Stepping Out of Comfort Zones through Virtual Exchange
Enactus Morocco and Enactus US' Entrepreneurial Exchange
Prior to participating in Enactus' Entrepreneurial Exchange, Nouhayla worried about communicating with others, while Leia was unsure about engaging with people from other cultures. The five-week virtual exchange helped both participants step out of their comfort zones, and also created significant changes in their goals and plans for the future.
Enactus’ Entrepreneurial Exchange was the first time Leia, a sophomore at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, U.S., interacted with students from another culture. “It was eye opening to interact with students from Morocco. It was cool to see the culture – everything from food to how their day is structured and how their education is different,” she said.
For Nouhayla, who attends Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah University, public speaking and communicating in English were barriers, but she saw the Entrepreneurial Exchange as an opportunity. “Public speaking was so challenging for me, but this program allowed me to get out of my comfort zone. I didn’t hesitate to participate, not only to improve my communication skills, but also to meet a new culture and challenge myself in another language than Arabic and French.”
Both participants learned about each other’s cultures by collaborating on a team that had to create a business idea and pitch it together. Collaboration wasn’t always easy, though, as teams navigated the seven- to 10-hour time difference, language barriers, and the constraints of full-time college and other commitments. “Finding a time slot that suits us all was the most difficult thing, given the big time difference between Morocco and the United States and also that we were in the holy month of Ramadan, but we took it as a challenge that showed us what the collaborative spirit is about,” Nouhayla said.
“It was eye opening to interact with students from Morocco. It was cool to see the culture – everything from food to how their day is structured and how their education is different."
Participants from the U.S. and Morocco also had different approaches to the project. “Difference in thinking and approach was apparent as we tried to figure out how to market our product. The U.S. students wanted to market it to individuals in the U.S. The Moroccan students wanted to sell it in developing countries to government entities. In the U.S., we were thinking about how to make the most profit and get it to people in need at a reduced price. The Moroccan students wanted to sell it to the people that needed it most. We were able to collaborate and come up with a solution,” said Leia.
However, both Nouhayla and Leia found commonality with each other and peers. “At our core, we all want the same thing. We are all very driven. We want to make a difference in sustainability,” said Leia.
The virtual setting also provided unexpected opportunities, as Nouhayla used the advantage of video communication to overcome language barriers by signaling and acting out some of her ideas. She found that stepping out of her comfort zone to communicate with her peers was rewarded. “We became friends. The program was not the only thing that united us, but also our moments of laughter, our discussions, and the sharing of culture, too,” she said.
“We became friends. The program was not the only thing that united us, but also our moments of laughter, our discussions, and the sharing of culture, too."
The virtual exchange also changed the two women in ways they hadn’t expected. For Leia, her career goals shifted. “My goals have changed as a result of the exchange. I wasn’t interested in study abroad until I did this program. Now I really want to get the cultural mindset of study abroad and am hoping to study in Italy next spring. I wouldn’t have known that I had to be aware of all these cultural differences if I hadn’t done this program with Enactus,” Leia said. She added that before participating in the Entrepreneurial Exchange, she wanted to go into human resources, but now she cares about sustainability and the possibility of a career in it.
Nouhayla had an impression of the United States from media, particularly movies, which she found wasn’t the same as what she saw in her American counterparts. Her new friends not only dispelled stereotypes she once believed about the U.S., but also gave her new reason to master English. “I was so motivated that I started to learn more English by watching videos and reading to be able to communicate and collaborate with the U.S. students,” she said. Nouhayla said the exchange has helped her to further understand the importance of the English language for communication and transmission of ideas to people from different cultures.
Nouhayla and Leia are just two of the more than 250 Enactus students from Morocco and the United States who have participated in Enactus’ Entrepreneurial Exchange. Like Nouhayla and Leia, the exchange has fostered engagement with peers from other cultures, had significant impacts on students’ goals and plans and, most simply and perhaps most importantly, created joy as friendships were forged from half a world away.