A Class Across Continents and Cultures

Sonia Kapur

Even at a small university like UNC Asheville, you can most likely expect to meet some new people in each class. You might not expect those people to live halfway across the world, though. When management major Christopher Carter signed up for a global citizenship course with Sonia Kapur, assistant professor of international studies at UNC Asheville, he was looking forward to the opportunity to work with students across oceans and continents, in India.

“It seemed like a class that would allow me to get a wider view of the globe,” Carter explained. “And I was particularly interested in the ideas of south Asia.”

Kapur’s class connected with a group of students at the Central University of Tibetan Studies (CUTS) at the University of Varanasi, India through a partnership with Greg Tuke, a professor at the University of Washington-Bothell. Tuke’s specialty focus is in using live video conferencing across borders to enhance cross-cultural communication skills. Through a Fulbright Fellowship, Tuke facilitated the partnership between UNC Asheville and CUTS, allowing the two classes to interact and learn from each other.

The students communicated with each other through live video conferencing and through a closed Facebook group, sharing articles on discussion topics such as gender, race, the caste system and the plight of Tibetan refugees. Many of the CUTS students were refugees themselves.

“The idea is that for students, it gives a face to everything that they’re reading about,” said Kapur, who will be teaching the course for the fourth time in spring 2017, partnering with classes at the University of Washington-Bothell and Future University in Cairo, Egypt. “It gives a human angle to the whole situation. Students get to understand the personal experiences the Tibetan students have had.”

“Right after the Skype conference call, I felt like I was part of something larger than myself,” Carter said. “That was very rewarding. We had some good laughs, too, which I think is very interesting—between people across the globe, two different cultures, different ideas even on living, and to share a laugh and smiles in that form of communication is very rewarding.”

While communicating with students in India seems like a natural fit for an international studies course, Tuke sees opportunities for international collaboration in all fields of study.

“If you’re going to operate successfully in today’s business environment, you really need to be able to problem solve through virtual means,” Tuke said. “Some people say now 70 percent of work being done is virtually. You’re not doing this work alone, you’re working with somebody else, and oftentimes its in small teams. Students need to prepare for this business world and how to do it, because it’s different than just working in a group face-to-face.”

Equally important to the ability to work virtually is the ability to work across cultures, Tuke said.

“It’s very common practice now, whether you’re working with a small business or a large business, or whether you’re working on a social problem, these things are going to be dealt with globally,” Tuke said.

“You look at all the major problems that we face—climate change isn’t gong to be solved by the US figuring it out. It’s a global problem,” Tuke continued. “Water shortages, security problems, all these big social issues can only be solved by the globe working collectively and cooperatively together.”

As a management major, Carter found participating in the course and the video conferences directly applicable to his studies, “especially with understanding people in general, and to have a worldly view of how other countries and nations are formed,” he said. “I think that would help with any sort of management organization.”

It wasn’t only his classes that benefited from the course. Carter also made personal connections with a few of the CUTS students, and still keeps up with them on Facebook.

“I always go to the video chat and say ‘hi, how are you?’ And we talk for about five minutes, not too long. It’s still just very basic,” Carter said. “But occasionally I’ll say, ‘is there any new development,’ or ‘how are you, are you doing well? Are things changing for the better?’”