Developing Global Citizens

Cultural Exchange Experiences in a Time of Covid-19

September 23, 2021 Season 2 Episode 6
Cultural Exchange Experiences in a Time of Covid-19
Developing Global Citizens
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Developing Global Citizens
Cultural Exchange Experiences in a Time of Covid-19
Sep 23, 2021 Season 2 Episode 6

Professor of Organizational Management, Mark House and Santa Fe College student Sergio Mejia talk about the Global Solutions Project, a virtual student exchange program providing students the ability to practice cross cultural collaboration and learn about each other’s culture as they engage in the process of design thinking and discuss global issues in their communities. Sergio reflects on his experiences as a member of this bi-lingual, bi-national, bi-cultural team and how SF students joined students from Jordan using video conference and online chat to create a unified idea, business plan and pitch.  

Show Notes Transcript

Professor of Organizational Management, Mark House and Santa Fe College student Sergio Mejia talk about the Global Solutions Project, a virtual student exchange program providing students the ability to practice cross cultural collaboration and learn about each other’s culture as they engage in the process of design thinking and discuss global issues in their communities. Sergio reflects on his experiences as a member of this bi-lingual, bi-national, bi-cultural team and how SF students joined students from Jordan using video conference and online chat to create a unified idea, business plan and pitch.  

Vilma Fuentes  0:02  
Today I am joined by two very special guest, Dr. Mark House a professor in organizational management at Santa Fe College, as well as one of his students, Sergio Mejia. Thank you both for coming to our show. I, I have invited you mainly because I want to hear about this cool project you've had underway, this semester in the midst of a pandemic where you've been connecting with students in another part of the world and Jordan. Before we do that though I want to know a little bit about each of you Sergio tell me where you from, have you ever had international experiences certainly before this class,

Sergio Mejia  0:45  
I have actually. So I'm from Nicaragua. Originally my parents, and we came to the States, as political refugees here because of the war in Nicaragua know that. I came to Gainesville, for school. And I ended up not finishing school, and that's what I'm here at Santa Fe now I'm a returning student, and Dr. House has classes the first class I've taken, and he provided the opportunity for this Global Solutions project. So as soon as he talked about something about it that it was interesting so I said you know what, let me give it a shot. Plus I guess I mean, you get 25 points.

I do work full time, you know I have a family, and I guess it is a little extra to throw in the management, the daily management of things that we do but it's turned out to be a really nice experience so far. 

Vilma Fuentes  1:40  
Okay,excellent. Mark, what about you, and have you ever, have you had any international experiences before this semester and before this experience,

Mark House  1:50  
I have, I've done a bit of traveling. My background is actually in a mix of anthropology and business. So I've lived in South America have lived over in Europe and in Russia. And for a brief stint down in New Zealand and each of those had been very unique experiences. They've been very lucky.

Vilma Fuentes  2:12  
Excellent. So, Mark, tell me about this virtual student exchange program that you had going on this semester that describe it. What is it, how is it organized. What's been what's it been like,

Mark House  2:27  
Okay, so this. So, going over to another country, in college is always has been around for quite a while. And it usually works like this you get a class, you sign up for it, and you go spend a couple of weeks or maybe a month or maybe an entire semester in another country, taking that class learning about the culture. The government likes that the universities like that because we get to know people who are outside of our comfort zone. And this is an opportunity to extend that that experience or those experiences to many different people. These types of exchanges can be expensive. They're not available on all campuses, but a virtual exchange can be. It is a very low cost way to introduce different cultures, to students, and it, you know, this one was set up as a competitive business project basically to build a business plane. But you had to work with another team. There were teams in Jordan, there were teams in Iraq, and I think there was one other place. Was there one in Iran. No, okay. But, you know, this was, you know this is an opportunity to work with a set of students who we would never get to interact with and we've been doing that for the past eight weeks, and it's been fantastic.

Vilma Fuentes  3:56  
Sergio your group has been working with students in Jordan. 

Sergio Mejia  3:59  

Vilma Fuentes  4:00  
Had you ever met or Jordanian before you started this program.

Sergio Mejia  4:03  
A while back I played soccer. So I played with, with a guy from Jordan right, but he was very Americanized in I think his parents you know brought him over when he was younger but but it wasn't a like now we're interacting with someone who lives there, a group of people that actually live there they go to school there. And so it's been really eye opening. My, I guess, like a lot of people that you have your your ideas of how he would be in different parts of the world, like Doctor House. I traveled a lot recently, I didn't finish school earlier today but I backpacked through Europe and I did a lot of scenic stuff traveling different places but I'm with, you know, my contact my the person that was the director of the Jordanian team is a very nice lady, Amanda. So I contacted her and we became really friendly through chats and all that. And it was totally different what I thought, you know, it's just like talking to someone here I have two girls. So So you know, my mind has changed a lot through a few years that I've had them and I see her and I talked to her, and she tells me all these ideas and she told me some personal stuff. And it was really interesting you know to to change my abs idea that I had previously, to where I'm at. Now you know with throughout this project.

Vilma Fuentes  5:24  
So I'm going to pick on this a little bit more what stereotypes or preconceptions, did you have about Jordanians or Arabs or Middle Easterners before starting this program and what specifically has changed,

Sergio Mejia  5:37  
Especially with females right, you always have that idea that they don't have much liberty. I, when it came to Gainesville I ran, I joined a group of running mates, and there were a lot of the kids from India, in that group. And I became really friends with this one girl who used to tell me you know we don't have a lot of rights to go to school, it's very difficult to make it more difficult for us, you know I would stay up at night and read with this little light and my parents would get upset at me. So I guess that that was my idea of just my ignorance, right, with a Jordanian theme, and talking, you know, communicating with Amanda and there's other young ladies there in that group. And no, I mean, they're, they have dreams, they have hopes.

Vilma Fuentes  6:29  
They're in school.

Sergio Mejia  6:30  
They're in school, and they're very educated and very smart. And in this case, Amanda is the leader of that team. Yeah, obviously the professor but what she's the leader of that team and it was very refreshing to see that.

Vilma Fuentes  6:45  
Excellent. Have you so in Latin culture. You said you're Nicaraguan. Nicaragua in other parts of Latin America, there's a lot of machismo, a very patriarical society. And one of the stereotypes I have which I think there's evidence to support it is that in the Arab world that is very much exist right, well, have you found that to be true or am I completely wrong.

Sergio Mejia  7:10  
Well, I don't think that machismo, like we have, is not like, like they want, you know, like you said in Latin America. I think it's more of a respect and I think we've discussed that in our chats here with our team the Gainesville team where we notice that they look up to the professor for, for communication, whereas we on our end, everybody speaks, whether it's me or what one of my female, quote, you know, mates in our team, everybody's able to use go ahead and say and I'm not saying they're not able to, it's just that they, I guess they look up to that leadership. So, so that was really different, I thought.

Vilma Fuentes  7:50  
So I'm curious, Mark, I'll go back to you have from your perspective as a professor here in the United States, have you found their system in Jordan to be more hierarchical more respectful more you know, than ours is are more free, more egalitarian or what terminology would you use to describe the interactions and communication styles between both the Jordanian and American group.

Mark House  8:16  
I don't know how to characterize it, except I can I can relate this to the first time we had our Zoom meeting with the classes, and all the Americans got on and we were casually sitting on our sofas and a couple of us were in bed and we were dressed, mostly and we're pretty relaxed about it, that's fine. They were all, the Jordan team was all dressed, what we would call business casual, in a classroom that we were obviously projected on a big wall in front of them. And I felt a little odd at that point. But I think, Sergio has, has really identified one of the key differences that we saw in this interaction is the amount of hierarchy, that they have in Jordan, seems to be very different than what we have in the US. And so we, you know that I think we've talked about it a little bit with, with our team and they recognize is that, that there are, you know, just different practices and you have to learn how to work around those things. So that's I think one of the biggest things we noticed.

Vilma Fuentes  9:27  
And you know you could describe I'm just hearing what your explanations you could say all the Jordanians are more hierarchical authoritarian but Sergio you used the word respect multiple times if you're perceiving it as no no no it's more respectful of professors respectful of authority perhaps respectful of the American peers that they're connecting with on other side of the world Sergio have you changed your perspective on Americans and, I mean, you know you're here you're with us you're an American by have huge. Do you think that we're too casual too informal or what do you think,

Sergio Mejia  10:03  
Well, I don't think we're too casual. It's just, I think, different cultures, right, and I'm sure you traveled and Dr. House has traveled, You know, like I told you I traveled in, you go to different countries, different places within it is the same, different country where things are just different, you know, I remember being in Spain I went to Pamplona to run with the bulls. And we're sleeping in a park, because there were no hotels when we got there, and so we're sleeping in this park, and one of the things that shocked me was how liberal people were in the sense of, you know, two older couple having sex next to us and we said, "What is going on here"? You know, we are the Americans we are supposed to be the crazy ones, but here are these two Spainards here doing what they do right, and so it was really shocking so I guess it depends on where you're at. I mean, I'll be honest with you, we've had meetings where it's very like got Dr. House, said earlier, you know, it's very casual, but but at the same time, there's a sense of respect, you know, whenever, Dr. House speaks you know we'll listen we'll try okay this is where we went ahead, for whatever reason, because of what we would chose you know the little, like I was chosen to be the rector, I guess. So I noticed a lot of the students were leaning towards me to, to make choices. And I was so used to that, if I think you guys were all in the same year, you know, we, you don't have to tell me, "Oh yeah whatever Sergio thinks", this is about us, you know. And so I guess it depends on the moment depends on on the activities that you're doing in their case, I think they do look up to a professor, like Dr houses, he was very semi professional they're kind of like when you're in school or a normal year here right before COVID You got a class and the professor comes in, in this case, Hassan, is a professor, he was in a tie, you know, dressed up, you know, so it was, it was nice to see actually. So, yeah, he hasn't changed my view. I mean, I still appreciate what we have. But you also appreciate what they have, you know, and respected. 

Vilma Fuentes  12:23  
So how easy or difficult has it been to work in a binational team on on a joint project a business project right that just describe that to me please from a student perspective and challenges and and maybe benefits.

Sergio Mejia  12:39  
Yeah, yeah so so I'll give a shout out to our team name. We came up with a name Breaking the Cycle of steam, eight, from Gainesville right and so what, at the beginning was a little bit tough. I'm not I'm not sure if it was because we didn't have a system in place. And so we needed to do a video, remember that Dr. House put up an announcement hey we got to come up with a video in a couple of days and nobody responded, you know, so I say you know what, I'll take up on it. Let's see how this I've never done a video my life, I've taken pictures but that's pretty much it. And I kind of stressed out a little bit. That night I mean we got to get this done because I enjoyed the Jordanian team had theirs up. And this was a good video it was a really quality.

Vilma Fuentes  13:21  
So this is the intro video where the American team is introducing themselves to the Jordanians, the Jordanian okay so Jordanians produced a high quality video. 

Sergio Mejia  13:29  
It was really cool you know music and everything. I don't know what to do here. So, I sent an email out hey guys get can I get pictures of you guys, I mean that's all I know how to do is put pictures with a little music in the background. And I don't live too far from campus here. So, because of the pandemic. One of the things we do at night with my kids and my wife, we go out and we'll go to Burger King and get like an ice because it's really cheap, it's an expensive we'll drive around and eat,  and so, I said you know what, well let's just go by Santa Fe, we'll do our icee and take pictures of the schools, empty, so we did and actually we got stopped by a cop. One of the Santa Fe cops and so I explained, I told him what we were doing and will you mind being in the picture I don't know, by all means, I'm asking you to configure he's in our video actually. Yeah, and so you know and I took a bunch of the pictures that we got and created a video, but it was a little bit stressful, because of the timeframe. and I had no idea what the expectations were. And so once we put it up and more people started interacting with us, then it became a little bit easier.

Vilma Fuentes  14:33  
So, so you're describing a challenge that's really just an American and in Gainesville challenge which was producing a video of the Santa Fe College team to say hello Jordanians, this is who we are, right. But then it got harder, right, because then you have a bi-national project and I think a bi-national video that you need to produce it. So, is this even possible explain it to us.

Sergio Mejia  14:59  
Sure. Naturally, I mean, the video I want to say is the icing on the cake now because we've done all the hard work, coming up with it with a problem coming up with the idea of what are we going to do right. And so that was one of the most difficult task I think getting everyone on board in everyone's opinions to come in because I didn't want it to be a project for me on it, you know, I want it to be everyone's input. And so, 

What's your project done by the way?

So we did our recycling. Okay, and the idea popped up a little bit and then the Jordanian team came back and told us, hey look, we've got this whole idea of recycling glass and wood this recycling glass will make art, and they started providing all this amazing artwork on pictures I think a couple of the Jordanian teammates have family members that do this kind of work. And so it was really neat to see that right and so we looked at I was like, Yeah, this is it. This is our wave, we got to ride it and this is why I got to go with it on our end. We have one of one of our teammates Elizabeth. She did all this research, amazing research on cardboard, and the usage of cardboard in art and pop ups and all these cool things, So what if we can just get rid of all your work, you know, we got to integrate it somehow. And so he became that he became our project of using recycled cardboard and glass. To create a form of art.

Vilma Fuentes  16:27  

Sergio Mejia  16:27  
Yeah, is amazing. The idea is really nice. So then he began you know the whole throwing in a What about the businessman and throwing in, how are we going to do this and everyone slowly it's like one of those, you know, you wake up in the morning, you're like stretching and you find Okay fine, I'll go for a run now. He was that right he took a little bit of time to get going. but once you got going, I mean, everyone's been responding in with the lead of Dr. House and in Hassan, you know, we got there, I mean it's been six weeks to this pandemic that flew by fast, really, really fast.

Vilma Fuentes  17:03  
So collectively as two teams in two different countries, you created that first video of each team right, you got your problem and your idea, and I think you developed a business plan.

Sergio Mejia  17:14  

Vilma Fuentes  17:15  
All right, how did you do that with people in different parts of the world.

Sergio Mejia  17:18  
So, so we started with, with a sentence right and then we made the joke where one night one of my teammates contact me through slack, which is the form of communications that we have is like an email, type of chat room. And so, Jortoya, she sent a little message to me and her and I'm trying to get the names of all of them right and Lauren. We got together three of us and it was the night of the, one of the debates. 

Vilma Fuentes  17:49  
The presidential debates?

Sergio Mejia  17:50  
The presidential debates right it's I wanted to hear it and I told her to do something, send it to me and we'll and I'll look it over and then I'll get back. No no no, we're gonna finish it right now, looking at the clock like oh my gosh, we went over a little bit in that we did. It was nice, you know, because it was refreshing to see that she wanted to put her input that Laura wanted to put her input and we all did in and on a side note, we have so many issues had happened throughout. We had a team member who got in a car accident. Yeah, I had an email from one of our team members apologizes that you guys are doing a great job. I'm so sorry I can't keep up, I'm gonna have to drop out. And I'm like okay, what are you doing it is you know and so all these different variables that came in on that were thrown at us. But we were able to keep going. It was like this machine that just kept going, you know, it was like a business, pretty much. And then the Jordanian team. At the beginning they weren't the greatest at responding it but but then we figured that what they were doing is just analyzing and then given us feedback. One shot he wasn't like us, we were doing on a daily basis.

Vilma Fuentes  18:59  
So was it do you think language was a barrier for them, what, how are you communicating?

Sergio Mejia  19:03  
We actually found out, yeah. One of the Zoom meetings that we have I think Dr. House brought it up, And we say you know what if we instead of just posting our information in English. If we use a Google Translate and put it up. Well yeah, if you can do that I'll be great. And then we asked a few other students, you know, that were on the Zoom to give their opinions and Amanda from the Jordanian think that oh yeah, I'll translate cuz I don't speak English. Oh my gosh oh there's a problem, you know, there's the thing that I guess we never thought about asking, so we figure it out with through time. And so we did that we started using Google Translate, it's amazing. If you see our Slack page, you'll see the English version and then in the Jordanian or Arabic version of it,

Vilma Fuentes  19:50  
Right. So this was a binational, bilingual, bicultural team, and then you were communicating with Slack, Google Translate and Google Docs maybe how are you doing the business plan?

Sergio Mejia  20:03  
So through Google Translate and going back and forth, I mean if I were to point out with a little arrow so how we did it, it would be a mess, so many different arrows pointing in different ways, but um, I think the teams came together. And now, I mean, even though the competition ended it was a six week, competition, we've still give us a little time to finish up. And that's where we're at right now, I mean we're finishing the video. And we're finishing our business plan that we're turning in. We are prototype. It became a Facebook page, pretty much giving you all the info that we have on our product and our plan and how we're, you know, planning on selling and moving forward is a pretty cool project so far.

Vilma Fuentes  20:53  
Mark, how has this experience, maybe changed your class, or your, your approach to some projects, because I mean you've done, you've asked your students to write business concept or business models before right?  I'm getting it all wrong, the terminology.

Mark House  21:14  
So, so right I mean as teachers we use group projects because they teach us some, some really valuable lessons they teach communication they teach teamwork they teach you know you have to interact with people, and, and throwing the international component into that is just a huge step for everybody. We're not dealing with just, you know, can I get together on Wednesday night, but we had a seven hour time difference. So you know we had to get up in the morning and get on when it was their afternoon so that's that's one issue people are working in the morning. We had to deal with the language barrier and that was a serious issue we didn't realize that was such a big issue until halfway through that, you know, and what was really neat to see was when Sergei put up this initial video that he that he had put together where we introduce ourselves to the other team, it really I think got the team, energized and kind of brought them together and said, "Okay, let's, let's start talking to each other. Let's get going", and it and it worked and it worked because somebody stepped up certain, Sergio stepped up and needed a tool, which is great to see as an instructor, and then they have, they have really everybody has worked well on this project they've contributed the teammates have contributed at different points. And it played to their their own strengths and such. But you know I think they've gotten some fantastic lessons out of this and you know that's just not something that we can teach out of the textbook.

Vilma Fuentes  22:53  
Have you mark ever met the, the students on your team, the Santa Fe students, have you met them face-to-face.

Mark House  23:01  
Gosh. No, No, because we've been virtual the whole time. So we've, we've had many Zoom, in that session, and I feel like I would certainly recognize them but no I don't think I've ever met them face to face.

Vilma Fuentes  23:17  
And what about you Sergio, have you met any of the Santa Fe teammates?

Sergio Mejia  23:21  
I did actually.  So, when the project started in. One of the first persons to reach to reach out to me was Jennifer. Jennifer was assigned as a manager of the team. And she told me, Look I don't Zoom, I don't do well with Zoom. And I believe she said returning student as well so so she told me, You know what would it be okay if we met, so we can talk about about the project and say yeah for sure you know I'm not too far, I am working from home. So, I think, you know, I'll take a couple of minutes out of my schedule and we'll meet, and within, we actually spend like two hours, three hours out in front of the library here. Just talking chatting and then throwing ideas back and forth you know and, in, in the worries that she had, you know, okay this is what you have and I don't see anyone responding, because we just give it some time you know let's get everyone involved. Let's see if we can get this going, and we did. And it was really refreshing to to see somebody face to face right after so many months. And so, so yeah it was a we got that started, and then we try not to go out much because of the COVID, but they were doing a Christmas tree lighting over by Butler Plaza. And so I told my wife, you don't want it they say it's going to be safe, you know, if we see that it's not we'll go home, wherever they have their mask on. And one of our classmates. Teammates was worse than she'd had mentioned I don't assume that they oh my gosh I think she worked at this door so I took my filler girls in it as soon as you saw that Sergio, I go, how do you know my mask good, So you know, we, we ended up talking a little bit, Lauren, in so we talked a little bit we chatted with only she, she loved my girls and and you know it was nice to have the face-to-face interaction. So yeah, those two people, you know, I've been able to outside of that and have in and hopefully in the future you know because we're on the same program and all that at some point we'll meet face-to-face and it'll be nice to put a face to the person who you're talking to.

Vilma Fuentes  25:19  
So, you shared that you went to Spain for the running of the bulls. That, that's like about as exciting of an international activity as it gets. How does this even compare this, this whole virtual thing you don't meet anybody. What would you tell students that are thinking well I'm thinking about going and running with the bulls?

Sergio Mejia  25:45  
Finish school first. No, it was a fun experience. I was the young man and different views you know of the world. This is in the middle of a pandemic, kind of adding to what Dr. House was saying right. Everything going against us, I mean, you know, language barriers. Time difference. I mean so many different things, but what I'll be I would recommend this to anyone, anyone that has an opportunity to to a project like this is very useful to you to as a person. Not only do you get to speak and learn from other people in different part of the world that does foreign to most of us, but you also interact with people, you're on your end, and try to figure out a problem with them and with your professor, right, because I mean, there were times that I promise. Oh my god, what are we doing I mean this is looking rough, whether or not their house or I don't know if he's really my mind right he wants you to send an email and say, Hey, this is going on is it all okay great, you know, that's exactly what I needed a little push. And so it's a really nice experience. And I think anyone that has an opportunity to do it. Should I would highly recommend it. If I had a choice honestly between this and we're running out of bulls I think this one.

Vilma Fuentes  27:03  
That's the, that's the voice of experience speaking, someone thinking of safety first. But Mark, what would you tell your students thinking, oh my god, I'm thinking of going on a study abroad program to China, India, wherever you know, there's this virtual exchange program, what would you tell them, how would you advise them.

Mark House  27:24  
I think both are valuable. Both have their place if you can get international experience great if you can't look into one of these programs. You know what, besides the business plan, besides the group dynamics. I think what you get from one of these, you know, one of these experiences is it humanizes people in other cultures. We get to say yeah I know somebody in Jordan, or Iraq I've worked with them I, you know, if I wanted to I could get on WhatsApp and and contact them again. And that, that gives you a different perspective on the world, rather than just what we hear in the media or what we've studied in school or such. When you can put a face and a name with things, I think that's tremendously valuable, however it works

Vilma Fuentes  28:16  
Sergio, do you think it's helped. This experience has helped you become more globally competitive or globally competent, I mean, when you graduate, do you think you're going to be better prepared for this 21st century globalized world?

Sergio Mejia  28:29  
I think it opened my mind to research more of what you guys offer here at Santa Fe, because of the of the program I you know I started doing research and see, okay, which is the route we're gonna use what are we gonna use I don't want to just come up with your something, or my head right. And I noticed you guys have a Certificate for International right we have all these extra things of a pretty neat things to do, that I didn't take advantage of the first time around when I tried to come to school, and now I look at them and I think, and that's why I'm here with you right because I want to explore how to do so much. I mean, I think, is, is that the experience you want to have, yeah, you definitely want to dive in. This is the time to do it once you're in school, do it, you know, experience it, have fun with it and if your school offers that why not I mean, take advantage of it.

Vilma Fuentes  29:18  
Well, thank you both for your willingness to innovate try something new and different in the midst of a pandemic, that's 100% virtual, and thanks for sharing the experiences really appreciate this. 

Sergio Mejia  29:31  
Thank you Dr. Fuentes. Thank you Dr. House.

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