Participating in an international classroom is an enriching experience for both students and faculty. The interaction between students and faculty from different countries, different cultures, different fields, and different stages in their careers offers participants the chance to leave the course with much more that the course’s content.
International Class is a virtual classroom offered across Latin America to all Laureate institutions. Any network institution can participate in this program in which students can take their courses online rather than on campus. The course’s teacher can come from any country: Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, and Chile. Students also come from other countries or other campuses in the same country. In other words, in any given classroom there might be many different nationalities and cultures; all with their particular experience and perspective.
I would be lying if I said that being and International Class instructor was my first international education experience. I am originally from Holland, one of the most multicultural countries in Europe. I did the first year of my master’s in Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. I shared an apartment with guys from the US, France, Guadeloupe, South Africa, etc.
I finished my master’s in Holland and upon graduation I quickly realized that employment opportunities for a Language and English Literature professor are, well…limited. I then enrolled in an experimental postgraduate program with only ten participants; Teaching in Multicultural and Bilingual Classrooms. Once I finished the program I went to live and work in Malmö, Sweden, a very cold city. Malmö is a city where many immigrants arrive by boat and many choose to stay. This is why the city has a large community of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. My students were the children of these immigrants who did not speak neither Swedish, nor English or Dutch.
Finally, in August 2009 I arrived to the city of Hermosillo in Sonora, Mexico; a warm city. For years my classes were at least bilingual but not the least bit multicultural. It’s true that there were always some students born in the US but this however does not count. And yes, I had students from Germany, France (exchange students obviously), Honduras and Peru (less obvious), but to say these classes offered a multicultural experience would not be accurate.
Precisely for this reason I was very excited when, a little over a year ago, I was invited to teach an online course for the International Class program. I had already had some experience with the platform since I took my second master’s degree in Walden University (I’m currently in the process of obtaining a doctorate from Walden as well) using the same platform. However, the experience is 100% different when you are on the other side of the platform.
We had a careful start with a few students from several universities but gradually, more and more students and teachers learned about the project and were excited to participate. And with good reason since the dynamics of an online classroom make for an excellent experience quite different that a traditional course. It’s curious that students who rarely participate during traditional courses, because of laziness or shyness, are the most enthusiastic participants in international classrooms.
International Class helps remove an imaginary barrier and everybody participates with the same eagerness. On the one hand, they do not feel uncomfortable in participating but most importantly, they want to interact with other students like them from other campuses, other countries and other time zones. During the course, students are not just learning content; they are also developing skills that contribute to their knowledge of the world. If only for this reason, in my humble opinion, every Laureate student should participate in an international classroom.
The program is also related to physical exchange for two different reasons. First, for students who participate in an exchange program, and continue paying their tuition in their own university, it is a way of taking a course in a different university even though their classmates might be 3,000 km away. On the other hand, for students who are unable to participate in an exchange program due to financial, family or visa concerns, International Class offers an international academic experience with foreign teachers and classmates.
Sometimes students do not want to participate or they’re afraid because they don’t know what to expect. They ask me: what do I need to do or have? It’s quite simple: first you need an internet connection, then self-discipline. If you don’t enroll and participate then you’ll miss the experience and the grade. When students log in for the first time they see that the platform is quite easy to use. There are always students who say they “don´t understand the platform”, but there’s really not much to understand, it’s so simple.
If there is any difficulty with the platform there are always teachers and virtual and on-campus coordinators ready to help and explain, and you can always count on the wonderful support of the student experience team located in Tegucigalpa, Honduras who are always available to solve any issues or clarify doubts and who are also, technically, my bosses.
In conclusion, virtual classrooms are a wonderful tool to truly feel part of an international university community, Laureate International Universities. This is an experience that every student should have. I mean, what is the point of being part of an international network if you’ll only stay at your own campus? Am I right?