Cultural Differences in Plagiarism

American universities are melting pots of cultures and ideas, a blending of communities from all over the world. International students who come to the United States to attend college jump into a set of experiences that can be both similar and widely different to those of their childhood. One main difference between students who grew up in the education system Stateside and those coming from international schools is their perspective on plagiarism.

In the US, plagiarism is defined as a situation where an individual passes off someone else’s ideas as their own. Starting in elementary school, most American kids learn how to create “Works Cited” pages in order to properly attribute quotes, ideas, and facts to their original authors. At the university level, students are required to formally cite their research papers and projects to comply with their college’s honor code policy. While the system of educating American students on academic integrity is not perfect, it continues to improve and overall, strives to provide a framework for students to understand that original work and proper attribution is valued and respected by others.

Interesting challenges have developed in schools and universities across the US where students from different countries enter the academic integrity space as defined by the American culture. The Miami Student, a newspaper written by the student body at Miami University of Ohio, published an article in May about how academic dishonesty cases don’t tell the full story. Carol Olausen, the director of Miami’s American Culture and English (ACE) Program, explained that “an academic integrity policy is completely based on our culture. It’s not universal. What we do doesn’t exist in other countries, and how we interpret it is completely based on our own culture. Coming into a new place and having to catch up really quickly on something, literally, that’s so foreign is definitely a challenge.”

Patience, compassion, and a variety of educational resources can help international students with their understanding of plagiarism here in America. And while there are a wide variety of cultural differences, here are three distinct concepts from around the world that differ from the US definition of academic integrity.  

Universal Knowledge

A collectivist culture is one that prioritizes the goals and desires of the whole over the needs of the individual. Often in Japan, India, and other East Asian countries, ideas that are beneficial to and shared by the community are not individually attributed, but rather recognized as universal knowledge. Students that grow up with this perspective may not understand why citations at the end of a research paper are important; furthermore, citations might even make them feel uncomfortable, as they recognize individual authors above the community as a whole.

Memorization as a Form of Respect

Throughout much of China, students in schools are taught the Confucian principle of respecting those who offer wisdom by memorizing their teachings. Whether in history, social studies, science, or literature, often Chinese students are discouraged from producing original work in an academic setting and instead advised to remember and repeat the ideas of the masters in those subject areas as a form of respect.

Understanding the Concept of Plagiarism

For some cultures, there is no formalized understanding of plagiarism. In Eritrea, there is no legal copyright protection either for authors within their country or for writers of foreign works. If a student arrives in the United States without a working definition of plagiarism from their home country, it may be difficult to comprehend and adhere to the US concept of academic integrity.

For students and educators alike, it’s important to think about academic integrity as a learned concept. By approaching alternate perspectives with compassion, we can celebrate and better understand cultural similarities and differences within education across the country and around the world.

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