrast, an unkind act can cause students to feel weak and inferior. It can lead to underperformance including a lack of engagement in a course programme – for example, missing classes. This suggests that acts of kindness could contribute to students’ interest in developing positive interactions with lecturers and peers during their studies.

Kindness is a central value in the Chinese educational system

The notion of kindness is identified in the paper as being of high importance to Chinese students. They regard it as a quality pertinent to maintaining interpersonal relationships. This is because teachers’ kind-heartedness is a central value in the Chinese educational system. Kindness is demonstrated in the Chinese context by knowing student names, being interested in their work, treating students as equals, and caring about their wellbeing. The study identifies that Chinese international students associated kindness not only with positive interpersonal interactions on campus and behaviours such as being helpful, caring and compassionate, but also with caring institutional arrangements that considered student needs and cultural diversity.

Supporting Chinese students through other communities

The research paper also identifies that some research studies carried out on Chinese international students in the UK have highlighted how kindness from the church community helps students see things differently, offers them resources to deal with their difficulties in life, and facilitates their understanding of local culture.

The research gives us ideas on how to work with Chinese students to help them enjoy their studies at our universities and succeed:

  • Work that’s centred around grouping some of the suggested activities above, and adopting a programme management approach to them, could be badged or branded by a university under a ‘kindness’ banner – as the intentions are to develop an even more welcoming and supportive community.
  • A package of ‘kindness interventions’ could be a simple way to communicate the intent of the work and could potentially be a very good fit for the corporate social responsibility activities of a funder, or attractive to a donor.
  • There may be an opportunity for universities to collaborate further with local church communities, supporting them in providing a positive landing into the local community for incoming international students, with the by-product of strengthening links between the university and the local community.

*Cheng, M & Adekola, O (2022). ‘Promoting acts of kindness on campus: Views of Chinese international students in the UK’, Intercultural Communication Education, 5(1), pp. 17–32.

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