For DeSales students working on a cultural exchange project in Jason Martineau’s cultural geography class, the world has become a much smaller and friendlier place.
As part of the eight-week class, which started in late October and ends later this month, students form teams of four. Each team includes a student from Martineau’s class, plus a student from China, Iraq, Namibia or Rwanda. The students communicate using email and discuss a wide range of issues.
“They connect with students from other countries and cultures, and soon realize that there can be many similarities between people of different backgrounds,” said Martineau. “In fact, sometimes it seems like there are more similarities than differences.”
-- Xiaoxue “Britney” Yang, a student majoring in finance, accounting and management at the University of Nottingham, a British university in China
The fall 2009 semester marks the third time Martineau, a political science faculty member in the DeSales University Department of Social Sciences, has offered the cultural exchange project.
During the 2007 – 2008 academic year, when it was first introduced, students in his class interacted with students in China. Last year, it included students in China and Iraq. This year, Martineau expanded the program to include students in China, Iraq, Namibia or Rwanda, and also added a team component.
According to Martineau, the project is a rich experience for the DeSales students because it provides them with the opportunity to move beyond Center Valley and interact with the world outside the classroom.
Students follow set guidelines and have specific goals. They are required to write a three-page summary of their interactions with their pen pals. Martineau encourages them to develop a thesis and then utilize their communications and exchanges with pen pals to support their thesis.
“American higher education continues to poll well and is considered by many nations to be one of our great strengths,” said Martineau. “The team project is a good opportunity to help improve and build relations with other countries.”
Martineau observed that participating on the project helped students improve English language skills, exchange ideas and opinions about each other’s cultures, politics, religion, arts, and other interests, plus much more.
“DeSales students gain multiple perspectives, as they discuss various topics with their email pen pals and learn about other cultures and lifestyles,” said Martineau. “Direct communications can cut through some of the stereotypes and misperceptions that many cultures have for one another.”
Prior to the team component, which was introduced for the first time this academic year, students taking part on the project communicated one-on-one using email.
Samuel B. Smith, a DeSales ACCESS (adult education) student from Easton, Pa., took part in the cultural exchange project in Martineau’s cultural geography class when it was offered last year, from October to December 2008. It was the first time he took part in such a project. Smith, who is currently a corporal with the DeSales University Police Department, felt it surpassed all his expectations.
Smith communicated with Xiaoxue “Britney” Yang, a student majoring in finance, accounting and management at the University of Nottingham, a British university in China. Although Smith was somewhat familiar with the Asian culture, having lived, worked and traveled in Asia (Philippines, South Korea and Japan) for eight years, he was not sure what he would have in common with a young Chinese woman.
“By the time the class was over, I had learned that Britney was a very interesting and complex young woman, not unlike the typical American college student,” said Smith. “She worried about her grades and the pressure of college, disappointing her parents, and what the future would hold for her after school.”
“The cultural exchange project seemed attractive to me because it was a unique and golden opportunity to exchange opinions and thoughts with international friends with their own distinct background, including culture, mind set, economic environment, social and political,” said Britney.
According to Britney, it allowed her to share aspects of the Chinese culture and the Chinese person’s viewpoint.
“The significance of the project was that it enabled me to see and think things on an international level,” said Britney. “It helped us to understand each other better, which had a positive effect.”
Smith said his greatest challenge was asking Britney some controversial questions about China and human rights, and trying to remain as politically correct as possible without offending her. He also was concerned about possible monitoring of emails by Chinese Government censors.
Attending a British university made Britney familiar with western holidays and customs. She enjoyed talking about holidays such as Christmas and Halloween, and wanted learn more about western customs and traditions.
DeSales senior Amanda Lippincott, a history major from Milford, N.J., and a student in the cultural geography class currently in session, has found the cultural exchange project to be very worthwhile because it has helped her understand how people from other countries view America and Americans.
Lippincott has been communicating with two pen pals: Megameno, 23, who is majoring in social work at the University of Namibia and will be graduating this year, and also with Xiaoxue “Britney” Yang, the finance, accounting and management major now in her senior year at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China.
“It is important to learn about the many different people of the world and how the world is affected by all its inhabitants,” said Lippincott.
Danielle Stickley, an ACCESS student from Bethlehem Township who also is taking part in the current cultural exchange project, has found the project to be very enlightening. Stickley, who will graduate in 2011 with a dual bachelor’s degree in elementary education and special education, has been writing to Linhao Xu from China and Joeline from the University of Rwanda. Stickley feels that friendships have been established and plans to continue corresponding with her pen pals even after the class ends.
“It has been wonderful writing to my pen pals and learning about their cultures,” said Stickley. “There have been challenges, but the experience has really helped strengthen the English writing skills of my pen pals, as well as my own.”
Ultimately, Martineau sees the cultural exchange project as an experience that offers some future possibilities.
“Communication starts it all,” said Martineau. “This is the third time the project was presented. Perhaps one of these times, the interactions will lead to a trip, help develop an idea, or spark a new business venture.”
For more information on the cultural exchange project, please contact Jason Martineau, political science faculty member in the DeSales University Department of Social Sciences, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, Martineau has created a WikiSpace page where students have shared photos and other information. Please contact Martineau for more details.
Press Release: DeSales Students in Cultural Exchange Project Help Make the World a Smaller & Friendlier Place | Posted on: 12/8/2009
For more info:
Tom McNamara, Executive Director of Communications
DeSales University | 2255 Station Avenue | Center Valley, PA 18034
610.282.1100 x1219 | Tom.McNamara@desales.edu