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Students Help Shrink the World

Students Help Shrink the World

UNAI conference
CHC students interact with students from Effat University during the video conference from the United Nations. From left: Natalie Williams, Lauren Haynes, Lea Sanders and Natalie Williams. Photo credit: Brenda Lange

The world got a lot smaller for some members of the CHC community last week thanks to an interactive videoconference presented in the East Parlor on December 3.

Three students at Effat University in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, and four CHC students prepared presentations on topics ranging from fashion to civic engagement and shared their knowledge with audiences seated nearly 7,000 miles apart.

The event heralded the beginning of a United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) partnership between the schools and was facilitated from the United Nations. According to its website, UNAI www.academicimpact.un.org is a global initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in furthering the realization of the purposes and mandate of the organization through activities and research in a shared culture of intellectual social responsibility.

“This program will help us recognize we are all just human beings. This opportunity brings us together in our common humanity,” said Wayne Jacoby, the conference facilitator. “This kind of event will bring about change in the world. We are thousands of miles and many hours apart, yet talking and interacting with others in the world opens doors and shrinks the world. We can create a better tomorrow.”

Jacoby is a co-founder of Global Education Motivators (GEM). http://gem-ngo.org. The former high school social studies teacher from Springfield, Pa., helped start this group in 1981 to meet the complex needs of bringing the world into the classroom. Through on-site and distance-learning workshops and programs, GEM promotes a better understanding of the world to students, teachers and administrators. Jacoby serves as president of GEM and often works at GEM’s headquarters at the College, providing much of the broad vision and programming for the organization. He also runs this U.N. “In Your World” videoconference series.

According to GEM’s website, “Believing that international communication exchange is a key to future world peace, the inclusion of cross-cultural perspectives has become an integral part of GEM’s global learning programs. Global awareness is closely tied to global responsibility. An integral part of GEM’s mission is to support the work and mission of the United Nations and the important role of civil society in today’s world.”

Finding common ground in our differences

Student presentations were made on areas of mutual interest — education, art, sports, fashion and civic engagement. Video cameras and computers captured images of the audiences at both schools and of the panel at the United Nations and slide presentations were shown simultaneously in Jeddah and Chestnut Hill. The unique and historic nature of the event was evident to all participants.

“It was great to watch the student presenters from both institutions slowly warm up to one another over the two-hour event and begin to laugh at some of their shared experiences, including a few giggles about leggings,” said Emily Schademan, director of student activities, after the event. “It seemed that the students found far more in common with one another than they discovered differences, but they were also able to display a great deal of respect and curiosity for one another's unique cultural offerings.”

The students not only presented their research, they used examples from their own lives to reinforce it. For example, when CHC’s Lea Sanders, a junior, presented about the history of women in sports, she talked about how her mother had encouraged her to participate in every sport she wanted and how that helped shape her life.

“I moved here from Cambodia when I was eight and sports opened many doors for me and built my self-confidence,” Sanders said. “It helped me make friends and set goals, showed me how to make commitments, how to concentrate under stress and gave me emotional and physical health.”

Her comments prompted further discussion about the history of discrimination against women athletes, with panelists on both sides weighing in.

Later in the program a CHC graduate student in instructional technology and a native of Saudi Arabia, Amjad Fallatah, stood to remind the Saudi presenters that two female athletes from their country had participated in the Olympics for the first time in 2012.

Comments from the Saudi panelists included the fact that their campus was home to many cats, in response to pictures of Sister Carol’s two dogs, Kostka and Griffin. They were excited by news of CHC’s Harry Potter Festival and quidditch tournament. They also said they like the same type of clothing as young American women and felt that “American culture encourages self-expression.”

“I think it's exceptionally important, especially considering our current political climate, that young Americans engage in conversations with members of our global community in order to move toward a world of unity and understanding rather than one of hatred and division,” added Schademan. “I think that this collaborative effort will not just benefit our students, but hopefully have lasting impacts on future international policies and relationships.”

Jacoby closed the program by discussing the sustainable goals set by the U.N., which are to eliminate extreme poverty in the world — subsisting on $1.25 or less per day —by 2030.

“Every member nation has agreed to it and agreed to fund it,” he said. “The world’s number one evil is poverty and eliminating it is critical to the future. If we eliminate extreme poverty and cut other poverty in half, the world will be a better place.”

The November program was used to introduce the schools to each other. It will be followed by a three-part series to promote cross-cultural collaboration between the two schools in support of UNAI’s ten basic principles, including commitment to human rights, education for all, global citizenship, sustainability and more, all within the context of education. The sessions begin in February and end in April. Further information will be forthcoming.

— Brenda Lange

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