Site Fosters Global Learning
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 02:11
School of Foreign Service professor Cynthia Schneider’s course “Diplomacy and Culture” may be quintessentially Georgetown, but its students are far more diverse.
Schneider uses Soliya — an online site that promotes constructive dialogue through video chat — to foster interactions between her students sitting in White-Gravenor and undergraduates from countries across the world.
“People always talk about people-to-people diplomacy,” Schneider said. “But so often it is not actually there because people are so concerned with strategic interests instead of cultural understanding.”
Soliya allows students to participate in cross cultural dialogue focused on Islamaphobia and East-West relations.
“My students get to see a different way of looking at things,” Schneider said. “Instead of focusing on differences, they get to see what they have in common with people who hold different beliefs and different perspectives on international affairs.”
She said that this open-mindedness is essential in international relations and is particularly needed today, especially between the West and Muslim societies.
Students are spending eight weeks this semester engaging in discussion with students from Germany, Jordan, Indonesia and Morocco through Soliya.
The discussion topics range from religion and politics to more controversial issues, such as gay rights.
“There truly is a lack of understanding between our cultures,” Michelyne Chavez (SFS ’15) said. “Last week, when one of the groups tackled the issue of gay rights, a girl from Jordan was very against it and felt attacked by the other students for her beliefs.”
Two student facilitators, who participated in the program before, guide the conversation to keep it on track, but conflicts still arise.
“Last week, we talked about 9/11, which was extremely controversial,” Grace Song (SFS ’14) said. “Students from Egypt and Pakistan denied the fact that Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks and proposed that the attacks could have been a conspiracy by the U.S.”
Despite these tensions, Chavez said the talks could also be deeply emotional.
“Soliya creates a very raw experience that is so moving to be a part of,” Chavez said. “We can’t experience the same kind of learning or emotional connection from simply reading books or articles or even from listening to a professor.”
According to Peter Janssens, associate director for instructional resources at Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, the program helps foster both technical and interpersonal skills.
“The core skills that students learn in Soliya — like how to deal with tensions, build relationships and work with authentic materials, for example — are skills that should most definitely be implemented in other courses.”
Schneider added that Soliya can be a powerful tool in a world that needs innovative young thinkers.
“There is diplomacy going on in every minute of this program, and it focuses on the actual people and what they go through and believe every day rather than diplomacy that only involves strategic interests,” she said.
CORRECTION: Professor Cynthia Schneider was incorrectly labeled as a government professor. She is a professor in the School of Foreign Service. A correction was issued on Nov. 15 at 2:21 a.m.