Connecting Egyptian and American Future Engineers through Virtual Exchange
Institute of International Education's (IIE) Harnessing Innovation through Virtual Exchange for Enhanced Results (HIVER)
Raghad, a student at Mansoura University in Egypt, and Sapphire, a graduate of University of Texas in San Antonio, Texas, United States, participated in IIE's HIVER in spring 2022. Alongside classmates in their construction engineering courses, Raghad and Sapphire collaborated on binational group projects tackling real life challenges in their societies. Their respective projects ranked among the top-three out of more than 20 binational projects, leading them to progress to the final round of the competition in Washington, DC. Overall, Raghad and Sapphire forged personal and academic relationships with their peers, learned about each other’s cultures, and had profound experiences they think will remain with them for life.
As a construction engineering student, Sapphire’s academic experiences were mostly focused on her field of study prior to participating in HIVER. Collaborating through virtual exchange gave her a multidimensional educational experience. “It was a really rewarding experience that helped me become more confident in my ability to express my opinions,” said Sapphire. “Before HIVER, I used to be quite tense whenever I was asked to give a presentation or speak in public. HIVER helped me to harness my communication skills and also allowed me to understand and value cultural diversity, which enabled me to interact with people from various backgrounds in a much more engaging manner.”
For Raghad, the opportunity to be involved in cross-cultural activities with American students wasn’t even an aspiration that she could look forward to achieving when she began university. “If you’d told me when I first enrolled in the university that I’d be where I am now in terms of cross-cultural, personal, and communication skills I wouldn’t have believed you… And this is all, in no small part, due to the learning that I was part of in HIVER,” said Raghad. The personal, educational, and communication skillsets that are developed though HIVER are not always a part of regular curricular activities at public universities in the MENA region, so Raghad felt grateful for the opportunity to gain these skills in a course enriched with virtual exchange. She found the experience so exciting and educational that she later enrolled in all courses with a HIVER component offered at her university.
Both Sapphire and Raghad highlighted the transformative nature of their HIVER experiences. At the start of the collaboration, Sapphire didn’t know what to expect from her Egyptian peers in the virtual exchange sessions. As the sessions unfolded and the group work ensued, she was amazed by the work ethic and methodical approach of the Egyptian students. “They work really hard…I was amazed by their commitment, dedication, and willingness to spend hours working on a specific challenging situation,” she said.
If you’d told me when I first enrolled in the university that I’d be where I am now in terms of cross-cultural, personal, and communication skills I wouldn’t have believed you… And this is all, in no small part, due to the learning that I was part of in HIVER.
Raghad’s experience was similar in terms of new impressions of her peers in the U.S. She wasn’t sure if her American colleagues would be as inviting or friendly towards her as her Egyptian classmates. Yet, to her surprise, she was awed by the degree of understanding and compassion she experienced with them. “We hit it off right away… It was amazing that when I first met my partners virtually, I knew very little about American habits and culture. In no time at all, we managed to create sound personal bonds and became friends.” Raghad was impressed by the active-listening and responsive understanding her U.S. partners demonstrated, as well as their ability to express themselves clearly. They were very supportive, encouraging her and her team members to overcome their fear of public speaking at the time of the competition.
Sapphire graduated from university in 2022 and is currently a project managing engineer in San Antonio. She doesn’t think she would be where she is today if it weren’t for HIVER. “I deal with very diverse groups of people from different linguistic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds,” she said. “Through teamwork, collaborative work, and intensive exchanges with various groups of students from a multitude of cultures, HIVER helped (me) a lot in learning how to actively engage with folks who may be different from me.”
Through teamwork, collaborative work, and intensive exchanges with various groups of students from a multitude of cultures, HIVER helped (me) a lot in learning how to actively engage with folks who may be different from me.
Raghad is still a junior at Mansoura University, but she feels the learning she has gained from HIVER will put her in a good position when it’s time to join the job market. Raghad believes that the array of knowledge and skills she has now acquired through HIVER has made her resume richer, more colorful, and also attractive to potential employers. “The range of personal and academic skills that I gained in the [HIVER] program is just astounding, which is not usual for a student studying engineering at a public university [in Egypt]. Thanks to HIVER, I can now give presentations on academic matters with a considerable degree of complexity with relative ease.”
Today, Raghad and Sapphire both find themselves more open-minded and willing to consider different viewpoints and perceptions. They are also able to hold constructive dialogue with their peers in order to achieve their goals. Overall, they echoed a similar sentiment about the impact of HIVER: it transformed them personally and professionally by enhancing key skills through cultural exposures, teambuilding, and leadership exercises. It also inspired new perspectives, self-confidence, and personal growth.
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HIVER is implemented by IIE and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.