Valparaiso University is hosting a unique cross-cultural experience for students living right here in the U.S.A. and across the Globe this summer. Erin Carter and Lydia Mertz are seniors at Valparaiso University and are involved in running VU International Students and Scholars or V.I.S.A. (Valparaiso International Student Association) Valparaiso, a program dedicated to providing an intercultural experience.
"The program is about different cultures getting together for that intercultural experience, with each working together," stated Mertz. The two seniors are busy with all the students from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. every day. "We are just two of a handful working with this program", said Carter.
Attending the summer-time program are eight students from Mongolia, 33 students from Pakistan and 10 students from the U.S.A.
The students, at the equivalent to high school juniors and seniors from Mongolia and Pakistan, are learning "The American Experience, that is, everything it is to be 'American', about the government and consumerism", stated Carter, adding "they will also learn what it means to be an American college student."
The students from the U.S.A. are attending the Chinese Immersion Program Center for Chinese Studies at VU, also known as the Confucius Institute, named after Master Kong Confucius, a Chinese thinker and social philosopher who lived from 551 BC to 479 BC. In this program, the kids are "learning the Chinese culture, language, and how to make the characters, along with some dance," said Carter.
"The bottom line, or goal, with the cross-cultural experience is to help all young adults to become global citizens." stated Valparaiso University faculty member and history professor, Alan Bloom. Bloom is helping to organize the VU International Students and Scholars program.
"These are all different cultures having the intercultural experience. It is a team experience with each working together," Bloom added.
This program would not be possible without the strong desire of Moninder ‘Holly’ Singh, from the Office of International Programs Director of International Students and Scholars. Holly, as he prefers to be called, pitched the idea for the Valparaiso University program to the U.S. Embassy, as well as the Fulbright Scholars International Education Exchange Program. The program offers grants to study, teach and conduct research for U.S. citizens to go abroad and non-U.S. citizens to come to the United States.
Holly believes very strongly that this program is needed, given what is currently happening in the Middle East. He said, "with this program, links can be made. When we reach out to young people, starting with high school students, they find out the other kids have the same values and the same interests and they are not so different."
One way that all the students from Mongolia, Pakistan and the U.S.A. get to experience the cross-cultural experience of working as a team is by attending the Beyond Boundaries Challenge at Porter-Starke Services Inc. Porter-Starke's "Challenge" offers a unique set of obstacles on a specially designed Beyond Boundaries course that demonstrates the need for leadership and teamwork.
Kyle Otten, Director of the Beyond Boundaries Program, said that "this unique course is a tool used for clinical therapy, athletic teams, corporations and community groups, such as this, that teaches stress management, conflict resolution, leadership as well as strategic planning. It also requires people to practice working together, trust, communication, support and teamwork."
Otten also added, "The obstacles start out hard, then as they begin working as a team, it will get easier. The challenge course is a great way for the intercultural exchange students to reach common ground."
The VU International Students were up to taking on the Beyond Boundaries Challenge. "It's a one night only experience" Mertz expressed.
They had challenges such as walking along a narrow zig-zag shaped balance beam, on which all of the team members had to walk along from one end to the other. The goal is to have everyone walk on the beam at the same time, from opposite directions, passing each other until everyone on the team were on the beam at the same time. Each team member had to pass each other and then jump off.
Another challenge involved swinging on a rope one at a time, with one team member having to catch the other then passing the rope back to the other side. All had to stay on a tiny platform without falling off or losing the rope until everyone on the team was safely across and standing together on the platform.
Tergel, 16, from Mongolia, said of her overall experience, "It's been OK so far. There are so many things to learn about leadership." She added, "I used to be shy. Now, I'm not so shy and I love to talk to everyone."
Daniyal, 16, from Pakistan, said "I like the punctuality and being on a schedule," adding, "VU is great, the people are well organized and they are acceptable to the foreigners there, and I appreciate that."
Dominique, 17 from Chicago said, "I love being able to meet people from across the sea. I've been able to experience a lot of things with them and do things with them, like this course."
The Beyond Boundaries Challenge for VU International Students and Scholars took place July 22, 2011 in sweltering heat. They took the challenge at night, with Chinese lanterns giving off a soft light and adding to the cultural experience. With florescent glow-stick bracelets and lantern light, the students enjoyed working as teams and enjoying the experience of the challenge.