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Students take lessons with peers in Fiji, Romania

A Communication Studies faculty member who launched a real–time classroom learning experience via social media and email between Emerson students and their peers in Romania and Fiji will discuss what transpired this Friday, November 14.

cushner edelsteinCathryn Cushner Edelstein, senior scholar-in-residence, created a program in which 105 students from three institutions completed graded assignments together in the spring 2014 semester. She will speak about the experience via Skype for The Dialogue of Cultures/The Culture of Dialogue Conference, which is being held November 14 at Petroleum-Gas University Ploiesti in Romania.

“This was not a pen pal program,” Cushner Edelstein said. “They were doing graded assignments together and working on projects in real time. The results were incredibly interesting, and it was a great intercultural experience for Emerson students.”

Students in Cushner Edelstein’s Intercultural Communication class, along with students from Petroleum-Gas University Ploiesti and University of the South Pacific in Fiji, participated in activities aimed at promoting multicultural discourse.

In one assignment, students interviewed each other about “life-cycle traditions” native to their countries, such as birth, death, marriage, and coming-of-age. They got an interesting response from some of the Pacific Islanders in Fiji.

“The whale’s tooth is seen as very precious in their culture. It’s called tabua,” Cushner Edelstein said. “When a man proposes to a woman, he has to go to her family with a whale’s tooth. Some sent my students pictures of this.”

The tabua tradition is common among indigenous Fijians. Students also worked with some Indo-Fijian students (whose families emigrated from India), many of whom maintain Indian rather than indigenous traditions.

Cushner Edelstein said she first connected with professors in Fiji and Romania two summers ago through LinkedIn when she pursued the idea of the global learning initiative.

“Not all students will go abroad,” she said. “I wondered how I could give students an intercultural experience without having to spend money.”

Emerson students completed other projects as part of the course, including the creation of a communication journal that kept a record of responses from Romanian and Fijian students on: modes of communication used, experiences navigating time zone differences, how attitudes and perspectives changed as a result of the collaboration, similarities and differences in cultures, challenges, and whether gender affected communication.

The classes also watched the documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell—about a group of Liberian women who rise up to help bring to power the country’s first female head of state—and discussed it in a private Facebook group.

This semester, Cushner Edelstein is working on a similar program in Chile with the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María.

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