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Representatives from Iraq respond during the opening ceremonies of the Global Partners in Education Conference at East Carolina University. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Educators plot future of ECU cultural understanding courses

May 8, 2012

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

Representatives from Iraq, Japan, Nigeria and a dozen other nations are at East Carolina University this week to improve and expand on a unique program facilitating student interaction across cultures and time zones.

The fifth annual Global Partners in Education Conference opened May 7 with a ceremony in the Science and Technology Building’s Global Classroom, and lessons and lectures will continue there through May 10. The conference connects international educators and technical specialists offering students the ability to virtually meet with and learn from their peers around the world through a course on global understanding.
Junhao Yan from China, center, listens to speakers at the Global Partners in Education conference.
“Two percent of our students can go abroad,” said Rosina Chia, assistant vice chancellor for global academic initiatives. “This is for the 98 percent.”

The course launched in 2004, involving three nations outside the U.S.: China, Russia and Gambia. It has since grown to include 42 universities in 28 countries, Chia said.

Fourteen sections of the global understanding course are offered across eight departments in three colleges at ECU. Discussions often revolve around family or college life – elements Chia says people share across cultures.

“We devote our conference to talking about (the course),” Chia said, “How to get students motivated to join, what needs improving. No one else in the country is doing this.”

ECU faculty and administrators shared the university’s strategic initiatives with visitors Monday and Tuesday through presentations on leadership, economic development and public service. The hosts also taught their international partners a few other things about being a Pirate, like how to form a hook and say “Arrrrgh!”

“We’re looking at what’s the next phase of our global understanding program…the next levels of understanding and involvement and cultural appreciation,” said Austin Bunch, senior associate provost at ECU.

Paulina Teran, a conference participant from the Universidad Del Pacifico in Ecuador, said she is interested in exploring other elements to complement the existing program, such as scheduled, topical lectures by professors from the partnering institutions. Getting students interested in sharing experiences with other cultures is no longer an issue, she said.

“Word got around and now students voluntarily come (to the global understanding classes),” Teran explained. “They just knock on the door.”

Other visitors said the benefits of Global Partners in Education extend beyond basic subjects and job skills training.

“It’s good to explain the cultures,” said Pa Sara Drammeh of The University of The Gambia. “Some at the university come from remote places. They don’t know about America. And students here, they don’t know about Africa. When they interact with our students, it changes (their perceptions).”

Chia said the presence of Provost Marilyn Sheerer and representatives from UNC General Administration at conference events is a strong endorsement of the program. She will travel to China later this year with representatives from Appalachian State, Fayetteville State and N.C. A&T universities –institutions hoping to create similar networks for their students.

“My ultimate goal is to have every incoming freshman (at ECU) take this course,” Chia said. “To open their minds.”

More information about ECU’s Global Academic Initiatives is available at
ECU Provost Marilyn Sheerer and Senior Associate Provost Austin Bunch are shown at opening ceremonies.

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