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News Archives - 2005

Windows on the World

Robert Bill, third from left, participated in a classroom presentation while in Singapore.

Many students come to college with the hopes of someday having the opportunity to study abroad, but that is not always a possibility for all students. However, a new program begun this fall at Augsburg College allows students to travel and study with other students and faculty in other countries without ever leaving the Augsburg campus. This program, Exploring World Cultures, allows Augsburg students to have direct contact with their colleagues in other countries via email and web cam interaction.

Initially Professors Ellmer Poe and Rosina Chia of East Carolina University, became interested in a program, which would bring students from all backgrounds into contact with partners across the globe. Then last April, Rosemary Link, Augsburg Social Work professor and director of the project, along with Robert Bill, Augsburg IT and project technology director, responded to a request for proposals from the State Department following the teleconference offered by East Carolina University. Link took a proposal “To Explore World Cultures” as a module in a social work class to the State Dept. and they gave Augsburg a grant to proceed with the project. Augsburg is the only Minnesota college and one of 10 nation-wide participating in the project.

The goals of this project include: to increase understanding of world cultures and systems of human service; to increase students’ ability to explain their own culture and respect others; to identify the variety of cultures worldwide; to recognize the interdependence of cultures in the world; and to develop skills in cross-cultural communication, including conflict management skills.

Link said one of the first steps in the project involved contacting schools where Augsburg had some prior connections. The University of Ljubljana in Slovenia is a long-standing partner with Augsburg in student summer exchanges and according to Link, Professors Gabi Cacinovic Vogrincic and Lea Sugman Bohinc were “delighted to participate in this venture.” Another site currently up and running is with the National University of Singapore. The third partner is the Tata Institute, Mumbai, but technical and structural difficulties have caused delay to this site.

To prepare for the implementation of the project, Link and Bill visited the three schools overseas through the guidelines of the grant. They also conducted research on each of the country’s status in political, economic, historical and social terms and technology resources. Preparation also involved detailed training at the University of East Carolina where Link and Bill practiced developing curriculum using video technology and reviewed steps in establishing cross-cultural relationships. Link added that they also prepared themselves for the reality of different approaches to technology, firewall status, bandwidth issues and availability of an academic-technology team. While Link and Bill were in Slovenia and Singapore, they were involved in classroom presentations, met with faculty leaders, visited human services agencies and presented at the United States Embassy and the Singaporean Social Worker’s Association.

Link said this project provides a number of benefits to the Augsburg community. These include opportunities other than expensive travel to communicate with students in different countries; increased awareness of global interdependence, dialogue with faculty in Slovenia and Singapore concerning curriculum development and innovations in human service; expanded opportunities for project development through the use of video internet technology, especially with Augsburg’s Center for Global Education and remote sites.

“One of the unique elements of the project is the opportunity to share innovations in teaching and local challenges with colleagues across the globe,” Link said, “and to understand different perspectives on issues which affect us all, such as health, migration, international adoptions and conflict management.”
The Augsburg students participating in the project are taking Social Work 257 – Exploring Human Services in Global Context. The students have been matched with students in either Slovenia or Singapore and are exploring each other’s culture and city life, social well-being and examples of current issues, such as homelessness, SARS and migration.

Two logistical challenges, Link said, have been the different term dates (Singapore begins in July, ends in November, Slovenia begins in October, ends in January and Augsburg begins in September and ends in December) and the time differences (Augsburg is seven hours behind Slovenia and 13 hours behind Singapore). However, she added, the joys far out weigh the challenges, and students were even willing to come in on Sunday evenings to ‘meet’ the Singaporeans.

“I didn’t know much about the rest of the world before this class,” Augsburg student Samantha Privratsky said. Another student, Brooke Vasseur commented that this is “way cool to be making friends on the other side of the globe.”

“Our colleague, Dr. Ngoh Tiong Tan in Singapore, is an expert in cultural conflict and mediation. His class was well underway when we joined in and his students gave excellent presentations and our students joined enthusiastically, although initially our students were somewhat alarmed at the view of American culture from Asia.” Link went on to say that this moderated as the students emailed one another and explored concepts of individualism and collectivism and distinct characteristics of culture alongside common human needs.

According to Link and Bill, “the project has been quite a roller coaster, but also enthralling, and students have said they will never forget it.”