Over the summer, students at Southern New Hampshire University became tech-savvy, part-time exchange students, gaining cross-cultural competency and learning key skills to help navigate the realities of virtual learning and working in a post-pandemic world.
Although travel for traditional university exchange programs came to a halt this summer, students at Southern New Hampshire University had a unique opportunity to experience a new culture. As part of a new virtual exchange program, Syrian refugee students in Lebanon and U.S.-based students came together in a cultural exchange workshop series. “I had some misconceptions about other societies and changed my perspective after these workshops,” said Sara AlMohamad, an SNHU student in Lebanon, who added that her worldview was transformed by the experience.
Students participated in a series of online workshops geared towards the development of new professional skills for online careers and studies, fostering cross-cultural understanding and exposure.
Sara participated in a workshop called “Leading with Emotional Intelligence” alongside Alicia Smith, an SNHU student based in the US. Led by SNHU faculty members Dr. Jennifer Varney and Deborah Gogliettino from SNHU’s School of Business, this workshop enabled students to learn and practice the key skills of Emotional Intelligence (EI), including how to assess their own EI skills and how to apply the skills in their daily interactions with others.
As online students, Alicia and Sara are familiar with what it takes to be a successful remote learner, but COVID-19 introduced new challenges for both. Because their local learning centers closed following the global lockdowns, both Alicia and Sara were feeling isolated. Through their summer virtual exchange, they enjoyed being able to engage with their peers around the world. In particular, Alicia noted the importance of the interactive nature of the workshops, which she says meant that participants could “discuss our opinions and hear the similarities in opinions that were shared among the various participants.”
The workshops also offered an exciting new opportunity for both students; as non-traditional online learners, neither had participated in an international exchange program before. Sara was especially excited for the opportunity to interact with people from other cultures and countries. She loved being able to meet Americans who were also fellow students, and “learned that participating is the key of communication…I have to take the first step to share my thoughts and ask my questions,” she said. “It was very helpful because it helped me to practice on presenting who I am for foreign people.”
Both students are planning to use the skills they gained in the workshop for their future careers. “The most important thing that I took away from this experience was the need to be self-aware when dealing with other people so that I can engage fully in our interactions,” Alicia said. She plans to use her new understanding of emotional intelligence to engage more effectively with her peers and to launch a new career path for herself this year.
Sara also has plans for immediate application of her new cultural competency skills. As she completes her final year of her degree, she is already applying for online administrative jobs, and has been using her new skills in her job interviews. “Now I believe in my ability of dealing with others through understanding the situations, put[ting] myself in their shoes, and find[ing] the appropriate solutions,” she said.